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Obama’s Campaign Manager Is Exactly What Uber Needs

Aug 22, 2014 10:50 am

Skift Take

Uber already has a bulldog of a CEO and co-founder, but Plouffe’s addition gives the startup a well-connected bulldog and master of persuasion.

— Jason Clampet

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Steve Jurvetson  / Flickr

David Plouffe, L, with prominent investor Steve Jurvetson Steve Jurvetson / Flickr


Uber Technologies CEO Travis Kalanick announced Tuesday that the San-Francisco ride-matching company had hired David Plouffe, the campaign manager for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, as senior vice president for policy and strategy.

This means war — an epic war — that will pit Uber and the Obama Whisperer against not only what Kalanick calls “the Big Taxi cartel,” but also the giant insurance industry, a friend to both political parties, and the trial lawyer lobby, a key special interest for the Democrats.

“I think it’s a great fit,” Republican political operative Aaron McLear mused. Plouffe “sold a disruptive political candidate to America, which is essentially what he’s being asked to do at Uber.”

At a recent LincolnLabs conference, “The PayPal Wars” author Eric Jackson described disruption startups as ventures that begin skirting the law in the hopes that they will have a big enough (and vocal enough) customer base when authorities start to close in.

Disruptors exist because governments cannot keep up with new technology. Uber wasn’t even in business when Obama took the oath of office. Today the company is worth $17 billion.

This should be a golden moment for Republicans. Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, positively swooned when he talked about “creative destruction.” In New Hampshire, he lauded the ability of consumers to “fire” their insurance companies. As in: “You know, if someone doesn’t give me a good service that I need, I want to say I’m going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.” That’s pretty much the message of disruption jockeys — that they give the public the right to choose their ride.

Plouffe’s party is the party that pushes for regulations. As Plouffe prepares to move to San Francisco, he’ll be leading a pro-Uber campaign worldwide, but from enemy territory. California’s overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature has been working on a bill to require livery services such as Uber and Lyft to insure their drivers from the instant they turn on their smartphone app.

“I’ve never seen this as a bill that was (in) any way against any new innovation or technology in the marketplace,” Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, said of her Assembly Bill 2293. She sees the measure, which mandates that drivers and riders are protected with insurance in the event of an accident, as “charting the middle course.” AB2293, which probably would not have been controversial a decade ago, sailed through the Assembly with a 71-0 vote.

Not a single Assembly Republican voted against the bill. “That’s because of the insurance industry,” observed GOP strategist Rob Stutzman. “Republicans are not looking at this in a new world way either.”

Two state senators have opposed AB2293 in committee — Republican Ted Gaines of Rocklin (Placer County) and Democrat Ted Lieu of Torrance (Los Angeles County). Both senators left the door open to voting for the measure on the Senate floor if it is amended to their satisfaction. What’s interesting is that these two Teds from opposing parties have demonstrated that they see the moment before them.

Lieu, a one-time computer science major, told me, “I voted no, because the Legislature is good at a lot of things, but we are not nimble.” The PUC is devising liability requirements, and if the PUC sets a limit that is too high or low, it can fix itself in short order. Not the Legislature.

Gaines, who is running for state insurance commissioner, said that when he voted on the bill, its liability limits were too high and thus had the potential of “adversely affecting the pricing structure of Uber and Lyft.”

All the other legislators voted for the measure, or did not vote at all. How does Plouffe plan to turn the vote around? I doubt he’s planning to lubricate lawmakers over three-martini lunches. He excels at a ground game. Already ride-sharing apps have sent out mailers to voters in Bonilla’s district that accuse the Assemblywoman of “leaving consumers and entrepreneurs on the curb while she takes a ride with her special interest friends.” They’ve sent e-mails to subscribers telling them to hector their senators. Lieu tells me they work. His constituents want him to vote no.

I watch, agnostic on the bill itself, in wonder. It will take a Democrat to do to Dems (and foot-dragging Repubs) what Obama 2012 did to Romney — and they’ll do it in the name of consumer protection, not creative destruction. The message will resonate because the Obama economy is so moribund, 20-somethings are desperate to save a buck. Watch and learn. This is the advent of the politics of personal disruption.

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