- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Paul Hubbert, a two-time candidate for governor who transformed an association of school teachers into one of Alabama’s most potent political forces, died Tuesday. He was 78.

A spokeswoman for the Alabama Education Association, Amy Marlowe, said Hubbert died at a Montgomery hospital. He was hospitalized Oct. 6 for injuries suffered in a fall and his condition worsened, Marlowe said.

Hubbert led the Alabama Education Association from 1969 until his retirement at the end of 2011 due to health problems. He turned a low-key organization led by school administrators into a political kingmaker that could pump more than $9 million into a single year’s elections. He told reporters at his retirement that he wanted to be remembered as “someone who cared about education.”

Hubbert could be brash in his early days. AEA helped elect so many members of the Democrat-controlled Legislature in the late 1970s that Hubbert could sit in the Capitol balcony and direct legislators’ votes by pointing to his eye for a yes vote and his nose for a no vote.

In later years, he became more of an elder political statesman, usually sitting with his fingers laced together in his lap and talking about why legislation that helped Alabama school employees would also benefit students.

He became so powerful that people referred to him as “Alabama’s other governor.”

Hubbert, however, never realized his dream of becoming the real governor. He won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1990, but lost the general election to Republican incumbent Guy Hunt. In 1994, Hubbert lost the Democratic primary to incumbent Jim Folsom Jr.

After that, Hubbert never sought public office again. But he became a vice chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party until the leadership post began to hamper his ability to work with the state’s growing number of Republican officeholders.

Near the end of his career, Hubbert saw his power diminished when Republicans won control of the Legislature, ending 136 years of Democratic dominance. In 2011, Hubbert and AEA were unable to stop the new GOP majority from weakening AEA’s ability to raise money, rewriting Alabama’s tenure law, and requiring school employees to pay more toward their retirement benefits.

Republican Gov. Robert Bentley called him “a legend in Alabama politics” who “worked extremely hard for teachers and support personnel.”

House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said legislators always respected Hubbert and knew they could count on his word, even if they disagreed with him.

“I doubt Alabama will ever see another lobbyist amass the power and influence that Paul Hubbert commanded. He was one of the last ties to a past generation of Alabama’s rich political history,” Hammon said.

Joe Reed, who served as AEA’s associate executive secretary during Hubbert’s entire tenure, said he believed in fairness not only for teachers, but for others. “When blacks first ran for the Legislature, AEA was the first organization to make contributions,” Reed said.

House Minority Leader Craig Ford, D-Gadsden, said Hubbert fought not only for educators, but to make sure every child had a chance to get a quality education. “Dr. Hubbert changed Alabama,” he said.

Hubbert grew up in the small north Alabama town of Hubbertville in Fayette County. He earned his bachelor’s degree from what is now the University of North Alabama and then got his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Alabama. He had school jobs in Madison County and in Tuscaloosa before becoming school superintendent in Troy in 1967.

In March 1969, he was recruited to be executive secretary of the all-white Alabama Education Association. That August, AEA merged with the black teachers’ group, the Alabama State Teachers Association, led by Reed. Reed became AEA’s associate executive secretary. In a state struggling with school integration, Hubbert and Reed showed how leaders of different races could work together smoothly.

In 1971, Hubbert served notice that AEA was no longer a politically passive organization. Gov. George C. Wallace was at the height of his popularity. Wallace wanted to take $24 million intended for the teachers’ pension program and use it to upgrade mental hospitals. AEA marshaled teachers and school support workers to fight Wallace and he backed down.

A decade later, Hubbert and AEA blocked Gov. Fob James’ effort to undo state laws dedicating part of Alabama’s tax revenue for the exclusive use of schools.

Hubbert pushed AEA’s membership from 30,000 members after the merger to nearly 100,000 active and retired teachers and school support workers in K-12 and community colleges. He also gave AEA a double political punch by turning out large numbers of campaign volunteers and building the largest political action committee of any association or trade group in Montgomery.

Henry Mabry, who succeeded Hubbert at AEA, said, “Dr. Hubbert was a great fighter for Alabama public schools and all public school children of this state.”

Hubbert recovered from a liver transplant in 1989 and heart bypass surgery in 2005. But the effects from his liver transplant finally forced his retirement.

Hubbert and his wife, Ann, dedicated their estate to the University of Alabama College of Education to provide scholarships for students who need assistance pursuing teaching degrees.

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