“Clearly, controlling the narrative is in our best interests,” writes Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.

Birmingham City Councilor Kim Rafferty favors forming an ad hoc committee “to keep control of this issue going forward.”

It may feel like a script for House of Cards, but it’s just the state of the debate over ridesharing in Alabama.

4/22/2015 Email Exchange Between Rafferty and Maddox

If you’re a politician like Maddox or Rafferty, who were sounding off in a chain email circulated on April 22, you have to spin it to win it. That’s why they’re so interested in controlling the storyline.

For the uninitiated, ridesharing is a cashless transportation service accessed via phone-based application. Whenever you need a ride, you click and a driver shows up. Options run from individuals driving their own cars in their spare time to professional limousine-style drivers.

I’d rather have that type of convenience than more government-controlled models. But then, I’m the kind of person who has always loved disruptive technologies like Netflix and Uber more than the backroom machinations of politicians.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a regular patron of ridesharing services whenever I travel. And the R Street Institute, where I also do some work, has supported ridesharing and evaluated the transportation-friendliness of cities around the nation.

Companies like Uber or Lyft provide a service customers want, they are trying to do business in Alabama and their presence would undoubtedly create economic opportunity, increase tax revenues and improve our transportation environment.

Yet some of our municipal leaders will have none of that, and they’re delighted with their success so far.

“I am immensely proud of how our municipalities prevented and or dispensed with illegal app transportation operations with a minimal cost legally,” Rafferty wrote in the email.

Translation: “We prevented ridesharing from coming to Alabama.”

“As far as I can see, we did it most expeditiously and effectively than any other state or country in the world. We all should be proud of what we have accomplished so far.”

Translation: “We should celebrate because we prevented Alabamians from having a tremendous convenience that cities across the nation and globe enjoy.

Rafferty says municipal leaders are justified in opposing  proposed legislation at the state level that would streamline ridesharing regulation because they have a “duty to secure public safety, business integrity and regulatory measures.”

Sure, as is the case with any service industry, negative stories are a reality. But are those stories the norm or the exception?

Alabamians have seen more than their fair share of political fear-mongering recently, and we shouldn’t buy it.

Atlanta has ridesharing, and so does Nashville. New Orleans just authorized it. Even Pensacola has it. In fact, most major cities in the United States, including the taxi Mecca known as New York City, have ridesharing.

Rafferty would know, because it appears her take on Uber is “do as I say, not as I do.”

In a conversation with Councilor Rafferty, she said that she uses Uber when she travels — to be fair, she switched to Uber Black, Uber’s higher-end executive luxury service, after a negative experience with UberX.

Maddox and Rafferty want to control the narrative. How about instead, they try this on for size: “We’re prepared to do anything we can to support business innovation, create economic opportunity for the people we represent and end the political spin that has held Alabama back for far too long.”

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