Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Opinion: What Bruce Rauner's Uber Love Means For Illinois

The Republican gubernatorial candidate courts the controversial ride-share company

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Opinion: What Bruce Rauner's Uber Love Means For Illinois

When Bruce Rauner professed his love for Uber on Tuesday, calling for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn to veto a bill that would impose heavy regulations upon the rapidly growing ride-share start-up, his gushing message signaled progress for the youthful tech-innovation crowd and potential doom for the taxi industry.

From the GOP gubernatorial hopeful-veteran venture capitalist to old-school taxicabs: You're toast. Also uncool. Step aside and make room for The New Economy.

To Uber and its quest to take over Chicago: Spread your wings and fly!

To Silicon Valley start-ups hoping to recreate Uber's success: See, Illinois isn't so bad. Forget what Rick Perry may have told you over steaks at Gibson's.

Rauner's pledge of support for Uber rips a page from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's successful appeal to San Francisco's tech elites who increasingly lean libertarian, value unrestrained capitalism where companies like Uber are concerned and boast billions to spend on political campaigns and causes.

"Today's Silicon Valley is still exceedingly liberal on social issues. But it seems more skeptical about taxes and business regulation than at any point in its recent history," writes New York Magazine's Kevin Roose. "Part of this is due to the rise of companies like Uber and Tesla Motors, blazing-hot start-ups that have been opposed at every turn by protectionist regulators and trade unions, in confrontations that are being used by small-government conservatives as case studies in government control run amok."

In other words, America's tech bros are going to eat up Rauner's "I love Uber" endorsement -- more like stunt -- hook, line, and sinker. Nevermind that the flip-flopping Winnetka businessman glosses over the nitty-gritty of the General Assembly's ride-share regulation bill: commercial insurance and background checks for drivers, which Rauner says he supports but Uber wants to prevent.

"Uber is an innovative, growing company that provides ride-share services to millions of people across the country and wants to create 425 more jobs right here in Illinois ... Illinois should encourage companies like Uber to grow here, but this bill does the opposite," said Rauner in a statement, adding: "Ride-share drivers should have insurance and background checks. But Pat Quinn shouldn’t sign this bill – it sends another signal that Illinois is closed to innovation."

As Rauner has learned with his new tax-and-jobs growth plan, which is polling well despite making absolutely no sense, it's more effective to tell potential voters what they want to hear -- innovation, efficiency, jobs, Steve Jobs! -- and sweep the other stuff under the rug.

But make no mistake: Having Rauner in Springfield and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at City Hall could be a win-win for Uber and its ilk and a massive double whammy for taxi drivers fearful of losing customers to smartphone-friendly competitors.

Back in May, Emanuel -- whose super-agent brother is among Uber's most powerful investors -- pushed through controversial legislation that bars ride-sharing apps from picking up passengers at local airports and McCormick Place. The loophole: City transportation authorities reserve the power to approve O'Hare and Midway as Uber zones, which means the provision -- taking effect later this summer -- is basically moot.

As governor, Rauner is likely to support Uber's encroachment into taxi territory and work to remove that airport ban without making Emanuel look like the bad guy.

As an elected official-in-training, Rauner apparently sees no hypocritical differences in railing against special interests in politics (like the taxi business) while at the same time supporting Uber, which employs global team of government lobbyists.

And like any good venture capitalist, Rauner cannot resist an opportunity to make money. He hasn't directly invested in the rising-star ride-share app but he does hold stock in one of its backers, Goldman Sachs. No longer a partner at GTCR -- the Chicago private equity firm he founded three decades ago -- Rauner is essentially trumpeting the San Francisco-based outfit as a good investment in his public love letter to Uber, which he says his kids use.

Uber's meteoric rise has coincided with a barrage of bad press over its hyper-capitalist biz model and surge pricing feature that has led to ridiculously overinflated fares during inclement weather and absurd rides to the bar down the street.

In Rauner's viewpoint, watching Uber's remarkable expansion must be something of a spectator sport, even though it threatens to shutter traditional cab companies and leave consumers with giant tabs.

Cue the line favored by corporate types: It's not personal. It's business.

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