The Wire

  • 26 arrests were made at Hands Across the Border-Lake Eufaula

    Excerpt from WTVM:

    Officers and Deputies from the Georgia State Patrol, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Quitman County Sheriff’s Department, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Eufaula Police Department conducted joint road-checks in their respective states.

    The enforcement action was held to strengthen the fellowship between the states and departments. Their goal was to work to take drunk and drugged drivers off the road as well as surveying for distracted driving, child and adult restraint violations and other traffic violations.

    They expressed sincere gratitude to EPD Officer Sean Robinson and the other participating Agencies from both states.

    Friday evening’s activity included 11 written warnings and 26 arrests, including four Driving Under the Influence arrests.

  • Editorial: ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ is not a conservative anthem

    Excerpt from The Roanoke Times:

    When Corey Stewart won the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate last week, he appeared on stage to the sound of “Sweet Home Alabama.”

    This would seem a curious song choice for a Virginia politician. We are not Alabama and have never wanted to be Alabama. Granted, there’s a dearth of songs that mention Virginia, and “Sweet Home Alabama” is a rollicking little tune, so maybe we shouldn’t read too much into it.

    On the other hand, Lynyrd Skynyrd was a band that worked the Confederate flag into its logo and the National Review once hailed “Sweet Home Alabama” as one of “the 50 greatest conservative rock songs,” so it’s more likely that the song was picked intentionally. Stewart does love Confederate symbols. “Sweet Home Alabama” even takes a shot at Canada — more, accurately the Canadian rock star Neil Young —so it certainly seems to fit the current Trumpian zeitgeist.

    Meanwhile, the liberal website Slate cited Stewart’s song choice as just one more example of how he’s pandering to the most atavistic elements of the Virginia electorate. In the Slate writer’s words: “He’s a carpetbagger, but for racism.”

    Actually, both of them have it wrong. “Sweet Home Alabama” is not a conservative anthem, and it’s certainly not a cover song for racism. It is, though, one of the most misunderstood political songs of all time, one that’s even been the subject of scholarly study.

  • Man shot and killed at Birmingham gas station

    Excerpt from WVTM:

    The Birmingham Police Department is investigating a shooting that left one man dead at a gas station early Monday morning.

    Officers were called to the 1800 block of Bessemer Rd. at about 3 a.m. on reports of a person shot. When they arrived they found one man dead. The victim was later identified as 30-year-old Denorris Rishard Barnes.

    Police on the scene said three men were at the gas station changing a tire when someone drove up and fired several rounds of gunshots. Barnes was fatally shot. The other two were uninjured. The suspect fled the scene before police arrived.

2 months ago

Court of appeals races on Alabama ballot this year


Last week we made you aware that five of the nine seats on our State Supreme Court are up for election this year. In addition, our Court of Civil Appeals and Criminal Appeals have several members up for election.

The folks who sit on these courts essentially have zero name identification. Even when polling is done soon after Alabamians have voted for them, Alabama voters still cannot identify them.

These courts do just what their name implies. They hear appeals from civil and criminal cases from around the state and are a barrier or gatekeeper between the circuit or trial courts around the state. They deflect a lot of cases from getting to the Supreme Court. Most states have these appellate courts. They are similar and derived from the federal appellate courts.


Alabama is in the minority of states that elect our judges. All of our judges in Alabama are elected, not only the Supreme and Appellate Court jurists, but also our local Circuit and District Judges. Judges in most states are appointed – usually by the governor. The crafters of our 1901 Constitution gave the people the right to vote on judges, which was one of the deference’s from having a powerful governor.

There are nine seats on the State Supreme Court and five seats each on the Court of Civil and Criminal Appeals. All 19 of our state court seats are held by Republicans, which is reflective of our state’s political leanings.

As would be suspected with all Republicans, they tend to be conservative. Our Court of Civil Appeals leans pro-business, and our Court of Criminal Appeals tends to favor prosecutors over defendants. However, our current Court of Criminal Appeals has a very glaring exception due to the obvious inexplicable length in their handing down an opinion on the conviction of former
Speaker, Mike Hubbard.

In almost all cases heard by the Court of Criminal Appeals, they render an opinion upholding a conviction by a local jury. The only exception is when there is an egregious overt error in jury instructions or overt documented prejudice by a Circuit Judge.

Folks, I watched and followed the Mike Hubbard case. Judge Walker, a highly respected and veteran experienced Lee County Circuit Judge did a meticulous job in that trial. A 12 person jury convicted Mike Hubbard of Ethics Law violations. There was no error in protocol or one shred of evidence that was not presented. It was a lengthy trial. Hubbard had his day in court.

A jury of his Lee County peers found him guilty. Judge Walker, in order to avoid error, read the instructions to the jury to assure that proper language was unmistakable.

As I travel the state on Speaking engagements and Talk shows, invariably the first question asked by Rotarians or callers is, “Why hasn’t Mike Hubbard gone to jail?”. They ask a pertinent question. They suspect foul play or political deference may be at play. It would appear that that might be the case.

Hubbard was convicted almost two years ago. The Court of Criminal Appeals usually rules on an intricate murder trial in less than a year. Yet, Hubbard remains free on Appeal. The average Alabamian is perplexed by the delay. I suspect politics is at play in this case. It may revolve around campaign contributions to judicial candidates.

The members of the State Court of Criminal Appeals are Liles Burke, Mary Windom, Beth Kellum, Sam Welch and Mike Joiner. There are several newcomers in the June Primary. The list includes running for three open seats; Richard Minor, Donna Beaulieu, Bill Cole, Rich Anderson and veteran Fayette County District Attorney, Chris McCool.

We also have some races on the Court of Civil Appeals next month. The business community is obviously more interested in this Civil Appeals Court than Criminal. In place 1, Baldwin County Circuit Judge Michelle Thomasson may have an edge over Pat Thetford of Birmingham and Christy Edwards of Montgomery. Incumbent Judge Terri Willingham Thomas is being
challenged by Chad Hanson for Place 2.

There are a lot of judicial races on our June 5 ballot on both the state and local level.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the State Legislature. Steve may be reached at

2 months ago

Legislators share dissatisfaction with embattled BCA head Bill Canary


As embattled Business Council of Alabama CEO Bill Canary’s time as head of the organization is debated among insiders, some of the state’s heavy-hitters are expressing dissatisfaction with the leadership of the group.

State Sen. Slade Blackwell (R-Mountain Brook) told Yellowhammer News the BCA “is fantastic,” but its representation in Montgomery is not.

“The current leadership of BCA is a detriment to their agenda,” Blackwell said, adding that Canary’s “presence is just not there.”


“I can’t remember Billy coming to see me in my office,” said Blackwell, who has served for eight years and chairs the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. “I would say in eight years he talked to me one time on one issue.”

Blackwell said he believes that because Canary had good relationships with the former leadership structure of the legislature “he didn’t think he needed to build relationships with everybody else.”

Blackwell said that lawmakers who Canary previously ignored now don’t want to help him on issues. Columnist Steve Flowers, who served in the Alabama Legislature for 16 years, wrote in 2017 that “most GOP lawmakers vote against pro-business legislation because of Canary.”

For Canary, it may be a case of not if he will be asked to step down, but when. Alabama Political Reporter reported Thursday that an email chain among members of the BCA executive committee debated the timing, but agreed he should go.

Some of the largest members of the BCA, including Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Regions Bank, want Canary replaced by June 1, while BCA Chairman Perry Hand wants Canary to stay on until after the general election in November, according to the Alabama Political Reporter story.

BCA couldn’t be reached for comment.

Canary, a native of New York, has led the BCA since 2002, when Bob Riley helped put him in place after his election to the governorship. Under Canary’s leadership, BCA and its Progress PAC helped reduce business-harming regulations in the state, but some say his abrasive style lost its effectiveness after the Alabama Legislature became solidly Republican following the 2010 midterm elections.

Things really came to a head last summer when the BCA was accused of blackballing lawmakers by not inviting previously favored Republicans to its annual government affairs conference in Point Clear in August. pointed out that many of those not invited had disagreements with the BCA during the 2017 legislative session.

Alabama Power chose not to participate in that conference and is also one of the BCA members calling for Canary to step down.

The most heated issue during the 2017 session was debate over a bill that would require larger employers to provide advanced autism therapies as part of their insurance coverage, which is mandated in nearly every other state.

Sen. Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), whose 15-year-old daughter is autistic, was among the leaders in fighting for the successful passage of the legislation and was also not invited to the conference.

“I was on one side of the issue and they were on the other,” Ward told Yellowhammer News. “There was some bad blood between us, no question. But we’ve sat down and had some meetings and we’re on good terms now.”

Others aren’t on as good of terms. Sen. Dick Brewbaker (R-Pike Road) told that BCA is a “punitive organization.” Brewbaker is the senator who threatened to filibuster the remainder of the 2017 legislative session if the autism bill didn’t make it to the floor for a vote. It passed nearly unanimously in the Senate.

Rep. Ed Henry (R-Hartselle), who has fought against the BCA on issues he has described crony capitalism, also had ill words for the organization.

“There’s quite a few of us who tanked all their bull crap this year and now they’re mad at us,” he told last year before the conference.

2 months ago

Inside the statehouse


Republicans took control of federal offices and presidential races in 1964 in Alabama. It was referred to as the Goldwater Landslide. The Baxley-Graddick fiasco in 1986 was the game changer for governor. In the last 32 years there have been eight governor’s races. Republicans have won all of them, with one exception. Don Siegelman was an interloper in 1998.

During that same period, Alabamians have elected all Republicans to every secondary, statewide office. There are six secondary constitutional offices. All six are held by Republicans. There are nine justices on the State Supreme Court. There are also 10 judges on the Civil and Criminal Courts of Appeals. These 19 judges are all Republicans. If you add the three seats on the PSC to this list and include the Governor, that is 29 state offices. All 29 are held by Republicans.

In addition, we have seven seats in Congress. Six-out- of-seven of our Congressional members are Republicans. Folks, that makes us a pretty Republican state.

However, inexplicably it was only eight years ago in 2010 that our state legislature changed from Democratic controlled to majority Republican. When it changed it really changed drastically. The final coup de gras was probably caused by the National Democrats electing Barack Obama president.


As I sat on television analyzing the dramatic results in 2010, it became obvious to me that the seismic avalanche of voting Republican for legislative seats was erupting in North Alabama and especially the Tennessee Valley. This area of the state had continued to elect Democrats to state legislative seats. It was the last bastion of white Democratic voters. This allegiance and loyalty was dating back to FDR and the New Deal. However, the election of Obama changed all that
loyalty that these voters and their grandparents had to their longstanding Democratic affinity for local and legislative candidates.

The Republican legislative leadership led by former Speaker Mike Hubbard, claimed credit for this Republican tidal wave engulfing and changing the Legislature. They did field good candidates; however, it was Barack Obama that put the final nail in the Democratic coffin in Alabama. Race and religion have always driven the vote in the Heart of Dixie.

The southern two-thirds of the state had incrementally begun voting for GOP legislative candidates, especially in suburban districts. However, the northern tier of the state voted Republican with a vengeance, and it looks like they are not turning back.

Regardless of the reason our legislature is not only majority Republican, it is super majority Republican. That means that over two-thirds of the members of the State Senate and State House are Republican.

The Democrats are buoyed by Doug Jones historic victory in a Special U.S. Senate election in December. They have enthusiastically fielded a large slate of candidates for the Legislature.

Democrats believe that Jones’ win in suburban areas, especially Jefferson and Mobile, can be duplicated this year.

That is doubtful. The Jones victory was an anomaly and an isolated dislike for Roy Moore. The Republicans will return with their majorities and more than likely their lock on a super majority.

Incumbency is a powerful advantage and most of the incumbents are Republicans.

A good many of the State Senate’s most powerful members are unopposed for reelection.

Included in this list of incumbent State Senators who have been reelected by acclamation are veteran Senate Leader and Rules Chairman, Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia, Senate Majority Leader, Greg Reed, R-Jasper, respected veteran Jimmy Holley, R-Coffee, Senator Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, Senator Clay Scofield, R-Marshall, Senator Shay Shelnutt, R-Gardendale, Senator Clyde Chambliss, R-Autauga.

Republican Senate leaders, Del Marsh, R-Calhoun, Jim McClendon, R-St. Clair, Steve Livingston, R- Scottsboro, only have taken opposition in the Republican primary and no Democratic opponent.

Republican Senators, Cam Ward, R-Alabaster and Tom Whatley, R-Lee, only have token Democratic opponents in very Republican districts.

On the Democratic side, veteran State Senators, Rodger Smitherman, Priscilla Dunn, Bobby Singleton, and Billy Beasley are running unopposed. Senator Hank Sanders of Selma, the longest serving member of the Alabama Senate decided to not seek a 10th term. Senator Sanders has become an icon in Alabama political history. He will be replaced by another Democrat, probably his daughter.

Longtime Democratic House members Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, and Richard Lindsey, D-Centre, are retiring and Johnny Mack Morrow, D-Red Bay, and Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, are leaving the House to run for the Senate. They are the last four white male Democrats in the House of Representatives. That leaves one white Democrat in the House, Elaine Beech, D-Chatom, and there will be one white Democrat in the Senate, Billy Beasley, D-Clayton. These two white Democrats will be dinosaurs in the legislature.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at

1 year ago

Three up, three down: heads of each Alabama branch of government removed in a year

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama has had a rough political year. Following the resignation of scandal-ridden Gov. Robert Bentley yesterday, each of the state’s three major political leaders has been removed in less than 365 days.

The heads of the state executive, legislative, and judicial branches were all removed (either voluntarily or by force) due to some sort of ethical misconduct. Here’s a refresher of what all went wrong in the Yellowhammer State.

Former Governor Robert Bentley (R)

The most recent of the scandals, Bentley’s story is perhaps the most wide in scope due to his position and resources. He formally announced his resignation yesterday and likely avoided becoming the first Alabama Governor to be impeached. Increased backlash against him followed the release of a report exposing details of corruption from within Bentley’s administration as he sought to cover up an alleged affair with his top aide, Rebekah Mason.

Bentley had been called on to resign by multiple state Republican leaders, including Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh. The Alabaman Republican Party steering committee had issued a call for Bentley to step down on Sunday.

RELATED: ‘I’m sorry’: Robert Bentley apologizes and resigns following arrest, looming impeachment

On Monday afternoon, Bentley was booked in the Montgomery County Sherriff’s office, having cut a deal that will allow him to avoid a heavy sentence. As part of the agreement, he was compelled to immediately resign his office and give up his retirement and security benefits. He was charged with two misdemeanors for ethics violations and will be expected to pay thousands in fines and serve over 100 hours of community service. He also must repay over $8,000 to the state of Alabama.

Former Chief Justice Roy Moore (R)

Justice Moore was suspended without pay for his defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. The Alabama Court of the Judiciary found that Moore’s order instructing probate judges to violate the SCOTUS holding violated judicial ethics and suspended him from the bench for the remainder of his term.

RELATED: Roy Moore suspended from Alabama Supreme Court

Roy Moore’s removal from the Alabama Supreme Court late last year was actually his second time that he was booted off the bench. Moore was previously removed from the bench in 2003 when he refused to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the Alabama Judicial Building. He was re-elected Chief Justice in 2013.

Former House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn)

Last Summer, Speaker Hubbard was convicted of 12 of 23 charges by a Lee County Jury in Opelika for using his political position for personal gain. Hubbard made millions of dollars in various schemes designed to leverage the power of his office to enrich himself, and now he is in state prison.

RELATED: Alabama House speaker Mike Hubbard convicted

Hubbard was at one point considered the most powerful man in Alabama politics. He successfully led the 2010 Republican campaign to re-take the State House for the first time since Reconstruction. After become the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Hubbard ruled with an iron fist.

After his conviction, former Yellowhammer CEO Cliff Sims wrote “Such a scenario would be a seismic political event, regardless of the individual; the Speaker’s post is arguably the most powerful position in state government. But Hubbard may have been the strongest speaker to ever hold the job, meaning his ouster will now lead to a power vacuum of tectonic proportions.”

Hubbard has since been replaced as speaker by Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia).

1 year ago

Alabama State House corruption demands a dose of preventative medicine

Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)

By State Rep. Will Ainsworth (R – Guntersville)

The Alabama Capitol Building and State House are currently suffering an epidemic of corruption, and rather than continuing to address the problem only after wrongdoing occurs, I believe it is time we implement a strong dose of preventative medicine.

That is why I have filed strict, no-nonsense term limit legislation in the Alabama House.

Consider for a moment some of the elected officials who have been convicted for abusing their offices in recent years:

Former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard, an 18-year legislative veteran, was recently found guilty of 12 violations of ethics laws and sentenced to four years in prison.

Former State Rep. Greg Wren, a 14-year House member, pled guilty to using his office for personal gain and was forced to pay $24,000 in restitution.

Former Gov. Don Siegelman, who held various state offices over 24 years, was found guilty of bribery, mail fraud, and obstruction of justice charges and completed a six-and-a-half year prison sentence earlier this month.

Former State Rep. Terry Spicer pled guilty to accepting bribes in return for passing legislation during his three terms in the Alabama House and served almost five years in federal custody.

The entire list of state officials who been found guilty of abusing their office is too lengthy to share in its entirety, which is, in itself, a serious indication of the problem.

Notice, though, that each of the individuals I have highlighted share one thing in common – lengthy terms in office.

I believe that long-term exposure to the corrupting influences that infect our state government causes the moral compass of many elected officials to turn toward the back rooms and dark corridors of Montgomery rather than pointing true north.

These corrupt politicians learn the system, become seduced by it, and they soon forget about the people they represent while looking out only for themselves.

The solution is to limit the amount of time public officials may serve so they do not succumb to temptations.

In addition, our founding fathers envisioned our representative government to be comprised of citizen-statesmen who would serve short terms in office and return home so others could step up and follow suit. I do not believe that Washington, Jefferson, Franklin or their peers wanted our government to be dominated by career politicians who viewed their offices as a long-term job rather than a temporary civic duty.

Under the provisions of my legislation, an individual is limited to serving two terms in each chamber of the Legislature before being forced to step aside. Individuals serving in the state’s other constitutional offices – governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, etc. – are already limited to two consecutive terms, and I believe it is time for lawmakers to face the same restriction.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump inspired Americans with his promise to reform Washington and his rallying cry of “Drain the swamp!”.

After serving just two years in the Alabama House, I can testify that Montgomery’s government buildings are an equally corrupt and stagnant swamp that needs to be drained so the fresh air of ethics and honesty can blow in.

Passing my bill will not be easy because many of the lawmakers who will consider the bill are the same long-term officeholders that it targets and limits, so please call, write, and email your legislators in its support. Talk to them at church, the grocery store, the little league baseball field, and other places you see them. Let them know that you demand an end to corruption by implementing term limits.

If our army of angry and frustrated citizens will band together in one massive movement – much like the one President Trump led – we can finally force the change in Montgomery that all of us crave.

State Rep. Will Ainsworth, a Republican representing Marshall, Blount, and DeKalb counties, is serving his first term in the Alabama House.

2 years ago

McCutcheon’s first words as Alabama House Speaker: The ‘imperial speakership’ is over

Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)
Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)
Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — In his first words as Alabama Speaker of the House, State Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) declared “the days of the imperial speakership are over.”

McCutcheon was elected by a vote of 68 to 28, defeating the Democrats’ nominee, Rep. Joe Knight of Montgomery.

“I am not my predecessor. The days of the imperial speakership are over,” he said as members of both parties applauded. “I will work every day, every hour, every minute and every second to be the people’s speaker.”

RELATED: Alabama House Republicans just elected a new Speaker. Here’s what you should know.

McCutcheon’s rise to the speakership comes two months after a jury convicted former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) on 12 counts of using his public office for personal gain. The conviction immediately removed Hubbard from office, prompting a crowded by uncontentious race to succeed him.

McCutcheon was previously one of Hubbard’s top lieutenants in his role as House Rules Chairman, a powerful position atop the committee that decides which bills make it to the floor for a vote each day. But while Hubbard earned a reputation for ruling the lower chamber with an iron fist, McCutcheon garnered respect on both sides of the aisle for his even-handed approach.

Speaker McCutcheon’s new approach will immediately be tested as the legislature convenes for a special session to debate Gov. Robert Bentley’s lottery proposal.

The Governor’s call includes the following:

“A constitutional amendment enabling a state lottery to support the General Fund” and “Legislation providing funding for Medicaid, infrastructure investment, and/or debt repayment.”

“This call is designed for the Alabama Legislature to address adequate support of essential state services including children, the elderly, people with mental illness and support for men and women in law enforcement,” the Governor said in a statement. “A primary focus of this special session is for legislators to allow the people within their district the right to vote on a statewide lottery. I am looking forward to working with lawmakers over the next few days as we address legislation that is simple, clean and transparent.”

Gov. Bentley has been saying for weeks that a state-sponsored lottery is the only solution left to fully fund Alabama’s Medicaid program, even calling for anti-gambling faith leaders to get down off of their “high horse” to help children.

RELATED: Bentley lays out Medicaid funding options: Create a lottery or let sick children die

“Which is the most immoral: Buying five lottery tickets with money you earned or allowing a child to die?” He asked. “I don’t think there’s even a choice there, so we must fund Medicaid, we must take care of our sick children, our disabled people, those in nursing homes, those with mental illness.”

Gov. Bentley went on to say that the government has a moral obligation to fund such programs.

“Because you know what? [The sick children] didn’t choose any of that,” he said. “Nobody did, and that’s one of the big functions of government is to take care of those that can’t take care of themselves.”

Alabama is one of only six states that does not have a lottery, but a gambling expansion of any kind is already facing fierce opposition from conservative and religious organizations.

In 1999, Alabamians voted down then-Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposed education lottery 54% to 46%. Since then, numerous statewide candidates — most of them Democrats — have run on a platform of letting the people vote again.

The special session of the Alabama Legislature began Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. Any constitutional amendment for a lottery must be approved by August 24th for it to appear on the General Election ballot in November.

RELATED: Bentley’s lottery panic is a sham. Here’s how Alabama can pay its bills without it.

2 years ago

Alabama House Republicans just elected a new Speaker. Here’s what you should know.

Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)
Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)
Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: House GOP Caucus)

In the wake of former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard being removed from office after being convicted on 12 counts of felony public corruption, House Republicans have tapped one of his top lieutenants, Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville), to take over as speaker.

This decision led to immediate backlash from some grassroots activists and members of the media, who said the House GOP had chosen to maintain the status quo, rather than seek the major shift necessary after Hubbard’s conviction undermined Republicans’ ability to lead the state.

Mr. McCutcheon’s recent past support for tax increases worries conservatives who are hungry for reforms, but it was his decision to stand by Mr. Hubbard throughout his legal ordeal that has raised the most eyebrows.

But McCutcheon’s election is not as simple as “they chose the status quo over change.”

Having watched Mr. McCutcheon closely for the past six years, and after talking to dozens of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, one major change at the top of the House will be that the new speaker’s character is beyond reproach.

Alabamians will not have to endure another round of embarrassing scandals or ethics questions with Mr. McCutcheon, a longtime law enforcement officer, holding the gavel. That change alone is enough to spark optimism in Yellowhammer State residents who have grown sadly accustomed to their leaders disgracing themselves.

But how could he stand by Mr. Hubbard after he was indicted?

The answer to this question is really quite simple: Mike Hubbard lied, and the members of the House, to many of whom Mr. Hubbard had been fiercely loyal, believed him. And so did his constituents. Mr. Hubbard was overwhelmingly re-elected to his House seat just weeks after being indicted. He was subsequently re-elected speaker two months later by a unanimous vote of both Republicans and Democrats.

In other words, a lot of people were victims of Mr. Hubbard’s fraud.

On the first day of his trial, numerous House members from both parties expressed dismay at what they learned for the first time, because all of the facts had previously only been disclosed inside grand jury proceedings and private business dealings.

The most important question now is, in what direction will Mr. McCutcheon lead the people’s House?

Conservatives in the House — and across the state — are hungry for a return to the reform-minded approach GOP leaders took just after Republicans seized control of the legislature in 2010. The lack of reforms in recent years has left some newer members of the legislature wondering aloud why they even bother going to Montgomery.

“I don’t really know if I’m going to run again,” one frustrated Republican told Yellowhammer. “If we’re not going to do anything, then what’s the point?”

Conservatives are wanting to know if the McCutcheon-led House is going to pass tax cuts, rather than push tax hikes, and if pro-gun and pro-life will finally be priorities.

Mr. McCutcheon’s personality is the polar opposite of Mr. Hubbard’s. And even if it wasn’t, House members will no longer stand for being ruled with an iron fist. That change will take care of itself.

The one primary criticism that the well-liked gentleman from north Alabama receives is that he has in the past had a tendency to appease, rather than lead.

The real change in the House will come if Mr. McCutcheon re-ignites the GOP’s passion for conservative reform.

The floor is yours, Mr. Speaker.

What are you going to do?

2 years ago

Prosecutors: Hubbard should serve a year in prison for each year he was Alabama House Speaker

Alabama prison

OPELIKA, Ala. — State prosecutors are recommending convicted former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard serve one year in prison for each year he was speaker, followed by over a dozen years of probation, bringing his total sentence equal to the number of years he was a member of the House. Additionally, the state’s recommendation is that Hubbard pay over $1 million in restitution.

Hubbard is set to be sentenced by Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob Walker on July 8, and the state is seeking 18 years total, split between five years of jail time and 13 years of probation.

The maximum penalty for Hubbard’s crimes is twenty years imprisonment and fines of up to $30,000.00 for each count, all of which are Class B Felonies.

“Hubbard flagrantly and repeatedly violated the Ethics Law in order to make money and obtain financial favors from individuals with interests in State government,” wrote prosectors Mike Duffy. “Despite being found guilty on the majority of the charges in the indictment, Hubbard continues to refuse to accept responsibility for his criminal conduct. This Court should impose a strong sentence to punish Hubbard, deter other public officials from violating the Ethics Laws, and help restore the people’s confidence in their government.”

Although Hubbard contended during the trial that he made “not a cent” off of his office, prosecutors say his illicit activities generated seven figures-worth of profits for him personally.

“In the course of committing the 12 felonies for which he stands convicted, Hubbard directly enriched himself and his businesses by $1,125,000.00,” Duffy wrote. “Further, Hubbard’s felonious enrichment occurred after he spearheaded the Republican takeover of the legislature based in large part on the promise of strengthening the State’s Ethics Laws and cleaning up what he termed the ‘culture of corruption.'”

Hubbard’s defense team called the prosecution’s recommendations “absurd.”

“It’s too absurd to respond to,” Bill Baxley, Hubbard’s lead attorney, told “Mark my words, the verdict will not stand.”

Hubbard is planning to appeal the jury’s verdict and will likely remain free on bond as the process unfolds.

2 years ago

Alabama political scandals get ‘The Daily Show’ treatment

The Daily Show takes on Alabama scandals

(Video above: The Daily Show takes on Alabama politics)

Last night, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” weighed in on the current state of Alabama politics – and it didn’t hold back.

During the seven-minute segment, host Trevor Noah made jokes about the three Alabama scandals making headlines around the country.

“Alabama – also known as “Liberal Mississippi” – they’re in a bit of a meltdown,” Noah began.

Chief Justice Roy Moore’s suspension over his position on same-sex marriage was dealt with quickly. “A Southern judge opposing gays – that’s the least surprising thing since Cookie Monster got diabetes,” Noah said.

Former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard was up next. The Daily Show found what could be one of the most stereotypical, local commercial-level videos of Hubbard, one where he endorsed something called “Chicken Finger Friday.” Noah discussed Hubbard’s lengthy political tenure and his power throughout the state. He even referenced the road named after Hubbard in Auburn – one that some are already trying to get renamed.

Noah then summarized the 12 counts of corruption Hubbard was found guilty of, including “funneling money from lobbyists into his printing company for political favors.”

“Which is despicable,” Noah said. “I mean, this is 2016 people, who puts money into printing companies? This is the future, you want to invest in beepers, my friends!”

Then came Governor Bentley, who received the full force of the show’s satire. Noah played the video from Bentley’s first press conference the audio recordings between him and his top advisor, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, were released. The clip showed Bentley saying he loved all members of his staff, “but do I love some more than others? Absolutely.”

“That is such a ballsy way to handle a scandal,” Noah laughed. “Most people’s instinct is to deny something they’re accused of. This guy doubles down!”

“I wish I had this thought process when I was a kid,” he continued. “I would have got away with anything. My momma would have been like, ‘Did you eat the cookies?’ and I would have been like, ‘I eat many things mom! I eat Corn Flakes, I eat broccoli…do I eat some foods more than others sometimes? That is a possibility!”

In the most ridiculous part of the segment, The Daily Show played part of the now-infamous recording, which Noah described as “really bad phone sex. Or, a pretty good country song.” The show then actually put the dialogue from the recording to country music, complete with music video-quality images of a man and wife on a farm.

Noah then welcomed Roy Wood, Jr., a regular correspondent on the show and an Alabama native, to share his thoughts. Wood appeared in a white suit, a hat, and a bow tie – an outfit he called his “Alabama swag.”

“Trevor, this scandal is pretty upsetting, but I’m very relieved,” Wood began. “Finally, there’s bad news coming out of Alabama, and black people aren’t involved!”

Wood, who has quickly become the breakout star of the revamped show, even threw in a “Roll Tide” during his remarks.

The Daily Show is not the first group of comedians to comment on the current state of Alabama politics. In April, British comedian John Oliver shared his thoughts on Governor Bentley’s scandal and the impeachment process on his HBO series “Last Week Tonight.”

2 years ago

Auburn residents want convicted House Speaker’s name removed from the city and university

mike hubbard auburn
AUBURN, Ala. — Before he was convicted on 12 felony ethics charges, Mike Hubbard used his position as Speaker of the House to support his home city of Auburn and Auburn University. His impact on the city and the university was so great, that many buildings and roads there now bear his name. But the events of last week have many Auburn residents calling for a change.

In 2013, Auburn University opened the Mike Hubbard Center for Advanced Science, Innovation, and Commerce. The $28.8 million, 84,000 square-foot facility houses researchers from the Colleges of Architecture, Agriculture, Engineering, Sciences and Mathematics, and Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. The Auburn Board of Trustees voted to name the building in honor of Hubbard in 2012 after the then-Speaker helped the university secure $14.1 million in state funds to match a $14.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Now, the Board of Trustees must decide if they want to rename the building, which is a complex and multi-step process that may take months or years.

Hubbard’s name is also attached to a major road in Auburn. Mike Hubbard Boulevard is the home of Auburn University’s Cyber Initiative office and the Regional Airport. A petition has already been posted to to rename the street “Cam Newton Run” after the former Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner. So far the petition has 186 signatures of the 200 needed to send it to Auburn Mayor Bill Ham.

The background for the petition explains the reasoning behind the change:

With exit 57 serving as a prominent gateway to Auburn fans, prospective students, opponents and the like, “Cam Newton Run” recognizes one of Auburn’s most famous graduates and athletes who has served as a prominent and effective ambassador for Auburn both on and off the field. This rename also serves as a way to depoliticize what may be considered by many in this community to be a painful yet imminent name change. WDE and thanks for the support.

The Auburn City Council has already received a number of phone calls asking them to rename the road.

These changes may be the first in a massive fallout from Hubbard’s conviction. He will be sentenced on July 8 and faces up to 20 years in prison for each count.

Related: Alabama House speaker Mike Hubbard convicted
Related: Alabama’s most powerful politician has fallen. Here’s what (and who) is next.

2 years ago

Alabama’s most powerful politician has fallen. Here’s what (and who) is next.

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)

Mike Hubbard was convicted on 12 felony public corruption charges late last week, immediately prompting his removal from office as Alabama’s Speaker of the House. Such a scenario would be a seismic political event, regardless of the individual; the Speaker’s post is arguably the most powerful position in state government. But Hubbard may have been the strongest speaker to ever hold the job, meaning his ouster will now lead to a power vacuum of tectonic proportions.

His sentencing will not take place for almost a month, but the jockeying for power among his former colleagues began mere moments after the jury returned to the Lee County courtroom with a verdict.

“The corpse is still warm and the vultures are already swarming,” one House member texted less than 30 minutes after the trial’s conclusion. “It’s sad, really.”

Such a moment provides a rare, honest glimpse into the world of power politics, where naked ambition is often clothed in false humility to make it more palatable to a public that still values the appearance of reluctant leadership.

So what, and perhaps more importantly “who,” is next?

Here’s our best shot at making sense of the chaos:

1. Sentencing and uncertainty

Mike Hubbard’s sentencing will take place July 8th. He faces the possibility of spending decades behind bars, meaning there will be a lot of nervous politicos around the state wondering what Hubbard might tell prosecutors in an effort to obtain a lighter sentence.

Where does the attorney general’s office go from here? They landed the big fish they wanted, but there are still some unanswered questions.

Perhaps most notably, what will the AG’s office do about the lobbyists and the businessmen who employ them (i.e. principals) from whom Hubbard was convicted of soliciting and taking “things of value”? Do they double down and pursue charges against them, too, or do they take their victory and move on?

As of now, there are a lot more questions than answers on this front.

2. The process of electing a new Speaker of the House

Speaker Pro Tem Victor Gaston is now the acting Speaker of the House and will serve in that role until a new Speaker is elected by a vote of the full House of Representatives at the beginning of the next legislative session.

That means it could be months until a new Speaker is officially installed. Someone will, however, become the presumptive Speaker of the House before then.

House Republicans will likely convene in the coming weeks to decide who they will collectively put forward to be the next Speaker.

As of now, a handful of House members are testing the waters to see if they might have enough support to either become Speaker or to cut a deal with someone they believe could win.

3. The early favorite

The Speaker’s gavel is State Rep. Bill Poole’s (R-Tuscaloosa) for the taking, but it is unclear right now if he wants it.

The parallels between Poole and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan are almost uncanny.

Both are young and rose through the ranks quickly based on sheer talent and ultimately gained their colleagues’ respect as policy wonks sitting atop budget committees. Both are “consensus picks,” bridging the gap between staunch conservatives and more moderate factions, as well as between younger and older members. Both have shied away from socializing with lobbyists outside of work, opting instead to spend time with their young families. Both are viewed as an opportunity to “turn the page,” Ryan from years of Boehner’s broken promises and penchant for “punishing” Republicans who opposed him, Poole from years of Hubbard’s bullying and iron-fisted rule. Both stand out among their colleagues for their genuine reluctance to become Speaker. Both also worry that their aspirations for higher office may be derailed by taking an often thankless job that is usually the last stop in a long career, not a stepping stone for a politician with decades ahead of them.

But here’s the fact of the matter: Bill Poole will be Speaker of the House, if he wants to be, and he is the only House member who can say that right now.

His decision is made more difficult by the fact that he is a practicing attorney who has to bill hours to make a living. The Speaker’s job can be all consuming, and Poole is not one to do things halfway. He is going to have to decide whether he wants to make the personal and business sacrifices that will be necessary to do the job.

Stay tuned.

4. Other key players

If Poole decides to pass on the job, chaos and deal-making will ensue.

State Rep. Mac McCutcheon (R-Huntsville) is the next most likely candidate. He is widely respected on both sides of the aisle for his fairness as Rules Committee Chairman, but he lost the support of many staunch conservatives with his outspoken push for a gas tax this past session. Losing that bloc of votes makes it much more difficult for McCutcheon to cobble together a coalition to win. He and Poole are meeting on Monday to discuss their plans.

State Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) was one of the first out of the gate trying to wrangle support in the wake of Hubbard’s conviction. He has also had former House member and current Secretary of State John Merrill calling members on his behalf. Jones has a small group of loyalists in his camp, but is viewed with suspicion by a wide swath of the GOP caucus. He has no clear ideology and his management of the Judiciary Committee has left some members questioning whether he could handle the Speaker’s job, which is very process-oriented. His best bet may be to leverage his bloc of votes — however small it may be — to keep his seat at the Leadership table.

Other names getting tossed around include Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville), who has the support of a chunk of staunch conservatives and may run if Poole opts out; Jim Carnes (R-Birmingham), who’s been trying to become speaker for a long time but is viewed as somewhat of a retread and just doesn’t have the base of support to pull it off; Lynn Greer (R-Rogersville), a well-liked elder statesman who could be the fallback choice if a nasty fight breaks out between other contenders; Phil Williams (R-Huntsville), a successful entrepreneur who was the only House member bold enough to challenge Hubbard directly for the job while he was still in office; Randy Davis (R-Mobile), a south Alabama businessman; and April Weaver (R-Pelham), the first woman to ever serve as chairman of the House Health Committee.

5. A new day

The Speaker’s post will remain one of the most powerful jobs in the state because of the way Alabama’s government is structured with a weak executive and strong legislature. But no matter who assumes the role, power and authority in the House is going to be much more decentralized than it was under Hubbard, and that is a good thing.

2 years ago

Alabama House speaker Mike Hubbard convicted

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn)

OPELIKA, Ala. — Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) was convicted of 12 of 23 charges by a Lee County Jury in Opelika on Friday night. The jury deliberated for seven hours on various charges to decide if Hubbard used his office for personal gain.

The prosecution alleged Hubbard made millions of dollars in various schemes designed to leverage the power of his office to enrich himself, an argument that persuaded the jury.

The charges he was convicted of are as follows:

• Voting on legislation with a conflict of interest that would benefit American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc., a consulting client.
• Receiving money from a principal, American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc., through a consulting contract.
• Receiving money from a principal, Edgenuity, through a consulting contract.
• Using office for personal gain through a consulting contract with Capitol Cups, a business owned by Robert Abrams.
• Lobbying the state Department of Commerce for consulting client Robert Abrams.
• Lobbying the governor’s office for consulting client Robert Abrams.
• Using state personnel to benefit consulting client Robert Abrams.
• Soliciting and receiving money from a principal, former Business Council of Alabama Chairman Will Brooke, a $150,000 investment in Craftmaster Printers.
• Soliciting and receiving money from a principal, James Holbrook/Sterne Agee, a $150,000 investment in Craftmaster Printers.
• Soliciting and receiving money from a principal, Great Southern Wood President Jimmy Rane, a $150,000 investment in Craftmaster Printers.
• Soliciting and receiving money from a principal, Great Southern Wood President Jimmy Rane, a $150,000 investment in Craftmaster Printers.
• Soliciting and receiving a thing of value from a principal, former BCA Chairman Will Brooke, help obtaining clients for Auburn Network and financial advice for Craftmaster Printers.

“This is a good day for the rule of law in our state,” said Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. “This kind of result would never have been achieved had our office not put together the finest public corruption unit in the country. I’m very proud of their work. This should send a clear message that in Alabama we hold public officials accountable for their actions.”

With his conviction, Hubbard is immediately removed from office, per state law.

Several other key figures in the state have weighed in on the conviction.

“The verdict reached by 12 Lee County jurors brings finality to a lengthy legal process that has impacted our state government and public trust,” Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R) said in a statement. “I pray that Mike, his wife Susan, and their sons will be strengthened and supported through the uncertainties of this difficult time. I respect the jury’s hard work and accept their findings. It is not easy to sit in judgment and these jurors did their duty as citizens of Alabama.

“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 (D-Gadsden) said. “They have forgotten they are supposed to serve the people, and not the other way around.”

Hubbard faces a maximum penalty of two to twenty years imprisonment and fines of up to $30,000.00 for each count, all of which are Class B Felonies. He will be sentenced on July 8.


2 years ago

Defiant Hubbard takes stand to defend himself: I made ‘not a cent’ off of my office

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard in his office at the State House (Photo: YouTube)

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard in his office at the State House (Photo: YouTube)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard in his office at the State House (Photo: YouTube)

OPELIKA, Ala. — On Tuesday, Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard took the stand in his own defense to fight back against the felony ethics charges being levied against him.

Hubbard testified that while he was chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, he and a group of campaign operatives and candidates jointly decided to use a printing company co-owned by Hubbard to do all of their direct mail advertising.

“We could control every aspect of it,” Hubbard said, emphasizing that they believed it was the best deal for their candidates and gave them the most assurance that it would be quality work.

Hubbard was specifically asked if he ever forced anyone to choose his company.

“Absolutely not,” he responded.

Later in the evening, Hubbard also said he took extensive precautions to ensure he remained in compliance with state ethics laws and insisted he made “not a cent” from campaign work directed to his company.

The prosecution presented emails from Hubbard to former Governor-turned-lobbyist Bob Riley in which the speaker said he had fallen into dire financial straits.

In the emails, Hubbard requested the aid of Riley and others in finding work. Prosecutors argue that such evidence proves Hubbard improperly sought jobs and financial favors from lobbyists who had business before the Alabama Legislature.

“I was obviously pouring out my soul in the emails,” Hubbard said. “You never think the government is going to get your emails and put them out on the Internet.”

Previously, Riley testified that he did counsel Hubbard before he signed a lucrative consulting contract with the Southeast Alabama Gas District (SEAGD). The prosecution alleges Hubbard illegally lobbied the governor’s office and the state Department of Commerce on behalf of the company. SEAGD hired Hubbard to help recruit employers to their service area and paid Hubbard as much as $12,000 a month.

“I told Mike, this is as clean as anything you will ever do,” Riley said.

Hubbard argued that his contract with SEAGD allowed him to work more closely with state and local officials, while prosecutors argue that it was part of $2.38 million of illegally generated profits for his businesses.

Hubbard’s testimony lasted for about 90 minutes. The trial has featured many heavy-hitting witnesses, including the past two governors of the state.

The prosecution alleges Hubbard made millions of dollars in various schemes designed to leverage the power of his office to enrich himself.

The charges are as follows:

• Four counts of using of his office as Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party for personal gain;
• One count of voting for legislation with a conflict of interest;
• Eleven counts of soliciting or receiving a thing of value from a lobbyist or principal;
• Two counts of using his office as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives for personal gain;
• Four Counts of lobbying an executive department or agency for a fee;
• And one count of using state equipment, materials, etc. for private gain.

If convicted, Hubbard faces a maximum penalty of two to twenty years imprisonment and fines of up to $30,000.00 for each count, all of which are Class B Felonies.

1.Prosecution: Hubbard used office to make $2.3M. Defense: None of this is illegal
2.Alabama House Speaker’s former top aide delivers explosive, emotional testimony
3.Winners and losers from the first week of the Hubbard corruption trial
4.Bentley testifies Hubbard lobbied him on projects that would benefit his business clients

2 years ago

Why the definition of ‘friend’ could decide whether Alabama’s House Speaker goes to prison

When then-President Bill Clinton was confronted about the truthfulness of his Grand Jury testimony that “there is nothing going on between” him and Monica Lewinsky, Clinton famously replied, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

Two decades later, the fate of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard could also come down to the definition of one particular word: “friend.”

Mr. Hubbard is currently facing the possibility of spending decades in prison if he is convicted of, among other things, soliciting things of value from lobbyists and the businessmen who employ them (i.e. principals). In particular, the speaker, who has in recent years been perhaps the most powerful politician in the state, solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments to help save his deeply indebted printing company. He is also accused of asking lobbyists to help him get a job.

Hubbard was a leading proponent of the GOP’s successful effort to strengthen Alabama’s ethics laws after taking over the legislature in 2009. But while soliciting or accepting “things of value” from lobbyists and principals is now strictly prohibited, the law carves out exceptions for friends.

As the Montgomery Advertiser notes, former Alabama Ethics Commission director Jim Sumner testified the exceptions were created to address some of innocent conflicts that could arise in a citizen legislature.

“It was designed to allow people who’ve known each other all their lives, or lived down the street, before someone was elected to public office,” he explained. “It allowed them to go on vacation, or share a place at the beach and not be concerned about who paid for what during that trip.”

This is the core of Mr. Hubbard’s defense against these particular charges — that he was asking favors of his friends, just like anyone else would if they were in a jam.

Most of the lobbyists and principals who have testified seem to agree with Mr. Hubbard’s defense.

“I invested in (his business) because Mike Hubbard was a friend, and it had nothing to do with being the Speaker of the House,” testified Rob Burton, CEO of Hoar Construction, who is classified as a principal under Alabama ethics law. “And if he hadn’t been a Speaker of the House, I still would have made that investment because I like him and I trust him.”

Great Southern Wood CEO Jimmy Rane expressed a similar sentiment when asked about his investment, saying he had known Mr. Hubbard for roughly thirty years, going back to his time at Auburn University where Hubbard helmed the Heisman campaign for Bo Jackson.

Minda Riley Campbell, a registered lobbyist and the daughter of former Gov. Bob Riley, said it was entirely appropriate for Mr. Hubbard to seek help from her because she has known him for decades and loves him “like a brother.”

Gov. Riley was a registered lobbyist at the time when Mr. Hubbard asked his firm for a job, but he said those “were personal conversations between me and Mike about what do you do going forward. It was something to try to give him some stability he was searching for in his life.”

Similarly, Business Council of Alabama CEO Billy Canary, a registered lobbyist, has a decades-long relationship with Mr. Hubbard.

“We were exploring options for him that would allow him to be a citizen legislator, very similar to what others had done, the former speaker and others, subject to the ethics commission,” he said.

But not every friend of Mr. Hubbard’s was dismissive of the ethics concerns.

According to testimony from lobbyist Dax Swatek, his response to Mr. Hubbard’s investment overtures was “not just no, but hell no.”

The prosecution contends the “friend exception” in the ethics law should not apply to many of the individuals mentioned above because their relationships with Mr. Hubbard began in the mid-1990s when he entered the political arena for the first time.

The defense has argued that the timing is inconsequential — friends are friends.

If convicted, Hubbard faces a maximum penalty of two to twenty years imprisonment and fines of up to $30,000.00 for each count, all of which are Class B Felonies. So years of Mr. Hubbard’s life while quite simply come down to where the jurors place the line between friend and political ally.

1. Bentley testifies Hubbard lobbied him on projects that would benefit his business clients
2. Winners and losers from the first week of the Hubbard corruption trial
3. Alabama House Speaker’s former top aide delivers explosive, emotional testimony
4. Prosecution: Hubbard used office to make $2.3M. Defense: None of this is illegal

2 years ago

Bentley testifies Hubbard lobbied him on projects that would benefit his business clients

File photo of former Gov. Robert Bentley (Photo: Jamie Martin)
Governor Robert Bentley takes questions from reporters. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Governor Robert Bentley takes questions from reporters. (Photo: Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

OPELIKA, Ala. — Alabama Governor Robert Bentley testified in House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s corruption trial on Wednesday, telling the jury the speaker met with him to discuss “economic development projects” that would benefit his business clients. The governor said he believed at the time Hubbard was acting in his official capacity as speaker of the house. He did not know about Hubbard’s financial relationship with the companies involved. But Bentley added during cross-examination that he supported the projects because he believed they would create jobs.

Bentley’s brief testimony was not the dramatic, explosive moment in the case that some expected it to be, but prosecutors believe the governor’s statements support their charge that Hubbard was paid as much as $12,000 per month to illegally lobby the executive branch on behalf of the Southeast Alabama Gas District and CV Holdings.

The former head of the Alabama Ethics Committee also testified Tuesday that he had warned Hubbard against using his official position to benefit the Southeast Alabama Gas District.

The prosecution alleges Hubbard made millions of dollars in various schemes designed to leverage the power of his office to enrich himself.

The charges are as follows:

• Four counts of using of his office as Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party for personal gain;
• One count of voting for legislation with a conflict of interest;
• Eleven counts of soliciting or receiving a thing of value from a lobbyist or principal;
• Two counts of using his office as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives for personal gain;
• Four Counts of lobbying an executive department or agency for a fee;
• And one count of using state equipment, materials, etc. for private gain.

If convicted, Hubbard faces a maximum penalty of two to twenty years imprisonment and fines of up to $30,000.00 for each count, all of which are Class B Felonies.

Hubbard has vehemently denied the charges and said the case against him is a “political witch-hunt.”

1. Prosecution: Hubbard used office to make $2.3M. Defense: None of this is illegal
2. Alabama House Speaker’s former top aide delivers explosive, emotional testimony
3. Winners and losers from the first week of the Hubbard corruption trial

2 years ago

Winners and losers from the first week of the Hubbard corruption trial

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)


The Prosecution
Lead prosecutor Matt Hart’s investigative methods throughout the grand jury proceedings and lead up to the trial wandered into ethical and legal gray areas that threatened to taint the entire years-long ordeal, but his team’s performance in the first week of the trial has been strong.

Hart & Co. clearly did their research and came prepared to make their case to the jury. They’re probably only about a quarter of the way through the process, but if they continue on in the manner in which they have thus far, they will likely go into jury deliberations feeling confident.

Bill Baxley
Hubbard’s lead defense attorney is in his mid-70s but remains a savvy operator in the court room. His folksy style has drawn ridicule from the likes of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow — who poked fun at Baxley’s penchant for reading notes scrawled on a napkin — but Baxley’s critics are mostly elitist talking heads who don’t understand how endearing his approach can be to a south Alabama jury.

The press has, with one notable exception (more on that in a minute), done a solid job of covering the trial as unbiased observers. The Montgomery Advertiser’s Brian Lyman, Anniston Star’s Tim Lockette, AP’s Kim Chandler and ABC 33/40’s Lauren Walsh (among others) have churned out a consistent stream of accurate reports, in spite of the strict rules prohibiting any reporting or social media use while in the courtroom.

With the top officials in all three branches of government currently embroiled in some sort of legal trouble, scandal fatigue has set in across the state. But Alabamians who remain interested in following the play-by-play have access to numerous outlets offering good coverage.


The Alabama sports website and liberal political blog has turned into nothing more than a mouthpiece for the prosecution by sending two leftist opinion writers to Opelika to “cover” the trial. John Archibald’s and Kyle Whitmire’s “reporting” has blatantly embellished the testimonies of numerous witnesses. Their columns are typically presented as factual reports with very little indication that they are opinions (or in some cases pure fiction), further eroding the credibility of a publication whose influence in state politics is essentially non-existent at this point.

The Defense
Lead defense attorney Bill Baxley has performed admirably throughout the first week, but he is in the unenviable position of basically not denying anything his client is being accused of, but rather trying to argue that it may have been unseemly and greedy (his words), but wasn’t illegal.

Ferrell Patrick
Testimonies during the first week of the Hubbard trial have made it pretty apparent that Patrick, a contract lobbyist, orchestrated the American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc. (APCI) deal (discussed above) while keeping almost everyone in the dark about what was actually going on. As a result, witness after witness basically portrayed him as the kind of slimy Montgomery insider that gives all of Goat Hill a bad name.

Mike Hubbard
It is too early to make any predictions about the outcome of the trial, but one thing appears certain: Hubbard is irreparably damaged politically. Numerous House Republicans Yellowhammer spoke with this week said the way he portrayed his predicament during internal caucus meetings was much different than what has come out during the trial. It is a testament to his power inside the State House that he remained speaker for two sessions after being indicted. It is hard to imagine him continuing to be the speaker at this point, even if he is ultimately acquitted.

2 years ago

Alabama House Speaker’s former top aide delivers explosive, emotional testimony

House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right) and then-Chief of Staff Josh Blades on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives in 2014 (Photo: Butch Dill)
House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right) and then-Chief of Staff Josh Blades on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives in 2014 (Photo: Butch Dill)
House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right) and then-Chief of Staff Josh Blades on the floor of the Alabama House of Representatives in 2014 (Photo: Butch Dill)

OPELIKA, Ala. — Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard’s former top staffer delivered emotional — and potentially damning — testimony Wednesday in the speaker’s ethics trial, asserting that Hubbard’s actions in office made him worry that “Mike may end up in some sort of legal trouble.”

Hubbard’s former chief of staff Josh Blades detailed two particular instances in which Hubbard instructed him to take actions in his official capacity that would directly benefit Hubbard’s private business clients.

Blades said that in the spring of 2013 he took meetings with lobbyists who were seeking to have language inserted into the state’s General Fund Budget that would make American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc. (APCI) the sole provider of Medicaid prescription drugs in Alabama.

Blades testified that Hubbard agreed to have the language inserted into the budget, but the day of the vote Blades learned for the first time that APCI was a $5,000 per month client of Hubbard’s and warned him that it was a conflict of interest for him to cast a vote on the issue.

“He asked me, ‘What do you think I should do?'” recalled Blades. “I said, ‘Don’t do it’ — to not vote on the bill or abstain.”

But Hubbard voted for the bill against Blades’ advice.

“He said it would raise too many red flags [to not vote for his own budget],” Blades testified. “I was upset that I didn’t know about the contract. I was upset because I played a role in what had transpired that day, and I played a role in what had transpired previously. I was afraid that there could be legal implications for what happened. I was afraid Mike may end up in some sort of legal trouble after all of this transpired.”

Although Hubbard voted for the bill with the pro-APCI language in it, the provision was ultimately stripped out of the final budget and did not become law.

The defense dismissed the significance of the line item in the budget, saying it was “only a few lines” in a massive bill that appropriated billions of dollars.

In a second incident, Blades testified that Hubbard instructed him to assist Capitol Cups — a business located in Hubbard’s district — in securing a patent. Blades used his connections on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to nudge the U.S. Patent Office along.

“He said it was very important to him we get this done,” Blades said of the patent issue. “Mr. Hubbard told me he had 100,000 reasons to get this done. It made me uncomfortable. Because when I heard it, I immediately thought that the speaker meant money in some form.”

As it turns out, Hubbard did in fact have a financial interest in Capitol Cups’ success. He was at the time receiving $10,000 monthly payments from CV Holdings, Capitol Cups’ parent company.

When Blades found out he was being asked to use his government post to assist one of Hubbard’s paying clients, he stopped.

“I felt I had done enough on the staff level, and I had done enough to push the project along,” he said.

Blades became emotional at several points during his testimony, also calling Hubbard a “friend” and “good boss.”

During the first two days of testimony in the Hubbard trial, the defense has not denied that many of the actions Hubbard is accused of taking took place, but has argued that they did not run afoul of state ethics laws.

Hubbard is facing 23 felony counts of using his public office for personal gain. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of two to twenty years imprisonment and fines of up to $30,000.00 for each count, all of which are Class B Felonies.

(h/t Auburn Plainsman, Montgomery Advertiser)

2 years ago

Prosecution: Hubbard used office to make $2.3M. Defense: None of this is illegal

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)
Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (Photo: Facebook)

OPELIKA, Ala. — Tuesday was day one of the long-anticipated trial of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who was indicted in October of 2014 on 23 felony counts of using his public office for personal gain.

According to an almost two-hour opening statement from the prosecution, Hubbard has made roughly $2.3 million dollars in various schemes designed to leverage the power of his public positions to enrich himself.

The charges are as follows:

• Four counts of using of his office as Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party for personal gain;
• One count of voting for legislation with a conflict of interest;
• Eleven counts of soliciting or receiving a thing of value from a lobbyist or principal;
• Two counts of using his office as a member of the Alabama House of Representatives for personal gain;
• Four Counts of lobbying an executive department or agency for a fee;
• And one count of using state equipment, materials, etc. for private gain.

If convicted, Hubbard faces a maximum penalty of two to twenty years imprisonment and fines of up to $30,000.00 for each count, all of which are Class B Felonies.

The Alabama Attorney General’s Special Prosecutions Division Chief Matt Hart broke down the charges into four overarching categories alleging the following:

1. While Chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, Hubbard directed money to companies in which he held and ownership stake.

2. As Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, Hubbard used his power to benefit companies that were paying him as a consultant.

3. While in office, Hubbard solicited investments for one of his businesses from individuals known as “principals,” which are businessmen who employ lobbyists.

4. While in office, Hubbard solicited business help from numerous registered lobbyists, including former Governor Bob Riley.

“He sees an opportunity and he takes it,” Hart said of Hubbard.

Hubbard’s lead defense attorney Bill Baxley, who is a former Alabama Attorney General, called the prosecution’s claims “mumbo jumbo” and essentially conceded Hubbard did some of the things he is accused of, but insisted they are not crimes. Baxley said the state’s ethics laws include provisions that allow citizen legislators, who serve in the legislature in a part-time capacity, to conduct regular business dealings. He also said that Hubbard’s consulting contracts came as a result of his friendships and prior business relationships, not because of his office.

“They’re not going to prove anything,” said Baxley. “We’re going to prove something to clear the air, that these things they’re saying are crimes, we’re going to show what they were.”

Former Alabama Republican Party executive directors Tim Howe and John Ross were the first to testify in the case. They are now partners in the Montgomery-based lobbying firm Swatek, Howe & Ross.

Ross testified that Hubbard had instructed him to use Craftmaster, a Hubbard-owned printing firm, for all of the Party’s printing needs, but added that Hubbard believed it was the best use of Party resources. Both Hower and Ross testified that Craftmaster did a good job on the work they were given.

Barry Whatley, the president of Craftmaster Printing, is expected to testify on Wednesday.

Other highly anticipated witnesses could include Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield, who prosecutors say Hubbard lobbied on behalf of one of his clients.

2 years ago

The mind-blowing paragraph that perfectly sums up Alabama’s ‘circular web of scandals’

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley Robert Bentley leads a tour of Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Thursday March 31, 2016. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley Robert Bentley leads a tour of Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Thursday March 31, 2016. (Photo: Governor's Office, Jamie Martin)
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley Robert Bentley leads a tour of Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka, Thursday March 31, 2016. (Photo: Governor’s Office, Jamie Martin)

Barely a month goes by without an Alabama politician finding themselves embroiled in some kind of scandal, so the latest string of headlines involving all three branches of Alabama’s state government have probably not been all that surprising to most Yellowhammer State residents.

However, the web of interconnectivity between the scandals is proving to be enough to make even the most jaded political observer raise his eyebrows.

The leaders of each of Alabama’s three branches of government are all currently in varying predicaments.

Governor Robert Bentley is facing impeachment after being caught on tape discussing his sexual encounters with a former aide inside the governor’s office.

House Speaker Mike Hubbard is preparing to go to trial on felony charges that he used his office for personal gain.

And Chief Justice Roy Moore is suspended and facing possible removal from office after directing state probate judges to not to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

The situations are as different as the individuals themselves, but their fates are bizarrely intertwined, as is perfectly summed up by the final paragraph of a recent article in The Economist detailing Alabama’s “circular web of scandals.”

The cases have collided. To recap: Mr. Bentley could appoint Mr. Moore’s successor, if he is not impeached first. Mr. Moore could oversee Mr. Bentley’s impeachment, unless he is defenestrated, in which case the governor’s appointee might preside. Mr. Hubbard would refer the impeachment to the Senate, depending on the verdict of his own trial, which may feature testimony from Mr. Bentley. Alternatively, of course, they may all keep their jobs.

Read that a few times and let it sink in.

kramer mind blown

2 years ago

POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential government officials


The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics and business — the men and women who shape the state.

This year’s list is being released in three segments. Today’s segment includes politicians and government officials. Check back throughout the week for additional segments on the state’s most powerful lobbyists and businessmen. Names below are listed in alphabetical order.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 2nd Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Friday, May 13th at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook. Last year’s event attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, numerous members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists. For more information on the event click here and to purchase tickets click here.



Governor Robert Bentley

Alabama’s scandal-ridden governor is in the midst of the most tumultuous period of his tenure in the state’s top office at a time when he thought he would be in full-on legacy-building mode.

His “Great State 2019” plan has been mostly ignored in the wake of audio evidence that he had an affair with his senior political advisor. The scandal has once again thrust Alabama into its familiar role as the butt of national media headlines. But perhaps more importantly, economic developers have expressed frustration that Bentley’s indiscretions are impacting the state’s ability to recruit jobs.

Threats of impeachment have further weakened Bentley’s influence on the legislative process, which was already limited by his veto being easily overruled by a simple majority vote.

In spite of it all, the governor still wields significant power over the dozens of executive branch agencies. The administration has shown a particular willingness to use its control over infrastructure projects as leverage to bend other government officials to Bentley’s will.

He was adamant during his first term that he would not allow himself to be remembered as a “caretaker governor.” Assuming he is not removed from office, he has a couple of years left to shape posterity’s opinion of what exactly it was he “took care of” as Alabama’s 53rd governor.



Senator Slade Blackwell, Banking and Insurance Committee Chairman

Outside of the senate president pro tem, majority leader, and the two budget chairmen, there is relative parity among Republican senators when it comes to power and influence. But Blackwell’s stock his risen significantly this year.

The young Mountain Brook senator’s superior talent was never in doubt, but the 2016 legislative session has been perhaps the first one to which Blackwell has been able to devote his full attention since he was first elected in 2010.

His vast business interests have given him a firm grasp on the finance issues he deals with regularly as the chairman of the banking committee, and his renewed focus on legislative issues has made him a player in the behind-the-scenes wrangling on matters ranging from Gulf State Park to infrastructure funding.

Blackwell is mentioned in almost every conversation about future statewide candidates. He is a fundraising juggernaut, which will likely make him a key component of next quadrennium’s senate leadership team, assuming he sticks around for another term.

His trump card is that many of the state’s most powerful and influential business leaders live in his district, which includes the most affluent zip code in the state.



Philip Bryan, Chief of Staff to Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh

Bryan has been a staple on the Power and Influence 50 since its first iteration shortly after Republicans came to power in 2011 and he positioned himself as Marsh’s right-hand-man.

He is always operating, always working an angle, and always advocating for his boss’s position. His work ethic and talent will make him a coveted governmental affairs asset in the private sector when the time comes, but until then he is the most powerful legislative staffer by a long shot.



Leura Canary, General Counsel, Retirement Systems of Alabama

Canary’s official title makes her the top legal counsel for Alabama’s public pension system, but this year she has taken on an expanded in-house lobbyist role and almost single-handedly fought back RSA reforms being pushed by conservative lawmakers.

Her boss, RSA CEO David Bronner, has been a powerful force in Alabama politics for decades, but at this point it is Canary — and her close relationship with House Speaker Mike Hubbard — that is keeping Bronner’s operation afloat.

She was previously appointed by President George W. Bush to be U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Since joining the RSA, she has earned a reputation for being a tenacious operator at the State House. She is also married to Business Council of Alabama CEO Billy Canary, making them something of a rare Alabama political power couple.



Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield

Canfield has been the face of Alabama’s job recruitment efforts since 2011, racking up high profile successes including Airbus, Remington, Polaris and Google. He oversaw the rebranding of the Alabama Development Office, remaking it into the Alabama Department of Commerce, now commonly known as Made in Alabama.

The state’s business community looks to Canfield to take the lead, particularly when it comes to industrial recruitment, and has rallied to his aid to help get major deals done. He has Alabama’s top CEOs on speed dial, which will undoubtedly prove to be an asset for him when he moves on to his next challenge, whether it is in the private sector or another crack at elected office. He previously served in the Alabama House and was chairman of the commerce and small business committee.

His job has gotten a lot more difficult in the wake of Governor Bentley’s numerous scandals, but he hasn’t missed a beat.



State Rep. Steve Clouse, General Fund Budget Chairman

Clouse is genuinely one of the nicest guys in Montgomery.

As chairman of the House General Fund Budget Committee, he has found himself at the center of many of the most contentious issues on Goat Hill over the last several years. The General Fund is a nightmare to put together, due to its yearly shortfalls, and Clouse has been a central player in battles over Medicaid and prison funding. All tax bills originate in his committee.

Clouse is a long-time ally of House Speaker Mike Hubbard, a relationship that has afforded him the opportunity to become the Wiregrass area’s most powerful legislator.



Senator Gerald Dial, Health And Human Services Committee Chairman

No member of the Alabama Legislature knows how to turn the levers of state government more than Dial.

To illustrate that point, consider what Dial did shortly after Republicans took over the legislature in 2010.

While other members were angling for plum committee assignments, like general fund, judiciary or banking, Dial made sure he became chairman of the Legislative Committee on Reapportionment, chairman of the Long Term Transportation Committee and chairman of the Legislative Parking Committee — all committees that gave him leverage among his peers.

As a result, Dial had significant control over what legislators districts looked like, what infrastructure projects they got, and where they parked when they came to work in Montgomery. Brilliant.

He tackles a wide array of issues in the senate, from tablets for school kids to road funding. He also serves on the Troy University Board of Trustees and is a retired Brigadier General in the Alabama National Guard.



Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard

Hubbard’s ability to survive two full sessions as Speaker with a 23-count felony indictment hanging over his head is a testament to how large of a shadow he casts across the political landscape in the Yellowhammer State. Once viewed as a sure-thing gubernatorial candidate in 2018, the corruption charges — which he contends are politically-motivated — have likely destroyed his statewide aspirations, but do not appear to have significantly diminished his ability to rule the lower chamber.

His most significant political challenge is trying to keep his fractured caucus united. There is a bloc of House Republicans who are disillusioned with what they perceive as a lack of conservative priorities being advanced under the GOP supermajority. Hubbard, one of the most talented leaders the Alabama legislature has ever seen, has pushed through the sporadic rebellions and endured pressure that would have withered most speakers.

It’s pretty simple for Mike Hubbard. If he’s convicted, he’s done. He’ll be remembered as a kind of political supernova, shining brighter than anything else in the galaxy of Alabama politics for a brief period of time before disappearing out of the sky in the wake of a catastrophic explosion. If he’s found innocent, he’ll be the sun around which the whole galaxy turns.



Lt. Governor Kay Ivey

Critics of Ivey’s inclusion on the Power and Influence list in years past have justified their dissent by pointing out the lack of power and responsibility vested in the lieutenant governor’s office. But this year’s Bentley scandals have reminded everyone that Ivey remains a single breath — or impeachment proceeding — away from the big chair.

Ivey presides over the senate and determines to which committee each bill is assigned, but her role in the senate is minimal. That is not her fault, though. Democrats gutted much of the lieutenant governor’s authority in 1999 after Republican Steve Windom was elected and threatened to hold up Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman’s first-year legislative agenda.

Ivey already has a government-in-waiting if things go south for Bentley.



Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh

Marsh has been a steady hand at the helm of the Alabama Senate for the past six years, proving himself to be an unrivaled manager of the upper chamber’s oversized personalities and egos.

The controversies on both sides of South Union Street have kept significant reforms off the table this session, but Marsh has managed to keep the upper chamber rolling along. It actually says more about Marsh’s leadership that we haven’t heard much about the Senate in 2016. Chaos has reigned on Goat Hill, but it’s been pretty much business as usual on the 7th floor of the State House.

This is very likely Marsh’s final term in the Senate. The only question left is whether he will retire to his private island or jump back into the fray with a gubernatorial run in 2018. If he chooses the latter, he will be one of the favorites because of his unrivaled ability to tap into the deep pockets of the Alabama business community.



State Rep. Mac McCutcheon, House Rules Chairman

McCutcheon has proven himself to be a loyal lieutenant to Mike Hubbard, standing by his side as others began distancing themselves from the embattled House Speaker. That single decision has been perhaps the most impactful one anyone has made in the House in the last couple of years because McCutcheon is the only legislator with enough stature inside the House GOP Caucus to topple the Hubbard regime from within.

Universally liked and respected by legislators on both sides of the aisle, McCutcheon would be one of the favorites for the speaker’s gavel, if and when the time comes. Until then he is the member most responsible for making sure the legislative process runs as smoothly as possible in the raucous Alabama House.



Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore

Alabama’s controversial chief justice spent much of 2015 in the national spotlight during the same-sex marriage debate. Moore has been relatively quiet since January when he ordered local judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of a federal court, but he still has a couple of complaints against him pending with the Judicial Inquiry Commission. If momentum builds to attempt to remove him from office again, it might actually make him stronger.

He is one of the only individuals on the Power & Influence 50 who can garner national media attention, seemingly at a moment’s notice. That makes him unique among state-level politicians in Alabama, most of whom are relatively unknown to the general public, even if they wield significant power on Goat Hill.

Will Moore mount a third and final gubernatorial bid in 2018 before calling it a career?



Senator Arthur Orr, Education Budget Chairman

Orr is an enigma who continues to puzzle many people in Montgomery.

He is quick to sponsor legislation that makes conservatives cheer — like his bills to ban food stamp spending on liquor and strip clubs — but has been hard to pin down on tougher policy fights that aren’t as cut-and-dried politically.

He has developed a reputation for being difficult to deal with, but no one denies his ability far exceeds that of most state legislators. Orr has been rumored as a possible statewide or congressional candidate and will be able to tap into a well-developed fundraising base when he decides to make the jump.



Senator Trip Pittman, General Fund Budget Chairman

The larger-than-life General Fund Budget chairman is likely in the final couple of years of his lengthy tenure in the Alabama Senate, but he continues to play a central role in internal senate power struggles.

Pittman is one of the few senators who sometimes lays down in the middle of the road and basically says, “I’m not letting this bill pass until I get what I want.”

His libertarian streak makes him unpredictable and sometimes leaves him conflicted, especially since the budget he helps craft contains numerous government programs that are at odds with his political ideology.

Pittman has been a long-time proponent of term limits, but he took it a step further this year by introducing a constitutional amendment that would disband the Alabama senate entirely. Needless to say, it didn’t gain much support from his colleagues, but it illustrated just how far he is sometimes willing to go to buck the status quo.

He cannot be intimidated.



State Rep. Bill Poole, House Education Budget Chairman

When a reporter informally polled 20 legislators after the 2011 session, asking them which first-term lawmaker had the brightest future, 19 of them said Bill Poole. They were quickly proven right when he made the almost unheard of leap of becoming Education Budget Chairman before his first term was over.

The Education Budget is the largest pot of money in state government, which makes Poole a daily target of lobbyists looking to insert a line item into the budget or seeking a bump in funding. He has figured out a way to say “no” and keep the Montgomery Machine at arms length, without alienating his colleagues and powerful groups.

Poole unanimously passed his Education Budget in the House this year, which is a testament to his competence and ability to build bridges between disparate interests. He will be on the short list to become the next Speaker of the House, if and when the time comes, but has remained loyal to Mike Hubbard throughout the tumultuous past two years.



Senator Greg Reed, Senate Majority Leader

Reed is an ambitious lawmaker who aspires to statewide office, but has found himself on the fast track to become senate president pro tem, one of the two most powerful posts in the legislature. With Senator Del Marsh, the current pro tem, signaling this will likely be his last term in the legislature, Reed is likely to opt for the pro tem slot rather than risk a long-shot statewide run in 2018.

His current position as majority leader has given him a platform to cultivate a lot of friendships and loyalty.

Keep an eye on Reed in the years to come. He has natural political gifts and has an air about him that lends itself to leadership roles. He is already building out a formidable team so his likely transition to the top post in the senate will be seamless.



Attorney General Luther Strange

Ever since his time in D.C. as a top-tier federal lobbyist, Strange has had his eye on the U.S. Senate, but with both of Alabama’s seats occupied by popular incumbents, Strange has opted to build his résumé at the state level.

After an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor, Strange’s fundraising prowess propelled him into the attorney general’s office. He is already quietly laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run in 2018.

His tenure as AG has been more controversial in political and business circles than it has been in the general public. But his political future likely hinges on the outcome of a case from which he has recused himself.

Strange’s name is on the office, so whatever happens in the Hubbard case is a reflection on him. But his recusal has left him in the unenviable position of bearing all of the public responsibility for what has been going on in Lee County without having the requisite authority.

Outside of the Hubbard trial, Strange’s office routinely garners headlines for suing the Obama administration and harassing the EPA — not a bad gig for someone aiming at higher office in Alabama.



Senator Jabo Waggoner, Senate Rules Chairman

Waggoner is the longest serving Republican in the Alabama Senate and has been a major player in state politics since the mid-1960s.

Ironically, the best thing that ever happened to his political career was that he narrowly lost a bid for U.S. Congress in 1984. Being one of 435 House members in Washington, D.C., would have likely given him far fewer opportunities to put his stamp on his home state than being one of the most powerful state legislators decade after decade. At this point Waggoner holds near total sway over what bills make it to the floor of the senate for a vote, thanks to his position as Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.

All signs point to Waggoner running for a twelfth term in the Alabama legislature in 2018. For long-time legislators, staffers and governmental affairs pros at the State House, the day Waggoner walks out of his corner office on the 7th floor for the final time will mark the end of an era and one of the truly remarkable runs in Alabama political history.

2 years ago

Alabama House passes budget with significant raise for teachers, support personnel

Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)
Alabama House of Representatives (Photo: Flickr user Joel יוֹאֵל)

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously passed a $6.3 billion Education Trust Fund (ETF) budget that includes significant pay raises for teachers an education support personnel.

The Office of Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) detailed the raises in a release:

Under the House-passed budget, teachers and support personnel, such as bus drivers, lunchroom workers, and others, earning less than $75,000 a year will receive a four percent salary increase while administrators and others earning more than $75,000 will receive a two percent raise. The proposed ETF budget includes a four percent across-the-board pay raise for all community college employees. The budget also fully-funds health insurance and retirement program funding requests.

“As a result of the responsible spending practices that have been utilized since Republicans took leadership of the Legislature, this budget is able to reward teachers and support personnel with a needed pay raise that also closes the salary gap between administrators and classroom educators,” said House Education Budget Chairman Bill Poole (R – Tuscaloosa).

“This budget also includes significant increases in classroom spending for priorities like First Class Pre-K, distance learning, school technology, and Advanced Placement courses,” added Speaker Hubbard. “When coupled with the funding we are providing to make us the first state in the nation to offer wireless broadband access in each of its K-12 public school classrooms, this education budget may be considered among the best ones passed in Alabama’s history.”

Hubbard’s office also released the following “highlights” included in the budget:

· Providing funding for an additional 475 teachers in 7-12 grade classrooms, where the need is greatest.

· Increased spending for textbooks ($8 million for FY2017 and $20.8 million over the past two years combined) and transportation ($13.5 million for FY2017 and $18 million over the past two years combined).

· Expansion of Alabama’s nationally-recognized voluntary Pre-Kindergarten program, known as First Class, with an additional $14 million in funding in FY2017 and $24.3 million over the past two years combined.

· A $3.1 million increase in funding for student materials ($6.1 million over the past two years combined) to prevent teachers from pay out-of-pocket for needed classroom supplies.

· Allowing local school systems to set priorities and meet urgent needs by providing an additional $47 million in discretionary “Other Current Expense” funding.

· Providing full funding for the Public Education Employees’ Health Insurance Program (PEEHIP) with a $20 million increase that is intended to avoid premium increases.

The education budget now goes to the senate for consideration.

2 years ago

Welcome to Alabama: Where alleged criminals are prosecuted by alleged criminals (opinion)

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

For over fourteen months now, the state government of Alabama has been under a dark cloud of suspicion and accusations stemming from the indictment of House Speaker Mike Hubbard on 23 counts of felony public corruption.

The Attorney General’s office says Mike Hubbard — once the Alabama Republican Party’s fastest rising star — could not choose between power and money, so he chose to use the former to attain the latter.

Unflattering emails released by the prosecution revealed that Hubbard, a broadcast media executive by trade, was being paid upwards of $30,000 a month by various companies in other industries — at least some of which had issues before the Legislature — to be a consultant. He is also accused of having voted in favor of a measure that could have benefited one of his clients to the tune of millions of dollars, among other things.

After being indicted, Hubbard unleashed an all-out assault on the credibility of the Alabama attorney general’s office.

According to court documents, Attorney General Luther Strange recused himself from Hubbard’s case when the investigation began in January of 2013. He appointed longtime attorney Van Davis to serve as acting attorney general, and Matt Hart, chief of the AG’s special prosecutions unit, took the reins as the lead prosecutor.

Hart came into the job with a reputation for being a bulldog, a trait that could serve him well as he took on public corruption. But according to Hubbard’s defense team, and even some inside the AG’s office, Hart had also become known as a man who was willing to operate in the grey, a dangerous trait for someone whose job is to uphold the law — to seek truth wherever it takes him.

Former deputy state attorney general Henry “Sonny” Reagan wrote to Attorney General Strange warning him about Hart’s tactics, and even filed an internal complaint against him for “harassment, threats of physical violence, and prosecutorial misconduct.” Hart dismissed the accusations and shot back that Reagan was interfering with his investigation. Reagan ultimately resigned after 16 years on the job, but not before making accusations that support what the Hubbard defense team has been saying all along: the prosecution is inappropriately leaking information.

“I know that two high level officials in your Investigations Division believe that Mr. Hart has leaked Grand Jury information to the press and have notified you of the same,” Reagan wrote to Strange.

Throughout the Grand Jury process and even since the Hubbard indictment, sealed information has seemed to routinely pop up on pro-prosecution blogs and editorial pages.


Six months before Hubbard was indicted, Hart went after State Representative Barry Moore (R-Enterprise).

While testifying before the Hubbard Grand Jury, Moore was asked to recall the details of a conversation he had with his soon-to-be primary opponent Josh Pipkin approximately seven months before. Unbeknownst to Moore, Pipkin had recorded the conversation, and prosecutors argued he was not sufficiently accurate in his recollection of the call during his testimony.

The indictment, which was attained using out-of-context clips of phone conversations and proved to be a stretch after Moore was found not guilty on all charges, raised eyebrows in the legal community. But throughout the entire trial, apparent leaks appeared on a pro-prosecution blog that seemed engineered to hurt Moore politically in his re-election bid.

In spite of Grand Jury secrecy laws, an article in the Enterprise Ledger noted that Moore’s opponent, Josh Pipkin, claimed “he received permission from the attorney general’s office to publicly address the issue (Grand Jury proceedings) at the Coffee County Republican Club.”

In a later Facebook post by Pipkin’s wife that was reposted by Pipkin’s campaign Facebook page, she said her husband “would love to comment now but he can’t because of Grand Jury Secrecy Laws.” But in the very next sentence she appeared to inadvertently reveal that secrecy laws were broken by saying “the AG played the conversation for you,” referencing something that could only be known by people inside the Grand Jury.

The Pipkin campaign later removed the posts, but the entire ordeal was so over-the-top a juror is said to have quipped during deliberations, “If Pipkin and (his sidekick) Tullos are going home to their families tonight after what they did, then Barry Moore should definitely be going home to his family.”

Moore, of course, was acquitted, but the leaks seemed to continue.


A few weeks ago Hart finally got caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar.

Speaker Hubbard’s lead defense firm, White Arnold and Dowd, submitted a motion to the judge to withdraw from the case. The firm has declined to disclose its reasoning, but while the withdrawal filing was made public, their actual motion was kept under seal by the judge because it referenced Grand Jury proceedings.

However, the moment the filing hit Hart’s email inbox, he forwarded it to a pro-prosecution blog, which published the sealed document.

“It did not appear to be sealed when I first viewed it quickly in the car on my iPad,” Hart explained to Alabama sports website and liberal political blog “Because we have agreed to send various media entities motions when they are filed, and because I’d received specific requests to do so in the last couple of days, I forwarded this motion to a journalist.

“As I was preparing to send it to the second person on our list, I noticed that the motion was marked ‘under seal.'”

Even if Hart’s tortured explanation is accurate in this particular instance, it is hard to ignore that his first inclination upon receiving any information about the case was to send it along to the very blog with whom the Hubbard defense team has accused the prosecution of repeatedly working in concert.


Baron Coleman, a Montgomery attorney who also works as a political consultant and hosts a local radio program, said in a sworn affidavit this week that he “used information from Matt Hart to create a ‘whisper campaign'” against Hubbard.

“At one point, Matt Hart told me in January 2014 it was a good thing for him and his office that I was in the political world ‘wheeling and dealing’ and doing political things,” Coleman writes in the affidavit.

Among those “political things” Coleman was engaged in was consulting for the campaign of Sandy Toomer, who was running against Hubbard in his Auburn-area legislative district.

Additionally, he was also a consultant for Josh Pipkin, who was running against Rep. Barry Moore.

And suddenly things really begin to come into focus.

Coleman’s breathtaking affidavit — written by a man who has been anything but an ally of House Speaker Mike Hubbard in recent years — depicts Matt Hart as a man who does not hesitate to use leaks and intimidation tactics to his advantage whenever he sees fit; in other words, exactly the man Hubbard’s legal defense team has been describing for over a year now.

But according to Coleman’s affidavit, Hart also tried to use those tactics on him.

Through a sequence of events, Hart became concerned that Coleman had inadvertently exposed him as the leak in the Grand Jury proceedings.

“When Mr. Hart became aware of this information, he called and advised me to never let that happen again,” said Coleman. “Mr. Hart threatened to put me in front of the Grand Jury, which he claimed would be ‘somewhat painful’ for him and ‘painful’ for me. Near the end of this conversation, Hart awkwardly interrogated me for several minutes about whether I had ever recorded him in any manner, including during phone conversations or face-to-face conversations… I concluded he feared I had recorded him and the recordings would be subpoenaed to show Grand Jury leaks.

“Based on comments made to me by Mr. Hart, I am concerned about Mr. Hart and the power he possesses,” Coleman concluded. “I believe his threats of a painful Grand Jury experience were designed to keep the line of communication open between us, knowing that I would use the information he provided me but would be fearful to ever reveal its source.”


The Grand Jury process is secret for good reason. If the proceedings were public, it could discourage witnesses from coming forward or keep them from being entirely forthcoming. Additionally, if the Grand Jury declines to issue charges, the individual in question should not have their name drug through the mud publicly. When a judge says something should be sealed prior to, during, or after a trial, he or she undoubtedly has good reason for that as well, and leaking such information is an inexcusable abuse of the justice system.

Did House Speaker Mike Hubbard abuse his office?

Who knows?

But I’ll tell you what is frankly a lot more terrifying than anything Hubbard is accused of: Realizing that your state government’s attorneys are apparently willing to do whatever it takes to “get you,” if they decide they want you, for whatever reason.

Criminals should live in fear of the long arm of the law and the impartiality of the American justice system.

But in Alabama, the AG’s office has turned into a quasi-Secret Police force able to wield the ultimate power of the government to do as it pleases.

How is it that Alabama’s elected attorney general is able to unleash unelected state employees to prosecute cases that could be politically advantageous to him? And when chaos ensues he, what, throws his hands up and says “but I recused myself”?

This is not what justice looks like, at least not in America, and certainly not in Alabama.

2 years ago

Alabama Speaker strips rival of committee chairmanship in move that could hurt North Alabama

State Rep. Phil Williams (Left) was removed from his committee chairmanship by Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right)
State Rep. Phil Williams (Left) was removed from his committee chairmanship by Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right)
State Rep. Phil Williams (Left) was removed from his committee chairmanship by Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (right)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — When Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn) last week announced committee assignments for the upcoming legislative session, one lawmaker’s name was conspicuously missing from the chairmanship he has held since Republicans took over the legislature in 2010.

State Rep. Phil Williams (R-Huntsville) has been the only Republican to ever chair the Technology and Research Committee, but after questioning Hubbard’s ability to govern while facing trial on public corruption charges and challenging him for the Speaker’s gavel, Hubbard moved swiftly to strip him of his post.

Williams has now been replaced by Rep. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva).

Hubbard’s office released a statement saying “committee assignments are chosen based upon the skills and talents each member possesses,” but declined to comment on Williams’ removal specifically.

In a phone interview with Yellowhammer Monday morning, Williams said his background in technology and startups had made him a good fit for the Technology and Research Committee chairmanship.

“I started my career long ago when President Reagan called for a strategic defense initiative, which became Star Wars,” he explained. “I applied and got in and that was my entrance into the world contracting and testing. It was cutting edge stuff. After that I started a business doing test engineering work. It was very successful and we ended up selling it.

“Then I started another company doing wireless sensor networks and later sold it. Now I spend time mentoring small business startups. So I’ve been around startups and technology for 30-something years.”

The committee chairmanship was also important to Williams’ legislative district, which is home to many of the state’s tech firms, ranging from multi-billion dollar companies to bootstrapping startups. Williams’ successor, Rep. Chesteen, represents a rural Wiregrass-area district, but Williams says he is also qualified for the post.

“A lot of Huntsville people have contacted me with some concerns, saying things like, ‘Since when was Geneva a hub of technology?'” Said Williams. “There is certainly some disappointment. But I am very supportive of Donnie. I’ll do anything I can to help him. He’s a great guy and a good friend and I’ll go the extra mile for him.

“In fact, he is actually an expert on the technology we’ll be dealing with on the Committee in the coming months. It’s a bill called the Alabama Ahead Act. It will allow local school districts to spend money on the technology they need, whether it be wireless infrastructure, or iPads, or teacher training. Donnie’s been in the middle of that issue for several years now and he’ll have a lot of people, especially me, supporting him as we work through it this session.”

Yellowhammer spoke to several North Alabama technology executives and entrepreneurs Monday morning, each of whom had varying degrees of concern about Williams being removed from his post. They spoke freely on condition of anonymity.

“I can’t imagine it will hurt us that bad,” one said. “It is in our DNA up here to do innovative things up here and most of us could not care less who is on what legislative committee. The main thing we need is for the government to stay out of our way. That being said, it is always helpful to have a guy like Phil who actually has first-hand experience with what we’re doing and it is somewhat unseemly that politics would get in the way of that.”

Another tech leader said Williams’ removal reminded him of former U.S. House Speaker John Boehner removing Republicans from certain committees if they did not vote the way he wanted, or challenged his leadership.

“We were all worried there for a little while because (Congressman) Mo (Brooks) (R-AL5) is part of the Freedom Caucus and was giving Boehner fits,” he said. Brooks serves on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

“But he hung in there, didn’t get the ax like some of the others. (Senator) Shelby (R-Ala.) would have been able to make sure North Alabama was not completely left out in the cold, but it would have been tougher without an ally in the House. The state level is not as big of a deal, mainly because the NASA and Redstone and contractor money is coming out of D.C., not Montgomery.”

A third North Alabama resident Yellowhammer interviewed said for him it was less about Williams’ committee post, and more about North Alabama being singled out.

“I just can’t think of anything more asinine than taking out a petty political beef on the people,” he said. “That’s who stuff like this hurts. Not Representative Williams, his people.”

There is a small but vocal effort in the Alabama House to seek clarification on whether the state constitution calls for the Speaker to be elected every year, or only once every four years.

Section 51 of the Constitution says, in part, “the House of Representatives, at the beginning of each Regular Session, and at such other times as may be necessary, shall elect one of its members as Speaker.”

Amendment 57 of the Alabama Constitution discusses organizational sessions, which take place once every four years. It also says that during the organizational session “the House of Representatives shall elect one of its members as Speaker, to preside over its deliberations.” Although Amendment 57 does not strike anything from Section 51, it has created enough ambiguity that recent tradition has held that the Speaker is only elected once every four years.

Williams says this has allowed Hubbard and Speakers before him to amass a great deal of power.

“I would fully support getting some clarification on this issue,” he said. “Part 51 of the Constitution clearly says we should elect a Speaker every time we organize in a Regular Sessions. This week we should be electing a new Speaker. I’m not going to hold my breath because a lot of people don’t want the clarification. I haven’t met anybody yet who can tell me when the Legislature adopted a four-year program. It allows the Speaker, whoever it is, to accumulate a lot of power and money. It’ll take a Supreme Court decision to work it all out.

The legislature convenes for the 2016 Regular Legislative Session on Tuesday.

2 years ago

Teacher pay raise, right-to-work, anti-Syrian refugee bills top Alabama House GOP agenda

Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)
Alabama State House (Photo: Creative Commons/Jay Williams)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama House Republicans on Thursday rolled out their list of 2016 legislative priorities, which they have titled the “Right for Alabama” agenda.

“Our ‘Right for Alabama’ agenda focuses on important issues like job creation, protecting public school students from harm, demanding the dignity that unborn life deserves, and other vital initiatives,” said House Speaker Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn). “It also continues Alabama’s on-going fight against wrong-headed federal policies that would erode our constitutionally protected gun rights and force the state to accept thousands of potentially dangerous and unchecked Syrian refugees.”

“All of these agenda bills have been unanimously endorsed and supported by our House Republican Caucus members, and they will be given our full attention early in the session,” added House Majority Leader Micky Hammon (R-Decatur). “Our agenda is rooted firmly in conservative policies and philosophy, and while these bills may be wrong for the liberals who will oppose them, Republicans believe deeply that they are ‘Right for Alabama.”

The list of bills included in the agenda can be found below. The accompanying descriptions were provided by the House Republican caucus:

Zero-Based Budgeting Reform – In order to bring a new level of scrutiny, transparency, and accountability to the appropriations process, the Alabama House Republican Caucus will begin to implement a new “zero-based” budgeting system. This revolutionary new process will require state agencies to fully account for each dollar they receive, help identify ineffective programs that are in need of elimination, and potentially save or re-direct substantial amounts of taxpayer dollars.

Pension Reform – The Alabama House Republican Caucus will continue its efforts to ensure the long-term solvency and fiscal health of the Retirement Systems of Alabama while protecting and preserving the current level of benefits earned by existing retirees and employees.

Alabama Taxpayer Advocate Act – Under current law, the role of Taxpayer Advocate must be filled by an employee within the Department of Revenue who is selected by the commissioner and reports directly to her. In order to ensure fair and equitable treatment of Alabama taxpayers, House Republicans will offer legislation requiring the Taxpayer Advocate to be appointed by the governor from a pool of candidates recommended by a committee of government officials and business professionals. The advocate’s role and duties in protecting taxpayers’ interests would be expanded significantly under this measure.

Small Business Job Creation Tax Credit – During the past five years, Alabama has transformed into one of the most business-friendly states in the nation, and the Legislature has worked to provide incentives necessary to lure thousands of new, high-paying jobs to our state. Small businesses, however, have created more than 65% of all new jobs over the past 20 years nationally. To encourage further job expansion within the state, Alabama House Republicans will propose a $1,500 income tax credit for every new, qualified employee hired by small businesses operating within the state.

Alabama’s Right To Work Constitutional Amendment – Although Alabama and many other southeastern states are firm right-to-work states, labor unions have stepped up their efforts to organize industrial facilities across the region after experiencing recent successes that include Volkswagen in Tennessee and Golden Dragon in Wilcox County. Alabama passed one of the nation’s first right-to-work laws roughly 60 years ago, but House Republicans believe it is time to enshrine that employment protection in our state constitution and will offer an amendment to be included on the November 2016 election ballot.

Protecting Public Safety from Syrian Refugee Threats – Recognizing the inherent risks that exist and lacking confidence in federal claims of thorough background checks, the Alabama House Republican Caucus will oppose any Obama administration effort to relocate masses of Syrian or other Middle Eastern refugees to our state. The possibility of even one “refugee” with a questionable background slipping through the system poses a danger to our public safety that Alabamians should not be forced to endure.

Preserving Second Amendment Constitutional Rights – The Alabama House Republican Caucus pledges to assist members of our federal delegation in overturning Barack Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders attacking our Second Amendment right to own firearms.

School Security and Student Safety Task Force – Alabama schools have been extremely fortunate to avoid a violent situation like those that have occurred in other states, but we must continue looking for ways to improve school safety and ensure we are as prepared as possible to prevent or mitigate any situation that might arise. The Alabama House Republican Caucus will create a task force comprised of key education, law enforcement, and emergency management leaders from across the state and tasked with completing a comprehensive review and assessment of state laws, regulations, and protocols relating to security and student safety in our public K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. The Legislature will consider the task force’s resulting recommendations for improvement.

Teacher Pay Raise – Recognizing their importance in preparing students for success in the 21st Century workplace, House Republicans will work to provide Alabama’s K-12 and post-secondary education personnel with a pay raise.

Wireless Infrastructure Renovation for Education (WIRED) Act
– An extensive knowledge of operating computers will be required of everyone in the 21st century workforce, so today’s students must be proficient in the latest technologies. Three out of five schools in the United States currently lack the infrastructure needed to take advantage of wireless technology, and that number is believed to be even higher in Alabama. The WIRED Act proposed by House Republicans will create a framework for putting wireless broadband in all K-12 public schools by providing grants to local systems for the purchase, installation or upgrade of wireless infrastructure. Schools already possessing the necessary infrastructure may use the grants to purchase wireless devices and technology.

Unborn Infants’ Dignity of Life Act – Recent reports about outrageous acts by Planned Parenthood and its representatives have prompted public outcry regarding the organization and the cavalier practices it utilizes regarding unborn life. In order to ensure that these atrocities do not occur in Alabama, the House Republican Caucus will offer legislation banning the sale of the bodily remains of unborn infants.