Alabama’s rank-and-file conservatives should support House Speaker Mike Hubbard: opinion

Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard (file)

President Harry Truman is believed to have said that, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” The same could be said about every state capital and county seat in America. There’s just no loyalty in politics.

That wasn’t the case last week in Lee County, Alabama. About 30 lawmakers gathered at the Auburn University Hotel in a very public display of support for House Speaker Mike Hubbard after he was indicted by a special grand jury in the county and charged with felony ethics violations.

There were so many lawmakers present that AL.com columnist John Archibald quipped, “I think there is a legislative quorum in this press conference.” They didn’t mince words in their vocal support of the first Republican Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives since Reconstruction.

“When you do big things you make enemies and unfortunately that is happening here,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, who represents Lee County as part of Alabama’s 3rd Congressional District. He added that the indictment was “Chicago-style gutter politics that has no place in Alabama or Lee County.”

Rep. Mac McCutcheon, R-Monrovia, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, said Hubbard was “our friend and our speaker.” Several other influential lawmakers voiced their support, as well, putting to rest any ideas that Hubbard might be successfully challenged for his leadership position in Montgomery. Auburn’s mayor and the head of the local Chamber of Commerce also voiced their support from the local level.

The show of political solidarity was surprising, and not because of Hubbard’s guilt or innocence. The charges are either misinterpretations or misapplications of the state’s newly enacted ethics laws. It’s not uncommon for executive branch bureaucrats to disregard the legislative branch’s intent and apply their own spin on new, untested laws. I’ve seen administration officials argue about a law’s purpose with the legislator who actually wrote the language. I’m confident the speaker will be exonerated once the charges, and the new law that the prosecutor is interpreting, are closely examined during an open process.

The press conference was surprising because, as Truman noted, most politicians tend to avoid anything or anyone once they become liabilities rather than assets. Once the indictment was handed down many observers expected the Montgomery crowd to step away from Hubbard. A few rather weak statements made just hours after his arrest seemed to signal such a thing. But the exact opposite happened.

“Mike Hubbard has been one of the strongest and best leaders Alabama has ever seen,” said former Governor Bob Riley, a longtime friend of Hubbard. “He led the Republican Party through one of its grandest hours and it is disappointing to see that his hard work, devotion and loyalty to the party are now being called into question.” The former governor added that at “no point have I ever had reason to question Mike’s integrity” and offered his “unequivocal support” of the speaker.

All of this begs the question – why is everyone rushing to defend an embattled politician who’s facing multiple felony counts? Simple. Mike Hubbard is a good man who’s innocent of the charges and has the ability to prove it.

I first met Hubbard when I worked as a press secretary for Riley a few years ago. Even though I was a low-level aide, Hubbard always treated me with courtesy and much more respect than I deserved. In fact, he had a reputation among us underlings as “one of the good guys.” I met plenty of egomaniacs and schemers during my years in politics, but Hubbard wasn’t one of them. He’s an honest man who is in politics for all of the right reasons.

Now that our state’s conservative leaders have placed their names on the line and voiced their support for Hubbard, it’s time for us rank-and-file conservatives to do the same. If you like what’s been happening the past few years in Montgomery — measures to make Alabama more business-friendly, prolife laws and education reform — then you owe much of that to Hubbard. And if you want more decent people to run for office, then you should support those who are unjustly targeted.

Hubbard has stuck with conservatives; now conservatives should stick with him.

(J. Pepper Bryars grew up in Mobile and is now a writer living in Huntsville. Contact him at jpepperbryars@gmail.com and jpepperbryars.com.)