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Alabama House Speaker race heats up with allegations of ‘bullying,’ inappropriate legislation

(Video above: State Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) discusses his bid for Speaker on Yellowhammer Radio)

State Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) is seeking to oust Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) from the top post in the legislature. On Thursday’s edition of Yellowhammer Radio with Cliff Sims, Williams laid out his reasoning for challenging a man who is arguably the state’s most powerful politician, and a member of his own party.

Williams said his initial realization that it may be time for a leadership change came during a recent special legislative session that was supposed to be entirely devoted to passing a budget. Williams said Hubbard had assured members that the 23 corruption charges he is currently facing would not impact his duties as Speaker. However, Williams believes some of the bills Hubbard tried to advance during the session were specifically created to assist his legal defense.

“I and other members watched two bills go through during the special session that had nothing to do with the budget, but it was about giving the Speaker of the House the ability to do things that could be questionable,” he explained. “One was to have the ability to have an unlimited (legal) defense fund… So a member could raise money for their legal defense with no limit.

“The other was the Star Chamber Bill, which has been designed to allow the members and the leadership to get information from agency heads. Sounds okay, but if you take this as a big puzzle and the pieces line up, that one caused me the most concern because it could have been abused.”

Williams said the Star Chamber Bill could have resulted in legislators having inappropriate leverage over state prosecutors.

“The Speaker of the House, regardless of who it was, would be able to bring in a prosecutorial team and zero out their budget,” he said. “Or at least have power over their budget that we currently don’t have. So those things taken with the fact that our leadership’s solution to everything seems to be ‘let’s raise (taxes),’ I decided it’s time for new leadership.”

According to the Associated Press, Hubbard’s legal defense strategy includes the assertion that “Alabama’s ethics law is unconstitutionally vague, did not apply to him as Republican party chairman and that he had a free speech right to lobby for his clients.”

Williams said Thursday that he took exception to this, because Speaker Hubbard led the charge put the more stringent ethics laws in place to begin with.

“(Ethics reforms is) how we beat up on Democrats to get in office,” he said. “And now to have the same person challenging the law’s constitutionality, which is designed to allow him to sidestep these indictments — that is just not going to stand. The people of Alabama did not send us down there to do something in 2010 and then throw it out as soon as one of us felt like, ‘Hey, I’ve got to get rid of this because the very laws I championed have become a stumbling block to me.'”

Williams also expressed frustration that Hubbard had taken what he described as a “top-down approach” to House operations and sometimes “bullied” rank and file members who did not support his agenda.

“There’s a danger the longer you stay in elected office, the more you become a babysitter of the status quo, even if it’s the status quo you helped shape,” said Williams. “(Speaker Hubbard) was such a dynamic leader and such a visionary… Now he does not challenge the governor. He’s preoccupied with other things in his life… Now it’s led to us talking about tax increases and basically bullying members, like me, who didn’t support those tax measures.”

In one particularly explosive moment, Williams said Hubbard threatened to seek retribution against him for not supporting a particular tax increase bill.

“In the session when one of the tax bills came to my committee, I killed it,” he recalled. “The Speaker came into the room, and in a very loud voice basically threatened ‘anything that I held valuable,’ quote, unquote. That was the beginning of the tone that led throughout the first and second special session, with the Speaker becoming more and more animated as to how far he’d go. In many ways Governor Bentley is unrecognizable from the 2010 through 2014 years, and in some ways the Speaker is becoming very much a changed leader as well.”

Yellowhammer asked Hubbard’s office if the Speaker disagreed with Williams’ characterization of events, but a spokesperson for the Speaker declined to comment for this story.

Williams concluded Thursday’s interview by saying his approach to governing would be very different, particularly in that he would dramatically reduce the power of the Speaker’s office.

“We need new leadership, and if we just change the name on the corner office on the 5th floor, I say we’re going to be right back in this situation again, and again and again. What I offer is a more bottom-up approach to empower the members. Let them be able to serve their people back home, so all of Alabama can feel like they’re a part of the legislative process.”

The full audio of Williams interview on Yellowhammer Radio can be heard in the YouTube video above.

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