- Associated Press - Sunday, May 22, 2016

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - Shrewd, intelligent and disciplined, House Speaker Mike Hubbard was the general of the GOP offensive in 2010 to win Republican control of the Alabama Legislature, a legislative body that had been under the direction of Democrats since Reconstruction.

The 2010 campaigns were bolstered by a series of indictments and scandals involving Democrats, which provided easy campaign fodder for the GOP. After winning, Republicans, in a victory lap special session, passed sweeping new ethics legislation.

“Ethics was a subject that set Republicans apart from the Democrats,” Hubbard wrote in his book, “Storming the Statehouse” about the 2010 campaign.

Six years later, Hubbard will go on trial under that same ethics law on charges that he used his political positions to make money and obtain financial favors from lobbyists and company heads with business before the Alabama Legislature. Hubbard faces 23 felony ethics charges accusing him of steering GOP campaign work to his media companies and using his office to obtain employment, investments and benefits for his companies.

Opening statements are expected Tuesday in what’s become a season of scandal in Alabama, with a trio of embarrassments facing three top GOP office holders. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has faced calls for his impeachment following a sex-tinged scandal involving a former top aide. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore faces possible ouster from office over accusations that he violated canons of judicial ethics by trying to block same-sex weddings, despite the U.S. Supreme Court decision effectively legalizing gay marriage nationwide

At the center of it is the case against Hubbard. The high-profile corruption trial will bring a roster of the state’s political and corporate elite into a sterile, wood-paneled Opelika courtroom as prosecutors call to the stand the state’s Gov. Robert Bentley, former Gov. Bob Riley, heads of corporations and prominent lobbyists - powerful people from whom Hubbard asked for investments or help for his clients, according to prosecutors.

Hubbard, 54 and a native of Georgia, was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 1998 and later became minority leader in the House and chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. After the 2010 victory, Hubbard was elected as speaker.

“In Alabama, the governor is not the most powerful politician. Many would argue the speaker of the house is. If you are a strong speaker, you are the prime minister because nothing gets around the speaker,” said Natalie Davis, a political scientist and pollster at Birmingham-Southern College.

During legislative sessions, Hubbard presides with gavel in hand over the Alabama House of Representatives where many of the Republican members are candidates he recruited and helped win. When opening arguments begin, he will sit at the defense table looking up at jurors who could decide whether he continues in power - or goes to prison.

The trial will take place a few miles from Hubbard’s home in Lee County, Alabama, best known as the location of Auburn University and where Hubbard has left his mark on the landscape through state funding he secured for various projects. Mike Hubbard Boulevard leads to the town airport. There’s also the Mike Hubbard Center for Advanced Science, Innovation and Commerce, a university building at the city’s research park.

But in court filings, prosecutors have painted Hubbard as a politician consumed by greed as he ascended to the top of the state’s political hierarchy and desperate to obtain work when being laid off by his primary employer, Auburn’s IMG Sports Network.

In an email to Riley, the former governor, Hubbard lamented how the ethics law they passed was interfering with his effort to find work.

“Who proposed those things?! What were we thinking?” Hubbard joked.

The deals under scrutiny include a $12,000-month economic development consulting contract between one of Hubbard’s companies, the Auburn Network, and the Southeast Alabama Gas District, which sent him to the 2013 Paris Air Show with the official state delegation. He also is accused of taking action to try to steer Medicaid pharmacy business to a client of one of his companies.

Jurors will also look at if there was criminal wrongdoing with more than $600,000 in party campaign work that got subcontracted back to Hubbard’s printing company.

A gag order in the case has prevented Hubbard and attorneys from talking about the trial and what the two sides will present to jurors. His defense is expected to suggest that that prosecutors are stretching the bounds of the ethics law and trying to wrongly criminalize Hubbard’s legitimate efforts to make a living.

“I’m confident when the truth comes out that I will be exonerated and my name cleared.” Hubbard said in a January interview with The Associated Press.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide