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GOP Hails App-Based Taxi Service Uber, Says Regulations Stifle It

By Beth Reinhard, Wall Street Journal
March 25, 2014 7:33 p.m. ET

There have long been über Republicans. Now, there are Uber Republicans.

Uber, the app-based alternative to traditional taxi services, is becoming an icon among Republicans, who say it is an example of innovation stifled by big government—much like charter schools, for-profit colleges and market-based ideas in health care and other highly regulated industries.

Uber allows passengers weary of hailing cabs to arrange rides through their mobile phones. But in cities from Miami to Washington, D.C., it has run into government rules that make it difficult for the new service to compete against the taxi industry and other established transport companies.

“The company has become a cause célèbre among conservatives,” said GOP strategist Gregg Keller, former executive director of the American Conservative Union. “As a movement, we need to champion these kinds of disruptive technologies, because they represent the free market.”

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida this week became the most high-profile Republican to embrace Uber, appearing at the company’s offices in Washington, D.C., on Monday. “Regulation should never be a weapon used by connected and established industry to crowd out innovation and competition, and this is a real-world example,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Rubio proposed legislation to create an independent agency to assess the economic impact of federal regulations. If enacted, the bill would affect an array of federal actions but not Uber, whose entry into the tourist-rich market of Miami has been blocked by local regulations that limit luxury-car permits and set minimum fees, among other requirements.

Officials in localities with regulations say the rules hampering Uber are necessary, ensuring that companies are liable for their drivers, and that they don’t gouge passengers. They also note that the industry has traditionally been highly regulated.

Uber’s challenges are a topic of discussion in the think-tank world. Michael Gonzalez, vice president for communications at the Heritage Foundation, connects Uber to the conservative argument that the college-accreditation system hampers upstart educational companies and that government puts too many limits on charter schools.

James Pethokoukis, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, called Uber “an economic lesson about startups and competition and how government can favor incumbent players.”

Republican strategists also think younger voters, many of whom live with a smartphone in hand, will side with the political party that backs new technology. “It gives us a real political opportunity with an age group and demographic we’ve been struggling with,” Mr. Keller said.

Republicans have company, however, as fans of Uber. Democrats like the business, too, and they dismiss the idea that it makes the case for other conservative causes.

The Democratic mayors of Nashville, Tenn., and Columbus, Ohio, helped bring Uber to their cities, and it was a Democratic county commissioner who led the unsuccessful charge to deregulate the car-service industry in Miami-Dade.

“This has nothing to do with politics,” said the commissioner, Audrey Edmonson. “This this has to do with bringing Miami-Dade County forward and making it a world-class county.”

As for Uber, company officials say they are happy to win over supporters of all partisan stripes.

Rachel Holt, the company’s regional general manager for the East Coast, said, “We really view this as a bipartisan issue.”

St. Louis Business Journal: Keller leaves D.C. post to launch St. Louis political consulting firm

By Eli Yokley

St. Louis-based political operative Gregg Keller, former executive director of the American Conservative Union, has left his post to launch a new consulting firm in the region.

Keller, who led Sen. Jim Talent’s campaign in 2006 and served as Mitt Romney’s national coalition director in 2008, has now created Atlas Strategy Group, which aims to provide strategic services for non-profits, small business, corporations and political campaigns, including coalition-building, strategic consulting, fundraising and communications.

Like parts of the business community, Keller said the strategic consulting business is moving toward a freelance model. Keller said by moving away from the large-shop model, where consulting firms will set up large offices and force clients to pay large retainers, his model will allow him to significantly undersell his larger competitors.

“What I want to do is have a very small, stripped down firm that doesn’t take on many employees,” he said. “What I’m doing and have done is built several strategic partnerships with many professionals in different spaces, all of whom I’ve worked with in he past. If you’re smart and not too greedy, you can vastly undersell the big firms who need to pay for the big offices and all the expenses that come with a big firm.”

Keller, a St. Louis native, said the new job will allow him to spend significantly more time in St. Louis with his wife and three children.

“Happiness in life is working in politics at as high a level as I can and living in St. Louis.”
Keller said that particularly in the current news environment — where companies are watching social media and sometimes facing political pressure — coalition building is a key to capturing the attention of policymakers and their staff.

“Historically, there have been a few tried-and-true ways to affect public policy. One is lobbying: You hire lobbyists, build a political action committee, join a trade association and cut big checks,” he said. While he thinks that is still important, he believes particularly among more conservative members, that may not be as effective as a more nuanced route. “The business community is just now waking up to the kind of powerful coalitions that can enact public policy change if they just know who to talk to.”

Pointing to relationships built during time at ACU and his prior experience as National Executive Director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, a social-conservative public policy coalition, Keller said bringing together activist and grassroots organizations behind an issue is an effective way to tug at the hearts and minds of lawmakers.

“There are a lot of conservative members of congress and state legislatures who aren’t moved as much by big corporate donators or well-paid lobbyists,” he said. By turning a business’s niche issue — whether it be a liquor regulation or an energy issue unfamiliar to the general public, for example — coalition building can in turn make that issue a conservative issue, he said.

POLITICO: ACU strategist forms new firm

By Alexander Burns

A top strategist for the American Conservative Union is leaving the prominent activist group to strike out independently as a political consultant.

Gregg Keller, who served as Mitt Romney’s national coalitions director in 2008 and managed former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent’s 2006 campaign, is founding a firm dubbed Atlas Strategy Group. The company aims to give strategic advice to private and nonprofit organizations, as well as to political campaigns.

Keller said he will continue to advise the ACU – which hosts CPAC, the national conservative cattle-call event – as an outside consultant but had decided to step down as executive director in order to launch a business of his own.

“Atlas Strategy Group will help corporations and associations navigate center-right public policy,” Keller told POLITICO. “In a polarized political landscape, center-right coalition building is more important every day; we’ll help these large organizations know who they should be talking to and how to craft a strategy to work with conservatives to achieve their shared goals.”

During Keller’s three-year tenure at ACU, the right-leaning group expanded its fundraising and branched out to begin hosting regional CPAC gatherings in cities such as Denver, Orlando and St. Louis. A part-time Missouri resident, Keller came on board after a newly appointed ACU chairman, former Florida GOP Chair Al Cardenas, vowed to revitalize the sometimes-dusty grassroots organization.

Prior to joining the ACU, Keller was executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, the social conservative group founded during the 2010 cycle by longtime Christian activist Ralph Reed.

Keller said he has already made several hires for Atlas Strategy Group and plans to announce them at a later date. The company will offer both fundraising and communications consulting, as well as coalition-building services to marshal public support for clients’ causes.

He does not anticipate building a large payroll and described the firm as part of a larger, industry-wide shift away from big, corporate outfits with high overhead costs.

Though Keller said he will keep working with the ACU, the turnover at the top of the group raises the prospect of other strategic changes at the organization. Cardenas previously announced that Dan Scheider, a former adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and strongly conservative former Kansas Rep. Jim Ryun, was taking over the executive director job from Keller.

D.C. Council’s Uber decision illustrates how Democrats’ special interest politics pose problems for Millennials

Mainstream press outlets have been fixated since Election Day on Barack Obama’s decisive win in the Presidential election among younger voters, particularly Millennials.

A Google search, in fact, for “Obama youth vote” returns nearly 81 million hits, many of which analyze how Obama won 60-70 percent of that constituency, depending on the poll.

Where the analysts and pundits have it wrong, however, is in asserting that the Republican Party and the conservative free market movement somehow have no hopes of attracting these Millennial voters in the future. A recent decision by the D.C. City Council illustrates how, in many ways, old school Democrat special interest politics are incompatible with the values held dear by the Millennial generation.

Millennials, with their iPhones and iPads and independent desire for technology which makes their lives more enriching, have been a huge driver of the success of Uber. Uber is an app that anyone can download for free on their smart phone and use to immediately hail a private car and driver — at any time, in any of a number of American cities. The rates are reasonable, the service reliable, the experience enjoyable. Gone are the days when only the rich could afford a private car.

What’s not to like, free market conservatives ask? Uber has created a new market for entrepreneurs and consumers alike and helped give people more choice in how they maneuver America’s most congested cities. Enter the D.C. City Council, that hotbed of liberalism. Last week the Council voted to, in effect, kill Uber in Washington, D.C. in an attempt to protect the powerful taxi cab lobby from pesky competition. Here we see machine politics at its worst: a Democrat-controlled body using the levers of government to quash the competitors of one of its political benefactors.

And, how is Uber’s presumably Millennial-driven customer base reacting to the Council’s decision to snuff out this technological innovation? Well, let’s just say ‘not well.’

In a mere matter of hours, Change.com’s “Save Uber DC” petition has received nearly 7,000 signatories. This is a generation of people whose lifestyles are driven by technological innovation. How are they going to react when some hotel workers’ union tries to shut down airbnb, which Millennials use to make affordable overnight reservations in other cities, bypassing hotels? It’s easy to see how the future is filled with more and more such examples of entrenched, big city Democrat political machines going to war with the free market forces of technological innovation which have become part-and-parcel of the Millennial experience.

One decision by one city’s Council regarding taxi fares is a small thing, I’ll grant you that. But it’s potentially telling in that it shows how Old Style machine liberal politics are incompatible with the lifestyle the Millennial generation has come to expect. And, if the implications of that conflict are inconvenient to Millennials, it should be cause for some political optimism among conservatives.

Gregg Keller is the Executive Director of the American Conservative Union

Gregg Keller interview with Shushannah Walshe (ABC) at CPAC

Gregg Keller’s remarks from CPAC 2013

Introductory remarks at CPAC Colorado