- Associated Press - Thursday, October 1, 2015

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Republican Rep. Phil Williams said Thursday that he is challenging Mike Hubbard to be speaker of the House, saying he believes the House needs fresh leadership to restore confidence in the speaker’s office.

The announcement, first made in a Wednesday night letter to House members, comes as several Republican legislators called for Hubbard to step down as he heads to trial on ethics charges next year. Williams did not name Hubbard in his letter but wrote that he shares a sentiment with many legislators: The House can’t operate effectively with current leadership.

“However, it has become abundantly clear that only fresh leadership can restore confidence in the Office of Speaker from both members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama,” Williams wrote.

Williams, in an interview Thursday, said he decided to present himself as a candidate for speaker because of proposals pushed during the second special session that he thought too closely intertwined with speaker’s ethics case. One bill would have allowed politicians to start and solicit money for criminal defense funds. A resolution also called for the creation of a legislative committee to review agency spending.

Williams said Hubbard had promised lawmakers the case would not interfere with his duties as speaker.

Rep. Allen Treadaway, R-Morris, said the ethics case has become a distraction.

The Republican speaker faces 23 felony ethics charges accusing him of using his public office as speaker, and previous position as Alabama Republican Party chairman, to benefit his businesses. He has pleaded not guilty and maintained that all of the transaction were legal.

The rebellion against the powerful Republican is a contrast to how lawmakers rallied around Hubbard after his indictment last October. Members stood aside the influential Republican at a pep-rally-flavored press conference, as Hubbard proclaimed his innocence and vowed to fight the charges. The House of Representatives re-elected Hubbard months later to a second term as speaker of the House with only one dissenting vote.

However, divisions have erupted among Republican House members in the last year, both over the speaker’s ethics case, and over Hubbard’s support of some tax increases in the face of a general fund budget shortfall.

Treadaway, a Birmingham police captain, said he was bothered by Hubbard’s emails that were included in court filings by prosecutors. The emails show Hubbard soliciting work from political allies who also had business before state lawmakers.

“The divide for me was over taxes,” said Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, said. “I guess as more and more comes out about the way Mike Hubbard has handled the last four or five years, it’s hard to trust anything coming out of the leadership right now and we need someone to restore that trust,” Henry said.

Hubbard, in a statement, blamed the divisions on recent budget battles.

“Obviously, not everyone was happy about the solutions we found to avert the state government shutdown that would have begun on Oct. 1, and I think this announcement is a lingering symptom of that. Sometimes showing leadership is difficult and I am proud of our efforts to continue providing the vital and essential services that many Alabamians depend upon,” Hubbard said in a statement.

Other lawmakers voiced continued support for the speaker.

“I voted for Mike Hubbard as did almost every member of the House of Representatives. I don’t support any change of leadership,” Rep. Matt Fridy, R-Montevallo, said.

Fridy said there are “a lot of frayed nerves and general acrimony” in the House after two difficult special sessions on the budget.

It is a simple procedure, but a herculean political task, to oust a sitting House speaker. Fifty-three of the 105 House members would have to vote yes on a motion to vacate the chair. A new election for speaker would be held if the motion prevails.

Lawmakers are not scheduled to return to Montgomery until February when the 2016 legislative session begins.

“As a caucus we need to band together a look for the right path, said Rep. Mike Ball, R-Madison.

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