Peter Blake

Forgive the pun, but Hickenlooper could be an Uber-Obama

Can Gov. John Hickenlooper improve his chances of becoming president by borrowing a page from Barack Obama and acting more unilaterally?

That is, by ignoring administrative, legislative and constitutional niceties and issuing fiats to make happen what he wants to have happen? So far, congress and the public haven’t complained much about Obama, leaving that chore to a few grumpy conservative pundits.

This scenario occurred to me the other day when Hickenlooper offered his opinion on Uber Technologies’ fight with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

Hickenlooper was a surprise Uber ally. He called a proposed PUC rule that would effectively shut down the limousine-hailing service “an overreach.”

The governor has not always been so friendly to competition in ground transportation. When he was mayor of Denver he urged the PUC not to approve the application of Mile High Cab for an operating certificate. He claimed the earlier advent of Union Taxi had clogged the city’s streets, created “general unruliness” at cab stands and inspired “verbal confrontations” between drivers and hotel staff. He also claimed, falsely, that Union didn’t maintain a dispatch system.

icon_op_edBut being governor apparently has made him more tolerant of market competition. Indeed Ray Gifford, Uber’s attorney, is “hopeful” the governor will follow through “and file exceptions [to the rules] as well.”

File a brief? Gifford is thinking small. If Hickenlooper wants to be elected president in 2016 or later, he might want to act like the incumbent: Circumvent the process, adjust the rules as he sees fit and direct the PUC to leave Uber alone.

This would be in the new Obama tradition. Consider some of the president’s recent actions, as recounted by Charles Krauthammer, George Will and others:

— In July he unilaterally delayed by a year ObamaCare’s “employer mandate” that required companies with over 50 employees to offer health insurance. It was to have taken place next Jan. 1 but now, by happy coincidence, it won’t start until after the mid-term elections.

— He has granted ObamaCare waivers to roughly 1,200 apparently well-connected unions and companies.

— He authorized the federal government to continue the 70-percent subsidy for health insurance premiums required of congressional representatives and their staffers, even though the law prohibits subsidies for people that well-paid.

— Through Attorney General Eric Holder, he directed U.S. attorneys to omit listing quantities of illegal drugs in indictments for low-level drug cases, in an effort to get around federal laws that impose strict minimum sentences. The purpose: To eliminate overcrowding in federal prisons.

— Last year he ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop proceedings against young illegals brought into the country as children. This provision had been part of the DREAM Act but Congress had declined to pass it.

— He recently called for new EPA regulations on new and existing coal-fired plants, even though 290 of them have already closed this year. He claimed he could do this without congressional approval. Others say no, and the courts will ultimately decide. But he was belligerent about it. “We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat-earth society,” he said, apparently referring to Congress, or at least the House. El Jefe never has time for the democratic process.

It’s pedantic, I know, to point out that Congress is supposed to change laws, not the president by executive order. But even the Republican House doesn’t seem to mind having the president act in its stead. Especially when he’s pushing back ObamaCare deadlines and strictures. Or further subsidizing their health insurance. Or moving to ease the crowding in prisons.

Eventually, the president may push too far and Congress will object, but by then the precedents will have been established and it might be too late.

Could the same tactics work in Colorado, bringing Hickenlooper renown as a can-do chief executive? Perhaps so. But the problem is Hickenlooper has both legislative chambers on his side, and he was so complaisant about their work this past session he didn’t veto a single bill.

It might be different next year, if he holds to his pro-oil and gas positions. The Democrats are likely to push for more regulation than he wants.

Getting back to Uber, the administrative law judge at the PUC recently endorsed proposed rules that wouldn’t put Uber — which neither owns nor operates the limos its smartphone app summons — directly under the PUC. But he did endorse a rule that would prevent limousine companies from using iPhones and other mobile devices to calculate fares based on time and distance traveled. If ultimately adopted, it would force Uber to leave the state.

It’s absurd, and the ALJ is clearly acting at the behest of the taxi companies, who don’t like Uber because it charges more than they do. (Imagine their outrage if Uber charged less.) The rule will have to get the approval of the three-member PUC — and withstand an inevitable court challenge — before going into effect.

It’s a good place for Hickenlooper to start throwing his weight around and backing competition in public transportation. Who would object — other than the taxi companies?


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