- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard took to a microphone a day after his indictment on 23 felony ethics charges and defiantly vowed to win re-election in two weeks. He even promised to seek another term in the powerful speaker’s post.

While criminal indictment would seemingly pull the plug on many a campaign elsewhere, there were no signs of backing down by the Republican reckoned one of Alabama’s most powerful politicians. Hubbard led a GOP takeover of the Alabama Legislature in 2010 that ended 136 years of Democratic control and looms large beyond his seat - District 79 - as a possible future contender for governor.

“I’m not going to let any outside forces determine who the representative is for District 79 or who the speaker is,” Hubbard said hours after his arrest. The indictment accuses him of using the speakership and a former post as chairman of the state Republican Party for financial gain for himself and two companies he has a stake in.

Dozens of Republicans - some wearing “I Like Mike” stickers - flanked Hubbard at Tuesday’s news conference in which he called his arrest a ploy by rivals to derail his political career.

Alabama voters have shown a willingness in the past to ignore indictments just before an election. In 2010, Alabama voters re-elected two out of three state senators who were under indictment in a vote-buying investigation; all three were acquitted after the election.

Despite the indictment, Hubbard is widely favored for re-election. He faces a poorly funded Democrat on Nov. 4 in a district that consistently votes Republican. And strong political allies still publicly back him: U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers was among those standing Tuesday alongside Hubbard along with fellow state lawmakers and prominent officials.

Alabama Republicans have mostly rallied behind him, some vehemently and some more cautiously, amid calls to avoid judgment while the legal process plays out.

Grand jurors in Alabama’s Lee County accused Hubbard of using his positions as House speaker and chairman of the Alabama Republican Party to drum up business for two companies in which he has a stake and reap financial benefits for himself.

Political scientist Bill Stewart said the outcome of the legal case will be key to Hubbard’s political longevity. “It is serious when you have 23 counts. You don’t have to convict on all of them. All it takes is one to face jail time,” Stewart noted.

However, Stewart said he was not surprised by Tuesday’s show of support for Hubbard.

“They don’t want to criticize too strongly because if he’s acquitted he could go back to being the same old Mike Hubbard who is able to punish those who have been critical,” Stewart said.

As state GOP chairman, Hubbard campaigned to end Democratic control of the Legislature by lashing out at the arrests of several state senators on vote-buying charges - what he called a “culture of corruption” in politics. Now he’s facing charges under an ethics law Republicans overhauled as their first act after winning state legislative control.

With the indictment now hanging over Hubbard with the election looming, Alabama Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Worley did not respond with partisan vitriol.

“As chair of the party, I don’t intend to turn it into a political football,” Worley said.

With Hubbard expected to win re-election, observers say his bigger concern will be the election in January when legislators choose their leaders for the next four years.

Republican Rep. Mike Hill, of Columbiana, said he expects many Republicans will back Hubbard after Hubbard indicated he’ll seek a second term as speaker.

But at least one Republican, Rep. Jim Carns of Jefferson County, said he plans to throw his hat in the ring as a candidate for speaker.

“I think there is going to be some serious debate on whether or not someone who is indicted on 23 felony counts is in a position to do everything that needs to be done as an effective speaker,” Carns said, adding Hubbard has done a good job but the indictment changes things.

On Tuesday’, Hubbard’s allies called the charges a political ploy by rivals designed to knock him out of contention in the 2018 governor’s race.

“Think about this. Who would like to be governor in four years that would love to get Mike Hubbard out of the picture or at least skin him up real good so that maybe he’s not a viable candidate,” said Hubbard’s friend, Congressman Rogers.

“When you do big things, you make enemies. Unfortunately that’s what is happening here.”

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