Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, Part 3, Newsom or a GOP initiative?

David Salaverry
Founded CCAG to fight the 2011 redistricting battles and is currently a candidate for Supervisor in San Francisco's 6th District in 2014. His website is davidcarlos2014.com.

In Part 1, I compared Hyperloop to other ETT (evacuated tube transport) systems and note that in 2011 a Chinese prototype achieved a 700 MPH model speed, proof of concept.  In Part 2, I considered Musk’s crowdsourcing strategy, his stick in the eye of CAHSRA and the tech geek kids who are already building the vision on www.reddit.com boards. I said— The Kids Love It—and that means there is a market.

But markets require entrepreneurs to shape the raw needs and wants and create a product that satisfies them and turns a profit.  What Elon Musk may not fully comprehend is that if Hyperloop it to replace CAHSRA, it will take political entrepreneurs shaping the context one level up from skunk works corporations.  Who are the politicos that might have a chance succeeding?  Well, for one… Gavin Newsom.

Gavin Newsom:  The Pied Piper of Hyperloop?

As a member of the SFGOP Central Committee, I have a special, local animus for Newsom, a Democratic pol as slick as they come.  Although deeply embedded in the high-speed rail establishment (see 2006, 2009 and 2011) Newsom is opportunistic and could turn on a dime.  In fact, last May he became a cautious CAHSRA critic.

Newsom’s book Citizenville is a tour-de-force of entrepreneurial political opportunism.  In Citizenville Newsom feints right, left, then center quoting Reagan, Ghandi and Gore while name dropping Stewart Brand, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and legions of “common men”.  The main point: digital engagement platforms will put the political class “in touch” with The People.  But Newsom is a cheerleader for all forms of tech.

Hyperloop is a perfect opportunity for Newsom to show his political mettle.  If he concludes CAHSRA is doomed, he may well take a strategic risk and tilt against Brown-Pelosi-Feinstein-Obama in favor of the bright, shiny and new Hyperloop idea.  He would calculate: They’re history in 2-4 cycles.  I’ll be called, “Courageous.  Forward thinking. Willing to admit I’m wrong.”

Newsom is only the most obvious of the smart, young, opportunistic Democrats who will make a similar calculation.  Any one of them might ride Hyperloop into higher office if Newsom plays it safe and doesn’t buck CAHSRA.

 

The standard CAGOP reaction.

The knee jerk reaction by California Republicans will be snarky glee:  Conservatives across the state are surely cackling as they read Flashreport links to news of Judge Kenny slapping down CAHSRA and Joel Fox’s analysis that the House will now defund CAHSRA.   The Authority is rocked back on its heels and Republicans are high fiving.

Most Republicans will think: this is a win-win.  All we have to do is let the Dems fight each other over two idiotic infrastructure proposals, CAHSRA vs Hyperloop.  Both are boondoggles.  We can just sit it out till the voters come back to us as fiscally sane conservatives against spending any taxpayer money.  So what if Newsom grabs the issue?  None of this concerns our base.

This is cowardly thinking.  It is the CAGOP equivalent of Obama’s managed national decline.  Rather than take entrepreneurial political risks, many California Republicans prefer to look backward to sepia toned “glory days” when Reagan was president and the GOP was surging forward, failing to remember that RR was himself a bold, entrepreneurial political leader.

The opportunity of Hyperloop

I said in my article last spring that infrastructure is a potential Republican and conservative issue of great importance.  Lincoln built the Transcontinental Railroad, Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway… I’ll punt and say Reagan built a military infrastructure that ended the Soviet Union.  Reagan’s military infrastructure is the foundation of US dominance to this day.

Entrepreneurial Republican leaders could take the Hyperloop issue away from opportunistic Democrats and run with it… towards the future, towards the kids, towards a huge political crossover market that lies their untapped.  By championing Hyperloop against CAHSRA, the CAGOP could create a libertarian-themed political issue with a red hot high tech following that the general public would buy enthusiastically.  Even the GOP base would bite if leaders showed them how it was in their interests.

2012 polls showed public support for CA high speed rail declining to margins less than 50%.    A new poll after Hyperloop and the recent anti-CAHSRA ruling have sunk in would likely show support falling off a cliff.  The CAGOP needs to get in the game as the fiscally prudent promoters of alternative infrastructure.  The CAGOP needs to demonstrate bold leadership.

What might a CAGOP initiative look like?

The initiative we draft might include: a) stopping all construction and dissolving CAHSRA, b), auditing what remains of the Prop 1A funds and lock-boxing it for Hyperloop construction c) putting 10% or $1 billion of the Prop 1A funds into fast track, competitive CA university R&D for Hyperloop ETT systems, d)  with legislative stipulation that NOTHING GETS BUILT WITHOUT AT LEAST 50% MATCHING PRIVATE FUNDS INVESTED, and with, e) language mandating ALL RESEARCH AND EVENTUAL MANUFACTURING IN CALIFORNIA.

  • With Cal Tech, Stanford, UCB, UCLA etc. competing, with STEM professors running skunk works of engineering students vetting concepts and building prototypes we can build Hyperloop within the 7 year framework proposed by Elon Musk.
  • By creating a firewall for at minimum 50% private matching investment (I’d prefer 80%) we create a model for conservative-libertarian PPPs (public private partnerships).
  • By explicitly mandating all R&D and eventual manufacturing in California, we create a global green industry to replace the aerospace industrial base of the Golden State and leapfrog HSR worldwide.
  • By using Prop 1A money already voter-approved, we turn the sows ear CAHSRA into a silk purse Hyperloop reinventing the CAGOP as the infrastructure party.

Backers & Coalitions

An initiative needs backers.  Musk moves weekly between Tesla in the Bay Area and SpaceX in LA.  Is there a moderate-libertarian CAGOP donor in Silicon Valley who might pledge $500K?  Is there a Chamber of Commerce donor in LA to pledge $500K?  Put them in a room with Elon Musk.  Ask Musk to pledge $100K and expand his 57 page PDF into something more solid.

Get the many libertarian SV and SoCal entrepreneurs and businesspeople to fund the full $2 million for ballot signatures.  And then hit them up for the $10-$20 million to pass the initiative against opposition from unions, the Democrat establishment, the crony contractors, etc.  Get the reddit.com geek kids working as paid grassroots ground troops collecting signatures and micro-donations.  And get the venture capital financiers excited about the upside investment potential.

An initiative needs a coalition.  While a CAGOP Hyperloop initiative is perfect for a pragmatic libertarian-moderate, we need broad based support on the right.  Purist, ideological libertarians might object.  The “drown government in the bathtub” folks will have to be persuaded.  Mainstream Chamber of Commerce conservatives will like the idea.  Many Tea Party and Hardliners will get on board when the opportunities are explained.

We need moderates and the intelligent left, also.  HSR as 1850s rail tech with incremental improvements.  HSR for all the hype is wheels, track, wide, destructive rights-of-way, heavy locomotives and heavy construction & engineering.

In Summary

Hyperloop is a giant leap forward into elegant, lightweight, low footprint technology that is highly conservation-friendly and highly rational from an engineering standpoint.  Hyperloop is far greener than HSR (its solar powered for gods sake!), a mass transit people mover system for the next 100 years.  Hyperloop is faster, greener, cheaper and also much smarter.

Are there any conservative, Republican, libertarian political entrepreneurs out there?  Can we build a GOP coalition and then take it to the larger moderate public, bringing the smart left on board?  Or do we let Gavin Newsom and have Hyperloop to themselves or potentially allow CAHSRA to regroup and lay track towards catastrophe?

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