Mac McCutcheon meets the number-one requirement to be the speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives — a position considered by some to be more powerful than the governor’s.
“I am not Speaker Mike Hubbard,” McCutcheon said after he was chosen in a closed-door meeting of Alabama House Republicans in Montgomery. Check. McCutcheon is not Mike Hubbard. He hasn’t been convicted of a handful of felonies for using his office for public gain, at least not yet. And he wants us all to know.
“[Mike Hubbard] and I have different personalities, and my leadership will be different,” he told the press after the meeting. “Not to say that I’m criticizing him for his, but we’re not the same person. And I think people should at least give us a chance because this is a new day.”
That feel-good, “morning in Montgomery” message was much different from the one McCutcheon was spinning before Hubbard was convicted, when the then-speaker had been indicted after a lengthy investigation by a now-infamous Lee County grand jury. Hubbard was holding a press conference featuring high-ranking local, state and national political officials, all decrying his indictment as a “political witch hunt” meant only to smear Hubbard’s good name. McCutcheon was there in the front rows, cheering Hubbard on. That day, he called Hubbard a “true leader.” Today, they’re just very different people. They’ve grown apart.
In any case, aside from his distinction from Hubbard as a person, McCutcheon wants us to know his leadership will be different from Hubbard’s. Mike Hubbard ruled the halls of power in Montgomery with an iron fist. Nothing in the House came up for a vote without the greenlight of two people: Mike Hubbard … and Mac McCutcheon. Before last week’s vote to give him the House’s top spot, McCutcheon served as chairman of the Rules Committee, the body charged with deciding if and when bills go to the full House for a vote. Bills passed and failed based on the say-so of McCutcheon and just a few others. So we already have a bit of an insight into his leadership, and it’s not looking good.
Every year at the end of the Alabama House’s regular session, the members give what they call the Shroud Award to the bill the representatives deem the “deadest bill” of the year. Usually a Democrat’s marijuana legalization bill or, one year, a bill providing a tax-free holiday around the Fourth of July for gun sales, wins the prize — and the accompanying coffin trophy. In 2011, the morbid award went to McCutcheon for a bill that would have legalized homebrewing alcohol across the state. “The hops cops stopped this brew party at the door,” the resolution bestowing the award read. McCutcheon’s response?
“This bill wasn’t the worst bill, it was the deadest bill, and I’m a firm believer in the Resurrection.”
McCutcheon would turn out to be right, for all the wrong reasons. His bill would come back and pass both the House and Senate, and be signed into law by the governor just two years later, in 2013. So was it McCutcheon’s stoic leadership that brought the bill back from the legislative grave? Was it his fervent passion for representative democracy that pulled his proposal from the edge of a cliff? No. It was about $65,000 in Georgia liquor company cash spread among about a dozen of Alabama’s top political “leaders,” including McCutcheon, Hubbard and the governor. It wasn’t McCutcheon, but campaign bankrolling, that got the job done: $65,000 for the then-Rules chairman to bring a bill back to life. Now that he’ll be speaker, how much is his fee?
McCutcheon, although he was Hubbard’s deputy, should of course get a fair chance to lead the House in a bipartisan, democratic manner. I just don’t have high hopes. McCutcheon hasn’t yet shown signs he’ll depart from Hubbard’s shadow; in fact, even now, before his official election, he’s already started using Hubbard’s key staff as his own. And that in itself may be a downfall.
McCutcheon isn’t known for micromanaging, and while that could have its upsides in a legislative leadership context, it once allowed a staff member to make a critical mistake.
When McCutcheon, who served for decades as a law enforcement officer, ran as a Democrat for Madison County Sheriff in 2002, a campaign volunteer eagerly offered to set up recorded campaign ads to go out over the phone just before the primary election, from 1-7 p.m. A day later, McCutcheon and his campaign realized the volunteer had set the calls to go out from 1-7 a.m. instead. McCutcheon lost that election.
Now, over a decade later, McCutcheon will be officially elected to the House’s top job when the Legislature begins its special session on the lottery this week. When it comes to actually deciding whether McCutcheon will depart from Hubbard’s shadow, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Republican lawmakers in the House could have done it the hard way and selected completely new leadership, free of the stench of Hubbard’s misdeeds. They could’ve wiped the slate clean. They didn’t. They took the easy way out, and that may make it that much worse for Alabama. Now, though, with lawmakers set to meet in Montgomery over the next couple of weeks, it won’t take long to tell. Stay tuned.