Hubbard’s support slipping?
Published 11:52 pm Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Nearly a year ago, two days after Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, was indicted on felony ethics charges, we said he should not seek the speakership in 2015. Our rationale was that the upcoming legislative session was one of the most important in decades, and the situation surrounding Hubbard would produce unneeded turmoil and distractions.
Hubbard didn’t step down, of course, not that we ever expected him to, and was re-elected speaker by a 104-1 margin. He directed the House through the regular session and two special sessions, which finally produced a budget that hiked (a few taxes) and cut (appropriations) and kept the state’s General Fund solvent.
The turmoil happened, too. Prosecutors leaked embarrassing emails that painted him as not just hungry but ravenous for money and favors. There also was self-inflicted, “how can you sleep at night”-level embarrassment that we and others have called him out for — his attorneys’ claim that the ethics law he championed (and was indicted under) is unconstitutionally vague.
Partly because of that and partly because hard-liners are angry that he seemed too receptive to calls for increased taxes, cracks are appearing in Hubbard’s support in the Republican caucus.
He already has one announced and prominent challenger for the speaker’s post, Rep. Phil Williams, R-Huntsville, chairman of the Technology and Research Committee and a member of the key Ways and Means Education and Education Policy committees.
Williams wrote in a letter to GOP colleagues that “only fresh leadership can restore confidence in the Office of Speaker from both members of the Legislature and the people of Alabama.” He said in media reports that he also was troubled by legislation pushed unsuccessfully by allies of Hubbard that could be construed as benefiting the speaker’s legal situation. Other Republican House members have indicated they’re ready to wash their hands of Hubbard and move on, but his supporters are being equally vocal and expect all this to blow over once everyone unwinds from the special session. Ninety-nine percent support isn’t easy to erode.
Still, nothing is ever as structurally sound once it’s cracked, and more fissures could develop in Hubbard’s base of support before the Legislature returns in February for its 2016 regular session.
The speaker’s trial starts in March. That’s going to be the ultimate distraction.