Last updateTue, 01 Sep 2015 6am

Hubbard Will Lie About Ethics Laws: Opinion

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Speaker Mike Hubbard is so worried that he will be convicted on the 23 felony counts of violating State ethics laws, that his legal team has filed a seal motion to have those laws ruled unconstitutional.

After reviewing thousands of documents and hearing hundreds of hours of testimony, 18 citizens in Lee County found probable cause to indict and arrest Mike Hubbard, the most powerful politician in their district, on 23 felonies.

There are some who do not believe that 12 other citizens called from that same district will find him guilty of those 23 felonies. But, there is one group that is worried he will be convicted:

Hubbard's criminal defense team.

Criminal defense attorney J. Mark White said, the reason they filed the motion to challenge the constitutionality of the laws under which Hubbard was indicted, and have them placed under seal, was because it contained grand jury testimony. Matt Hart, Chief of the AG’s Special Prosecution Division, said in court that the real reason was because the filing would embarrass Hubbard. Trail Judge Jacob Walker III agreed that the motion should be unsealed, and gave the defense until Friday August 21, to publicly file the motion. 

For the moment, the public and the media can only speculate on what grounds Hubbard will challenge the laws he championed, voted for, and praised saying:

“Because of the laws passed in the [2010] Special Session, and proudly signed into law by Governor Riley, Alabama ethics laws are now among the strongest in the nation.”

What outrageous argument will Hubbard trot out to make the court believe that the laws he passed are somehow illegal? 

Hubbard also wrote one of those ethics laws: 

“It is my hope that future historians will say that this was the legislature that brought the reforms Alabama had needed for so long and that fundamentally changed how state government operates… Most voters in Alabama had become used to hearing politicians say one thing on the campaign trail and do something else once elected. That kind of empty rhetoric and broken promises has given Alabamians a serious distrust of state government for decades. We vowed to change that.”

In his own words Hubbard proclaimed boldly that what he and the Republican supermajority “proudly” passed were historic ethics reforms, “that fundamentally changed how state government operates.”

Now, he wants the court to believe that it was all a mistake?

The question that should hang over every republican legislator’s head like a guillotine is, will those same legislators that passed the “strongest in the nation,” ethics laws now abandon them because one of their own was caught in the net they wove?

How can a single Republican lawmaker look voters in the eye and say, “Well, it was a good law until a one of our guys broke it.”

Has the body politic of Alabama become so riddled with cancerous corruption that laws have no value, if they are broken by a member of your party? Is partisan politics mired so deeply in a dung heap of cronyism, as to grant a pass for a fellow republican who has run afoul of the laws they passed?

Hubbard’s willingness to sacrifice the good accomplished by the Republican supermajority to save his own neck, is a very telling demonstration of his deviant, and narcissistic character.

In 2010, Hubbard said, “When you look someone in the eye, give them your word, and shake their hand, you make a bond. This Handshake Agenda is our bond with the voters of Alabama, and if Republicans are successful in taking over the Legislature, these are the items we will immediately work to pass.”

The Republicans were successful in taking over the Legislature, and every other State office.

“Ending Corruption in Montgomery,” was a promise of the Handshake with Alabama Hubbard promoted. It reads in part:

“Democrats have held the majority in Montgomery for 136 years, and during that time, they created an atmosphere that breeds corruption and encourages graft…Republicans understand that we must limit the influence of special interests and other lobbyists who control much of what happens in Montgomery…Too many legislators and other public officials have been caught double-dipping or holding questionable contracts with government agencies and those wishing to do business with the state. Republicans will work to ban double-dipping and require public officials and their spouses to disclose any contracts they hold with government entities.” 

Note: the "Handshake" said the republicans would put an end to those, “holding questionable contracts with government agencies and those wishing to do business with the state.” That is exactly what Hubbard is accused of doing, but now that he has been caught doing what he promised to stop, he wants the law tossed out.

Consider this: was Hubbard lying when he praised the ethics laws, or is he lying now? 

Adrienne Rich, author of “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying.” wrote:

“Lying is done with words, and also with silence.” 

If State republicans remain silent on this matter, they too are lying, lying not only to the court, and the people of our State, but to themselves as well.

Leviticus 19:11 says, “You shall not steal, neither deal falsely…,” this is what Hubbard is accused of doing. It ends by stating, “ neither lie one to another.” If lawmakers and republican voices are mute on this issue, then they can no longer be trusted by the people of Alabama. 

So far, Hubbard has intimidated State lawmakers, the republican establishment, and even the Governor.

American author, Bryant H. McGill, wrote “The world is not fair, and often fools, cowards, liars, and the selfish hide in high places.”

It is time to come out of hiding, and speak out against Hubbard’s lies.


Time for Wise Counsel: Opinion

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

After failing to find a consensus between the Governor, the House, and the Senate, the State remains without a State General Fund Budget (SGF). After all of the acrimony, name calling, and hubris, Governor Robert Bentley still wants to raises taxes, Mike Hubbard wants to remain Speaker, and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh wants more time to create a long-term solution. 

The new rallying call coming from the Governor, is the need for leaders to rise up and stand with him to do what’s right for “The People.”

Doing what's right, according to the Governor, is raising taxes. 

Politicians don’t like to stand up for things unless they're popular, and raising taxes is very unpopular. Politicos like the people, they may even love the people, but only in a metaphorical sense. 

Most of the men and women who sit in the chambers of the House and Senate want to do what is right for the people, in the abstract. But, governing is not a metaphysical exercise, it's about making difficult choices without losing the next election. Those are the unassailable, political facts.

It is easy to believe that Gov. Bentley’s heart is in the right place. He has always said, “I love the people of Alabama, and the people of Alabama love me." But, the people, whom the Governor says he loves, do not love the Governor like they used to. And they have a very different view on taxes.

Bentley's advisors are not leveling with him. This tax campaign has been a terrible disaster. Every politico from Washington D.C. to Washington County knows this has been the Hindenburg of political roll-outs. Apparently, the Governor’s advisors are willing to let him go down with the ship, rather than risk their own necks by holding a mirror up to this folly.

From the beginning, the Governor has infuriated lawmakers by spouting threats and rancorous invectives. And, sure-to-form, the Governor has ignored those who would help him in favor of those who would use him. Bentley has an inconceivable habit of forgetting his friends and rewarding his enemies. 

Just this week he announced that Speaker Mike Hubbard was on his side. Now, that’s encouraging. There is nothing like having a man who is indicted on 23 felony counts of public corruption in your corner. 

At the same meeting where he revealed that Hubbard was on the team, he also unleashed more harsh words, saying that those who didn’t help him do what is right for the people by raising taxes should be beaten in the next election. 

This venomous, public discourse is not helpful, and it is especially destructive to him, because, it is Bentley's goodness, not his smallness, that makes him powerful.

From day one, this publication has wished Gov. Bentley success. As citizens, and individuals, we have prayed for him to be blessed in his leadership and life. But, the path he is on, is becoming more surreal, and damaging to his credibility.

Gov. Bentley doesn’t have to run for reelection in three years. But, most, if not all, of the current crop of legislators want to continue in government, and they know, or at least should  know, that anyone who votes to raise taxes will almost surely face a primary challenge. Most politicians want to help the people, but not so much that they want to be tarred and feathered by an opponent.

By and large, politicians listen to people who faithfully attend party meetings, make regular campaign contributions, and always vote. Most of these people do not want to raise taxes on iced tea, Marlboros, or wages. They want cuts, or a third way. 

The people who are going to decide the next election are the ones who have the politicians' ears. 

Now, this doesn’t mean the State House is occupied by callous, uncaring dilettantes, au contraire, mon ami. They care deeply. Just look into their eyes as they feel your pain.

Politics is, survival first, caring second. 

Most do care, but they also know that ignoring, and thumbing your nose at the people who have the power to reelect you is political suicide.

Does this mean that Medicaid shouldn’t be fully funded, or that prison reform should be abandoned? No. 

Does this mean that Bentley is wrong in his aim?  Of course not.

The Governor wants a long-term solution to the State’s systemic budget woes. In this he should be supported.

As for now we have a house divided, and the chasm is not closing...it's widening. 

When the Governor says that Hubbard is going to help, it is time for a gut-check Governor. If Hubbard is your ally, then your cause is tainted, and lost.

It is time to call in wise men and women who will speak honestly before it is too late to be reasonable. That time is drawing very near.

Gulf State Park: Economic Opportunity or Political Pipe Dream

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY— Gov. Bentley is asking the legislature during this 2015 Special Session, to allow him to borrow millions of dollars to build a luxury hotel, and conference center at Alabama’s Gulf State Park; even though there are already two just like it a few miles away.

The Governor wants the legislature to approve a $50 million bond for the project, even though around 16 years ago, over $100 million in bonds were issued to build a similar facility on the same site; this, according to former Attorney General, Bill Baxley. He also said the insurance payouts after hurricane Ivan gave the State an estimated $45 million more for Gulf State Park. But, that money has now mysteriously disappeared into another government hole, and Baxley says he’s looked for it, but most of it simply cannot be found. As for the insurance payments there are other estimates but who ever knows for certain isn't talking. 

In the 90's, the plans to build a luxury resort at Gulf State Park never materialized. However, taxpayers were left to pay the bill on what turned out to be a very costly, political pipe dream.

Bentley, of course, is not the first Governor to want a luxury playground at the beach. In the 1990s, then Governor Fob James would float a $110 million bond to build a similar facility at Gulf State Park. 

“O.K...this goes back a long way,” said Baxley, who has represented Perdido Resort since its inception. “When Fob James was Governor, the last time, this group of people down in Baldwin County had this grandiose plan for a big, luxury hotel, owned by the State.” A $110 million bond was issued under James, but was not used to build the hotel and convention center.

According to Baxley it was Conservation chief Jim Martin who convinced James that building an expensive destination spot was not in the State's best interest. James then felt the best plan was to use the bond money to upgrade the current parks. 

Baxley says around $4 or $6 million was then transferred to the Historical Commission and the remaining millions went to  Conservation, and disappeared. “I have never been able to find it.”

Baxley said the idea was rekindled during Gov. Don Siegleman administration. “Siegelman becomes Governor...and he has a plan for a luxury hotel that dwarfs anything they had previously in mind,” said Baxley. According to Baxley another multi-million dollar bond was approved but never executed.

So, it is, that since the late 1990s, a $110 million bond, was issued under James, plus $45 million from the insurance settlement, and there is still  nothing to show for all that money. 

Once again, the State wants to build a luxury convention destination, even though there are two other facilities that offer practically the same amenities.

According to a Feasibility Study prepared for the State by Pinkowski & Company, the new Gulf State Lodge and Conference Center will contain 350 guest rooms and suites, and a mix of meeting spaces totaling 40,000 square feet. The study was commissioned to determine the “viability and market demand for a lodge and meeting facility and the estimated performance level that reasonably could be attained by the proposed facilities.”

Mere minutes away are two, long-established, privately-owned facilities of comparable size, with even more amenities. 

The Perdido Beach Resort has 346 guest rooms and a 45,000 square feet of meeting space, in Orange Beach and the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort, Golf Club & Spa, at Point Clear, boasts 405 guest rooms and suites with 23 meeting rooms total with 37,000 square feet of meeting space. 

This begs the questions:

Why is the State interested in competing with the private market?

Is there actually a market for a “me-too" hotel and convention center on the coast?

To build the facility, the State not only wants to borrow $50 million, but also appropriate $85 million from the BP settlement. At a time when the Governor is saying the State needs to raise taxes to fulfill its basic obligations, spending nearly $150 million on a luxury conference center is obscene.

Sen. Paul Sanford (R-Huntsville) said, “The Lodge Convention Center is a want not a need and during times of financial strain wants should be put aside in order to address real needs like funding Mental Health. Alabama should not borrow from our children's generation in order to fund today's desire to add fluff at the beach.”

Bentley has characterized the undertaking as an, “innovative strategy for tourism and economic development.” Like Sanford, many politicos and business leaders question not only the timing, but also the the business sense, or lack of it, driving this venture.

Jim Meadlock, owner of the Perdido Beach Resort, and founder of the Huntsville-based, multi-billion dollar company, Intergraph puts it more simply: “What are they thinking?”

The State’s feasibility study makes many assumptions, which it claims are dependent on, “competent and efficient management and presume no significant change in the hotel industry in the immediate area…we do not represent them as results that will actually be achieved." 

According to Baxley, the Spa consultant hired by Siegleman said: "This will appeal to a market of higher income, caucasian females." 

"This is directly contrary to what the law says about being affordable," said Baxley.

Once a destination for working families, even the State’s study shows the new facility would be out-of-reach to most citizens.

The Pinkowski & Company project, a 64 percent room occupancy in the first year, 2019, and that number growing to 68 percent over the next five. 

The Grand Hotel, which has been in operation for 160 years, and has a 20,000 square foot spa, averages only 65 percent annual occupancy. With three competing facilities, there is doubt that the projections provided by Pinkowski & Company are achievable.

Meadlock points out that the market on the Gulf only attracts small conventions with larger ones going to New Orleans and other locations. He also says that the Winter months eat away at profit because “few people want to come to the beach in January and February,” but staff and expenses continue.

Cooper Shattuck, who oversees the project for the Governor told al.com in March, ”Our belief is that in doing so, rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole by taking a typical hotel and dropping it on the beach, but thinking about the uniqueness of this location on the beach and embracing it. Doing that well will make the facility itself an attraction which will draw people not just to it, but to the natural resources, which is the whole goal of the project.”

The project has been sold to the politicos as a needed convention space. However, the Feasibility Study found, “Currently a significant portion of the demand for lodging is a 'drive-in market,' which might distract from off-season fly-in convention business.” 

“The Lodge should be put off until current debt is paid of relating to the parks, then the project may be able to move forward, or the project needs to be scaled back or down in stages that reflect the available funds.” said Sanford.

Many conservatives question why the State wants to compete with private business in the first place. 

And even a few still wonder...what happened to all that money. 

Bring in the Pain: Opinion

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

There is little doubt that the first Special Session of 2015 will be an abject failure. As lawmakers return to their respective chambers on Monday evening, there will have been little consensus made for a solution.

It is time to bring in the pain.

The Senate has stripped the House bill of its punishing cuts to Medicaid, and is offering the Austerity Budget passed at the end of the 2015 Regular Session. The House seems poised to pass the Senate plan, and send it to the Governor. However, Bentley has already warned that he will pocket veto the budget. So, inevitably, there will be a second Special Session to try to accomplish what, thus far, has proven impossible.

Governing in a representative democracy is most often achieving what is possible, not what is perfect. It frequently results in doing what is practical, not what is preferred. In other words, holding our collective noses while lawmakers process the ingredients for souse meat. 

But, even this seems impractical for the moment, because the warring factions are in no mood for compromise.

The Governor wants to raise taxes to address the systemic problem of the State’s General Fund Budget (SGF), which is always woefully underfunded because it lacks growth revenues.

Senate President Pro Tem, Del Marsh wants to overhaul the entire system without raising taxes, but needs time to implement a more complicated long-term solution. He has offered a stop-gap by moving the Use Tax from the Education Trust Fund to the SGF, and backfill the loss later. 

Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard simply wants to hold on to power, and continue to get paid. So, for now, he is a wild card.

At the moment, vanity has led to a stalemate, with little hope of compromise on the horizon.

In reality, taxpayers are not crying out for a fix to the State’s budget problems. Frankly, most Alabamians don’t know one exists, and the rest don’t believe their lawmakers when they say it does. In the past, governors and lawmakers have screamed, “the sky is falling.” But, just like Chicken Little they were wrong. And, as usual, while our representatives continue to disagree and procrastinate, we scrape by the same way we always have. Living hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck, never moving forward; some falling behind to the point of actually feeling the pain. 

We, in Alabama, have come to accept being dead last in every measurable category of success. We rank near the bottom in education, employment, and health; but near the top in public corruption. Our State is vexed by charlatans who, by good words, and fair speeches, deceive the people. 

The Governor and the Republican supermajority are in the middle of a hostage negotiation, but do not seem to care about the victims.

Leo Tolstoy said, “I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means - except by getting off his back.”

The problems we face are greater than our leaders' willingness to address them.

So, we have come to the crucible. The wisest course of action that can be manifested now, is for the legislature to pass the Austerity Budget. If the Governor vetoes it (not a pocket veto), it will force the legislature to override him. Then, we will see if there is real pain. And, if there is pain, then the lawmakers will be convinced by their constituents to fix the problem. 

But, until that happens, all else is just another bonfire of vanities.


Cut the Gordian Knot, March Forward: Opinion

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
When lawmakers convene to address the complicated issue of how to best fund the State’s General Fund Budget (SGF), perhaps they should look to the fabled Gordian Knot.
According to legend, in 333 BCE, Alexander the Great marched into Gordiun, the capital of Phrygia. He was shown the chariot of the ancient founder of the city, Gordius. The chariot was tied to a pole using a series of complicated knots. Tradition held that the man who untied the knot would be the conqueror of all Asia. It is said that Alexander drew his sword and cut the knot in two without hesitation.
This metaphor has given rise to the idea that a simple bold action can often solve a seemingly complicated problem.
Gov. Robert Bentley is proposing increased taxes, and if media reports are to be believed, Speaker Mike Hubbard has signed on to raising taxes as well.
Senate President Pro Tem, Del Marsh, on the other hand, has said repeatedly that the senators have no appetite for raising taxes. So, for now, it would appear there is a stalemate.
Here is a simple solution: plug the hole in the SGF with $225 million from the Use Tax, go home and come back with a plan to increase State revenues by growing the economy.
Simple and uncomplicated, but it will be unpopular with some. If lawmakers want to prove themselves to be true conservatives, however, this is the way.
With only a handful of days to hammer out a solution, legislators should consider an old maxim we turn to in the news business: “You can have it right, or you can have it now, but you can seldom have both."
The State is led by a Republican supermajority, who, for the last four years, have been against raising taxes. Republicans are generally "tax-averse" with an eye toward cutting government spending, while encouraging free market growth.
Our Nation's founders went to war over what they deemed were repressive taxes, and most Alabamians have not moved very far from the notion that increasing taxes is a bad idea.
Over the last four years, the Legislature has cut some four-thousand State employees. Other than those who lost their jobs, and their families, has anyone else noticed? Have lawmakers been inundated with calls to refill these positions? Probably not.
Also, over the last four years, the Republican supermajority has borrowed money to fill the hole in the SGF. Most would agree that borrow and spend Republicans are almost as bad as tax and spend Democrats.
Now it appears that Bentley and Hubbard want to turn the State's Republicans into tax-and-spenders like the very Democrats they vilified to get elected.
The Governor’s original tax plan wasn't without merit. Making every insurance provider pay their fair share of the Premium Insurance Tax was a good idea; one that is no longer in his proposal because of politics.
When Alexander cut the Gordian Knot, he did not immediately conquer Asia, he had to go to war to accomplish that end.
Growing Alabama’s economy will not happen over night, but bold leaders can accomplish great things when they decide to act and not react.
Governor Bentley wants to fix the problems with our State budget and should be given great credit for his willingness to address the problem. There may very well be tax increases that are justified; but for the moment, the situation is looking more like a battle over vanity.
The Governor is a good man, but he is a lame duck who cannot run for a third term. Hubbard is indicted on 23 felony counts of public corruption, and most are convinced he will be convicted on at least some of the charges, which will result in him leaving politics for prison. 
The Governor wants long-term solutions.
I agree with him that now is the time.....but it's not the hour.


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