Mike Hubbard was stripped of his position of speaker of the state House of Representatives Friday night, after a Lee County jury deliberated for more than seven hours and convicted the Auburn Republican of 12 of the 23 felony ethics charges against him. The guilty verdict automatically resulted in Hubbard’s removal as both speaker and representative as state law forbids felons from holding public office.
With Hubbard’s ousting from his position as one of the most powerful men in state politics, Rep. Victor Gaston, a Mobile Republican, is serving as acting Speaker of the House. Gaston issued a statement shortly after the verdict was read.
“The Alabama House is not defined by the actions of any one member, it is defined by the motto that appears on the wall of our Chamber, ‘Vox Populi,’ which means ‘Voice of the People,'” the statement said. “This incident, no matter how regrettable, offers strong proof that the ethics reforms passed by the Legislature in 2010 remain among the toughest in the nation.”
All of the charges against Hubbard were Class B felonies filed under the state ethics law championed by then Speaker Hubbard and his colleagues when he ascended to leadership in the House in 2010, an irony to around which Rep. Gaston seemed to be skirting.
The jury found Hubbard guilty of using his office as speaker to solicit consulting contracts from several businesses including educational and pharmaceutical companies as well as investments for his printing business, Craftmasters Printing.
“He was selling his office,” a prosecutor told jurors during the trial. “He just put a ‘for sale’ sign in front of the speaker’s office.”
Hubbard’s conviction has led to an earthquake in Goat Hill across party lines, with political leaders in many – if not all – corners speaking out.
House Minority Leader Craig Ford called it a “dark day for Alabama” in a statement sent to Lagniappe minutes after the jury’s decision. “Mike Hubbard led Republicans to a supermajority on a platform of cleaning up corruption in Montgomery,” the Gadsden Democrat’s statement said.
“But instead of cleaning up corruption, Mike Hubbard and the Republican leadership in all three branches of our government have embraced corruption. They have forgotten they are supposed to serve the people, and not the other way around.”
Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange also issued a statement after the conviction with somewhat of a different perspective than Ford’s. Strange, a Republican, had recused himself from the Hubbard case, instead appointing a special prosecutor in the case.
“This is a good day for the rule of law in our state,” Strange’s said. “This kind of result would never have been achieved had our office not put together the finest public corruption unit in the country. I’m very proud of their work. This should send a clear message that in Alabama we hold public officials accountable for their actions.”
Gov. Bentley, who was called to testify in the trial, refused to comment on the trial’s outcome. Former head of Alabama’s Law Enforcement Agency Spencer Collier said the result should lead to Bentley’s resignation. Collier, who was fired by Bentley, says he was terminated wrongfully after he refused to stymie the investigation into Speaker Hubbard.
“Governor Bentley suspended me, then fired me for allowing ALEA to cooperate in the Lee Co. Grand Jury investigation,” Collier tweeted. “I hope Gov. Bentley is paying attention now. [Bentley] should be ashamed for interfering in a law enforcement investigation. He should resign today!”
Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, however, did release a statement on the political turmoil.
“The verdict reached by 12 Lee County jurors brings finality to a lengthy legal process that has impacted our state government and public trust,” her statement said. “I pray that Mike, his wife Susan, and their sons will be strengthened and supported through the uncertainties of this difficult time. I respect the jury’s hard work and accept their findings. It is not easy to sit in judgment and these jurors did their duty as citizens of Alabama.
As for a permanent replacement for speaker of the House, the GOP caucus in the lower chamber will likely meet before the next legislative session to select a new leader. In the meantime, though, some may have other ideas. Birmingham Democrat Patricia Todd, the state’s first openly gay elected official, said on social media that when it comes to choosing a new speaker, it’s time for something different in Yellowhammer politics.
“Hubbard found guilty of 12 counts. We will elect a new speaker. Time for new leadership with the people of Alabama as a priority. I am thinking of throwing my hat in the ring. Time for accountability and transparency in state government. My thoughts are with Mike and his family who face hardship ahead. It would be nice to have someone who is not the traditional white male Republican. Let’s do something different.”
Hubbard’s lawyers have said that he will appeal the verdict. Hubbard was released shortly after the court proceedings on $160,000 bond. His sentencing will be in mid-July. He faces between two to 20 years for each of the 12 guilty counts.