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Attention, Alabama: ‘Something’ is Going on Here

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Left) and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Left) and Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange

One of my favorite recurring sketches on David Letterman’s Late Show on CBS is called “Is This Anything?” The stage curtain comes up and a performer has about thirty seconds to do whatever bizarre or unusual stunt they can, at which point the curtain lowers and Dave and band leader Paul Shaffer simply decide whether the act was “something” or “nothing.”

I thought about that sketch as I considered the last several days here in Alabama. To put it plainly, this week in Alabama politics has really been “something,” and it stands in stark contrast with an otherwise relatively boring 2014 election cycle, which has, frankly, been full of a whole bunch of “nothing.”

The vast majority of incumbents won their primaries, which will lead to very little turnover in the Alabama Legislature, and it is hard to imagine any statewide officeholders being felled in the General Election on Nov. 4. On the federal level, none of the congressional races are competitive and Democrats didn’t even attempt to field a candidate against Sen. Jeff Sessions, the only U.S. Senate race in the country in which that was the case.

But the significance of the single burst of activity — a 23-count indictment of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard — cannot be overstated. Casual observers who do not follow politics closely probably rolled their eyes (more on that in a minute) at the news of yet another Alabama elected official being caught up in legal trouble, but this one’s different. While relatively unknown to the majority of Alabamians, Hubbard is a colossus in state government. Yellowhammer has for several years in a row ranked him #2 on our annual list of the most powerful figures in Alabama politics, coming in just behind the governor. But the truth is, with Alabama’s constitution vesting so much power in the legislative branch, during the few months of the year when the Legislature is in sessions, Hubbard is hands-down the most powerful figure in the state. In short, he’s one of the few politicians who wields so much power that he can actually have a significant impact on the everyday lives of average Alabamians.

But in spite of the indictment story getting seemingly wall-to-wall coverage from every outlet that reports on politics in this state — including multiple posts here on Yellowhammer — from what I can tell, people just aren’t that interested.

Before I get into why I say that, consider this:

The Alabama Speaker of the House gets indicted on 23 felony counts of public corruption. He, along with a sitting U.S. Congressman, then accuse the sitting Attorney General and his subordinates of abusing their authority and engaging in a “political witch hunt.” Meanwhile, at least one House member began scheming to seize the power of the Speaker’s office for himself before the ink was even dry on the indictment. And oh yea, all of these people are members of the same Party.

I mean, House of Cards is a massive hit on Netflix, so how is this not all anyone’s talking about?

But it is most definitely not.

I could give plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that statement, but here are some numbers to back it up.

The Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives being indicted is only the 20th most read story on Yellowhammer this month. Auburn University’s Ebola research trumps it easily. So does a series on the greatest song ever written about Alabama, a short post about a former Alabama football star’s tweet and an article about Alabama’s connection to an upcoming Clint Eastwood movie. It’s not even the most read story related to politics this month. A post about Alabama’s most bizarre laws and another one about the richest and poorest areas of the state being less than four miles apart have both gotten more hits.

In fact, in spite of Yellowhammer getting roughly 2 million visitors this month, only a very small percentage of those people have engaged the indictment story at all.

Granted, several of the aforementioned stories were posted before the indictment news broke and have therefore had more time to spread via social media, but the vast majority of hits on a story typically take place within 24 hours.

And even if you shorten the window to only stories that have been published this week, there are numerous posts that have gotten more hits: A story on the impact oil prices are having on Alabama jobs; a seven year old video of an Alabama fan bashing Tennessee; and a study of the best areas of Alabama for people hoping to find a husband or wife have all gotten more hits than the coverage of the Speaker of the Alabama House being indicted on 23 felony charges and the subsequent accusations and back and forth with the Attorney General’s office.

What does it all mean? You probably don’t need someone to tell you that, but it’s definitely “something.”


Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims