- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - After leading the Republican takeover of the Alabama Legislature in 2010, House Speaker Mike Hubbard described the achievement in his book “Storming the Statehouse.” Four years later, he finds himself in a different kind of political storm fueled by the guilty plea of a Republican colleague.

State Rep. Greg Wren of Montgomery resigned his office Tuesday and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor ethics charge involving misuse of his public office. His plea agreement with the state attorney general's office names the speaker of the House three times.

It says Hubbard endorsed putting language into the state budget last year that would have directed state Medicaid business to a Bessemer company that had hired Hubbard’s media company in Auburn.

Hubbard disputes the plea agreement.

“The situation that happened this week has nothing to do with me,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Associated Press on Friday.

Hubbard said accusations are being tossed around to hurt him in this year’s election and to knock him out as a possible candidate for governor in 2018.

“Ultimately it is political. You look at the position I have and it’s pretty easy to see why I’ve become the target,” he said.

Hubbard, 52, was elected to the Alabama Legislature in 1998 when Republicans were a political minority in Montgomery. He worked his way up to House minority leader and chairman of the Alabama Republican Party in 2010. Then he recruited candidates and raised millions in campaign funds to help his party win control of the Legislature from Democrats who had held power in Montgomery for 136 years. Republican House members thanked him by electing him speaker.

Hubbard and his GOP majority rewrote state laws on lobbying, government ethics and education. Along the way, he made enemies among Montgomery political organizations and within his own party.

Some have criticized him for using his media company and printing company in Auburn to do campaign work for Republican candidates, but Hubbard and the candidates always defend the work as being faster and cheaper than the competition.

In recent days, a foundation started by former state Sen. John Rice of Opelika has been running TV ads that show Hubbard’s photo and talk about needing to end corruption in Montgomery.

Court records show that in August 2013 the state attorney general's office, led by Republican Luther Strange, convened a special grand jury in Hubbard’s home county of Lee to investigate public corruption. Hubbard won’t say if he has been contacted, but he said, “I’ve never failed to cooperate with law enforcement and will continue.”

The case against Wren was the first to come out of the attorney general’s ongoing investigation.

Wren signed a plea agreement saying he sought legislative support in the 2013 session for putting language in the state General Fund budget that had been provided to him by American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc. of Bessemer. The language would provide for the state Medicaid program to hire a company to manage pharmacy benefits for the more than 900,000 participants.

The language didn’t mention the company by name, but it was written so only the Bessemer company could meet the requirements for getting the exclusive contract, Wren’s plea agreement says.

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