- Associated Press - Monday, January 11, 2016

MONTGOMERY, Ala (AP) - The Alabama Republican Party steering committee has asked indicted House Speaker Mike Hubbard to step aside from his leadership duties as he heads to trial on ethics charges.

The committee approved a resolution Sunday asking Hubbard to “suspend” his leadership role until his trial is complete.

“The GOP-controlled legislature needs full time focused attention on the people’s business. The distractions of Rep. Hubbard’s legal situation will make it extremely difficult for him to meet the demands of his role as Alabama Speaker of the House of Representatives,” Party Chairwoman Terry Lathan said in a statement.

Lathan said the party wishes the best for Hubbard and his family.

The resolution is a blow to Hubbard who has held on to his leadership position despite the criminal charges.

Hubbard, in a statement Monday, showed no signs of obliging. He called Lathan’s request ill-advised and premature, and blamed it on harsh feelings over Republican votes for taxes in last year’s special session.

“Her request is simply a symptom of lingering resentment against the leadership,” Hubbard said.

“The fact that Lathan’s resolution was approved in a hastily called Sunday night telephone call with less than half the steering committee voting in favor shows she was desperate and lacked widespread support,” Hubbard said.

The committee approved the resolution Sunday after a lengthy discussion about the exact wording.

Hubbard is scheduled to go to trial March 28 on charges accusing him of using his positions, as speaker and his former position as party chairman, to benefit his clients and businesses through lobbying or seeking investments and clients from people and groups. He has maintained his innocence and maintained that all of the transactions were legal.

The trial will overlap with the 2016 legislative session that begins Feb. 2. Hubbard said the request to step aside was premature because of discussions of a trial delay. A judge gave Hubbard’s defense until Friday to request a postponement after his lead lawyer abruptly left the case last week.

Republican legislators rallied around Hubbard after he was indicted in October 2014, with many attending a pep rally-flavored press conference where Hubbard and his lawyer lashed out at the charges as false and politically motivated. Hubbard’s district re-elected him to the House of Representatives the next month by a lopsided margin and House members nearly unanimously elected Hubbard to a second term as speaker.

However, Hubbard’s iron grip on the House began to slip a bit as prosecutors let out some of their evidence in court filings. They also worry about his ability to manage both the trial and legislature.

“As things started coming out and we started seeing facts of the case, it didn’t really match up,” said Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle. “I don’t think he can effectively lead the House with everything going on.”

Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, announced in October that he will challenge Hubbard to be speaker, saying he believed the House needed fresh leadership to restore confidence in the speaker’s office.

Henry said he will push for House members to vote on a new speaker when they convene in February. Henry said he believes the Alabama Constitution requires an election for speaker at the start of every session, although that has not been the custom in the Alabama House.

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