Week in Review: DUI’s, China and a showdown with Uber

CAN’T WE ALL JUST RIDE ALONG?: Jen Joyce, a community manager for the Uber rideshare service, is seen working on her laptop before a meeting in Seattle. The battle between ridesharing services and established taxi companies has come to Virginia.

By Kaitlyn Speer | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Norfolk’s Commonwealth Attorney Greg Underwood’s DUI conviction was overturned this week, a Chinese paper company decided to open a plant in Virginia, and rideshare companies Uber and Lyft continue to operate in Virginia despite a cease and desist order from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

It’s all just another week in Virginia politics. Here is your week in review:

Amid public skepticism, commonwealth’s attorney defended by state Senate leader wins DUI appeal

Underwood, defended by attorney and state Senate Republican Majority Leader Tommy Norment, a Williamsburg Republican, was convicted in May of two charges related to driving under the influence.

But, Underwood and Norment fought the DUI conviction, ultimately leaving the commonwealth’s attorney with Monday simply a civil conviction for refusing a Breathalyzer test, which court documents indicate happened to be Underwood’s birthday.

“At this point, Mr. Underwood has not ever been convicted of any criminal offense,” Norment told Watchdog.org.

The consequences for improper driving and refusing a Breathalyzer test? A $50 fine and a one-year suspension of his driver’s license.

Public pays for McAuliffe ‘photo opportunity fund’

In other news, the prospect of reaping $30 million-plus from taxpayers — and millions more through a federal immigration program — sweetened the pot for a Chinese paper company and resulted in its decision to open a plant in Virginia.

Shandong Tranlin Paper Co., Ltd.’s decision reflects a larger strategy to bring more of China’s business to the United States.

Beating out California and North Carolina to host the paper plant on the James River,Gov. Terry McAuliffe pledged $5 million from the controversial “Governor’s Opportunity Fund.”

When it comes to Uber, consumers may speak loudest

Prodded by taxicab companies, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles ordered rideshare companies Uber and Lyft to stop operating in Virginia. But that doesn’t mean the companies or consumers are cooperating.

A groundswell of grassroots support for the rideshare companies that have changed the game in urban travel is growing, pressuring officials in Virginia to allow companies like Uber and Lyft to compete.

Taxicab companies have an institutional monopoly on their side, but Uber and Lyft have social media and consumer support on theirs — from people like Arlington resident Chris Wilson.

“… It’s just a better alternative that existing cab companies just don’t really want to get on board with,” Wilson told Watchdog.org

Taxicab industry has history of lobbying, donations

Speaking of taxicabs, it turns out the industry has quite the history of lobbying and political donations.

Since 1996, the Virginia Taxicab Association has donated nearly half a million dollars to Virginia politicians, and Republicans have benefited the most, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project. The industry has donated about 57 percent of its contributioins to Republicans, 40 percent to Democrats and the rest to other individuals and causes.

“You have a very cozy monopoly that they have benefited from these protectionism regulations for a long time, and they’re absolutely not happy that Uber, Lyft and others are cutting into their turf, as they see it,” said Marc Scribner, a transportation research fellow with the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Kaitlyn Speer is an intern for Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau. She can be reached at kspeer@watchdog.org or on twitter at @KSpeer11

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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