Alabama Speaker falls from ethics champion to violator
Opelika, Ala. — In December 2010, Mike Hubbard had reached a pinnacle: Sworn in as the first Republican speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives in more than a century, he promised a strong ethics reform law to root out corruption in Montgomery.
On Friday night, he suffered a career shattering criminal conviction under that very law, found guilty of using the power of the speakership to benefit his companies. Afterward, a bail bondsman whisked Hubbard away from the jailhouse in his home county, a place where a road and university building bear his name.
It was a dizzying fall for the onetime GOP star whose political future once seemed limitless, but who now faces years in a state prison.
“He came to office offering ethics. First piece of legislation: We are going to clean up Montgomery. And then he became a leader in the mess,” said Natalie Davis, a political scientist and pollster at Birmingham-Southern College.
Hubbard’s conviction and automatic removal from office end a political career and add to ongoing political turmoil involving GOP leaders in all three branches of Alabama government.
A House Judiciary Committee holds its first meeting Wednesday on calls to impeach Gov. Robert Bentley following a sex-tinged scandal involving a former aide. Chief Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore is suspended from office and faces possible ouster over accusations that he violated judicial ethics during the fight about same-sex marriage. Moore has until Friday to file a response to the complaint.
“There is already such a huge mistrust in government. There is nothing good that comes out of having scandals in all three branches of government,” Republican state Sen. Cam Ward said.
Jurors convicted Hubbard on 12 of 23 ethics charges. The panel said he wrongly solicited consulting contracts from several companies and then used his office to help them, including having his staff work on beneficial budget language for one client.
Hubbard, closely associated with the business wing of the state GOP, was also convicted on charges that he asked four corporate executives to make $150,000 investments in his debt-ridden printing companies.
Prosecutors painted Hubbard as a politician consumed by greed, who put a “for sale” sign on the speaker’s office.
“This is probably the first time in recent history that someone at this level has been prosecuted,” W. Van Davis, the acting attorney general in the case, said Friday night. He added that prosecutors hope the verdict restores Alabamians’ confidence that public officials at all levels in the state will be held accountable.
Defense lawyers had insisted the transactions involved legitimate business dealings or requests to longtime friends. Defense lawyer Bill Baxley argued that Hubbard took care to obey the state ethics law.
“We’re very disappointed with the verdict. We plan on appealing. I feel like I let my client down. We feel confident we will prevail in the outcome,” defense lawyer David McKnight said Friday night.
Hubbard and his legal team declined to comment Saturday.
Ambition in business and politics has been a Hubbard trademark.
Hubbard was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1998. As state GOP chairman, he spearheaded Republicans’ 2010 offensive to win control of the Legislature for the first time in 136 years. Hubbard recruited candidates, raised money and coordinated campaigns lambasting corruption under Democrats.
In his book, “Storming the Statehouse,” Hubbard describes how, after becoming enamored with radio broadcasting as a Boy Scout, he pestered a station and landed a job as a disc jockey at age 13. As a young sports public relations employee at Auburn University, he successfully approached the school’s head coach about producing his television show — something he’d never done before.
Hubbard was removed from the legislature automatically because of the felony conviction. Speaker Pro Tem Victor Gaston will assume the duties of speaker. The House could elect a new speaker the next time it’s in session, now scheduled for February.
Hubbard’s House seat will be filled in a special election called by the governor.
The leader of House Democrats criticized Hubbard just as Hubbard had lashed out at Democrats nearly six years ago.
“This is a dark day for Alabama. Mike Hubbard led Republicans to a supermajority on a platform of cleaning up corruption in Montgomery. But instead of cleaning up corruption, Mike Hubbard and the Republican leadership in all three branches of our government have embraced corruption,” House Minority Leader Craig Ford said.
Gaston said the 2010 ethics law proved its value.
“This incident, no matter how regrettable, offers strong proof that the ethics reforms passed by the Legislature in 2010 remain among the toughest in the nation,” he said. “I know that every House member, regardless of party, will keep Mike Hubbard and his family in our prayers as he begins this next, most difficult chapter in his life.”