By Steve Flowers
Mike Hubbard is the political story of the year because our 2014 state elections were so mundane. The October indictment of the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives overshadows all other political events in the state, even the re-election of Gov. Robert Bentley, which was a foregone conclusion. In fact, if Hubbard had not been indicted, it would have been the political story of the year.
Speculation had been rampant for well over a year that the powerful leader of the House would be indicted by a Lee County grand jury. Every time I had lunch at a Montgomery restaurant someone would come up to me and say, “It’s coming down today” or “Hubbard is turning himself in this afternoon.” About once a month I would get a call with some information. It was always a false rumor. However, the prevailing opinion was that Hubbard inevitably would be indicted.
After all, a good prosecutor can indict a potato and politicians aren’t as popular as potatoes, so they’re pretty easy prey. Especially when you spend two years and more than million and unlimited investigative time examining everything he ever did in his life, an indictment is going to be returned. The surprising aspect was that nobody else was indicted with him. The most damaging for Hubbard was the magnitude and number of indictments against him.
The prosecutor in this case is the premier political corruption hammer in the state, one Matt Hart. He has been the lead dog on every major political corruption case in the state in the last decade. It’s apparent that Hart is out to prosecute and send Hubbard to jail. He wasn’t going for an indictment. He wants a conviction. That’s the reason he took so long to complete the grand jury investigation. He has built an extensive case with all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed.
The Speaker has a long legal road ahead of him. It will probably take over a year or more to resolve. There are 23 felony counts. If convicted on any one of them, Hubbard faces a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and fines up to ,000, which are Class B felonies under the ethics laws. The sweeping charges allow a jury 23 different chances to convict. The odds are they will find one of the charges meritorious. Hubbard is in a tough spot but he is a tough man.
In all my years of following Alabama politics, I have never seen a Speaker obtain the kind of power Hubbard has amassed over a short four-year period, and I have seen some tough and powerful Speakers, including Rankin Fite, Sage Lyons and Jimmy Clark. They knew how to rule, but Hubbard has corralled more power than any of them.
Over the last quadrennium Hubbard ruled the Alabama House like a dictator. The first-term Republicans, who were swept into office in 2010, followed him like sheep. It was an amazing dictatorship. All of the power, decision making and fundraising began and ended in the Speaker’s office. Hubbard ran a tight ship.
Hubbard isn’t going to go down without a fight. The question becomes how many of his loyal followers will go down with him. Hubbard is credited with orchestrating the GOP takeover of the Alabama legislature in 2010. He recruited and financed many of the new members’ campaigns. They, in turn, became his loyal subjects.
The day after the indictment, Hubbard held a pep rally in Auburn denouncing the 23-count indictment as a political conspiracy by fellow Republican Attorney General Luther Strange to keep Hubbard out of the 2018 governor’s race. His attorney, as well as 3rd District Congressman, Mike Rogers, also said as much. Standing alongside Hubbard were a host of GOP legislators loyal to their Speaker.
The first official business of the House of Representatives when it convenes in its organizational session in January will be the election of the Speaker of the House. Hubbard seems determined to ask his loyal followers to fall on the sword for him. The big question is how many will.
Therefore, the biggest story of 2014 will transcend into 2015 and maybe also become the biggest story of next year.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.