Identity politics unlikely to work with young Austinites

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Mayor Steve Adler, center, flanked by Council members, from left, Greg Casar, Leslie Pool, Ora Houston, Pio Renteria, Kathie Tovo, Sheri Gallo and Delia Garza, announce their support for fellow council member Ann Kitchen, who has received criticism for her stance on fingerprint requirements for ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. DEBORAH CANNON / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

So, Austin will have its ballot showdown between the City Council and the ride-hailing services Uber and Lyft in May. The exasperation coming from the dais is clear, however council members — especially Mayor Steve Adler and embattled Council Member Ann Kitchen — should take a page from the national political landscape.

However well-intentioned one’s policies may be, this next generation of voters are not likely to accept the notion that they should just trust that their elders know what is best for them. Delivery and transparency are everything these days, especially with millennials and members of Generation X. If you talk down to them, be prepared for them to tune you out, or worse — turn on you.

Exhibit No.1: Hillary Clinton vs. Bernie Sanders. Last year it was clear that Clinton assumed that the youthful energy amassed from President Obama’s campaign would automatically transfer to her. But the “youngsters” who propelled Obama to office aren’t so young anymore. They are in their mid-30s; they are parents and homeowners.

They have more skin in the game now, but they are still less likely to behave politically like baby boomers. You could sense Clinton struggling to speak to that demographic after her defeat in New Hampshire and as she campaigned in Nevada and South Carolina. Her quandary is how to use the familiar, time-tested tools of identity politics to rally traditional, older voters, while not irritating younger, newer voters. Her performance last weekend was strong, but only time will tell whether she can convince those under-45 to turn out for her and vote.

The turnout question is an important one. In the past four election cycles, millennials have proven to be fickle when it comes to casting ballots. So do millennials matter politically? Absolutely, voting age millennials outnumber baby boomers already. Even if they don’t show up at the polls at the same rate, their sheer numbers have the ability to swing elections, especially those that are issue-based, not personality- or party-based.

Which brings me back to Austin and the ride-hailing election slated for May.

The divide is generational in a way that is much broader than whether one is comfortable ordering a ride over the internet. While I support Kitchen and Delia Garza in insisting that the city should be responsible for public safety, their message is essentially patriarchal (or matriarchal in this case). You elected us; therefore you should trust us.

My unsolicited suggestion to the yet-to-be-formed PAC: Make this election less about council power being usurped (still true), and more about the right of every passenger to feel confident that they are reasonably safe in the rides they hail, whether it is 2 a.m. or 4 p.m. whether they are drunk or sober. In an era where millions are victimized by identity theft each year, it is vanity for Uber and Lyft to consider themselves immune and counter-intuitive for riders to give up the assurance that their driver is in fact who he or she claims to be.

As the board has said in the past, this push for an election is not driven by the ride-hailing companies’ deep passion for this community or for the contractors who drive for them, it’s being driven by their corporate bottom line. And while capitalism and public good is not mutually exclusive, it does put the onus on the ride-hailing companies to truly earn public trust rather than steamroll the process.

The city will get further with a dialog that respects the concerns of the service’s users than treating those who question their judgment like wayward teenagers.