By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
On Monday we were given the opportunity to speak with the Alabama House Speaker, Mike Hubbard.
The Speaker talked about some of the success achieved so far in this years session and a few very important bills that will be introduced this week. He was also very candid about a number of items that are on his mind.
APR: Thank you Mr. Speaker for giving us some of your time today, I know you are very busy. If we could just revisit for a minute the jobs package that recently passed. It is becoming clear as we hear from folks around the state, even out in the rural communities, they’re starting to get a sense what this jobs package means to them. It will take a while for it to trickle down. But we know that this was something you really planned and shepherded through, any other thoughts on that?
Speaker Hubbard: Yes, last year, I worked on the jobs commission. The whole purpose of that was to go and listen to people throughout the state of Alabama, not politicians, but the people who actually create jobs, the ones who run small businesses and are entrepreneurs. We wanted to find out what in state government we could do to help them. We got great feedback; it ranged from cutting through red tape, getting rid of unnecessary regulations that keep them from expanding, to incentives that we can provide that will cause them to look at creating jobs, rather than just remaining in a bunker mentality that people have been in, all over the country. I’m very proud of the package we came out with during this session; it was number one on our agenda. We told people in Alabama there was nothing more important than job creation and economic development. We followed through with it that was the first package of bills we passed through the House of Representatives that we sent up to the Senate. We still have some we are working on; one is to try to increase the film industry. Alabama is perfectly suited to really be a leader in that area, we’re just not competitive financially. So films have just not been made very much in Alabama, we just cannot compete with Georgia, New Mexico, Louisiana and other states that do provide these incentives. So we’re trying to get us in a position to where we are competitive. The folks who say we’re taking money away by offering incentives, they just don’t understand. Just like the other issue on the agenda, you know if you don’t have anything right now, then if you create something, you’re not taking away, you’re adding to. We’re all about trying to make the pie bigger. With Octavia Spencer winning the Oscar, she’s a Montgomery native and an Auburn University graduate, that’s a perfect time to be showcasing what we can do in the state of Alabama. With all the resources we have in Alabama, everything from mountains to beaches. We have the most beautiful scenery, more water than virtually any other state in the entire country. The opportunities are endless. We have the hard part, we have the places necessary. We just need to have the financial capability to compete and bring these people in. That’s a huge economic boom for the state of Alabama.
APR: You know, a lot of times people don’t understand the film industry, they tell you right up front its show “business.” If there’s no business incentive, they’ll take the show somewhere else.
Speaker Hubbard: That’s right. We just have to be competitive. In a perfect world, you can have the debate about whether you should have incentives and all of that. But in a perfect world, you wouldn’t need incentives. Everybody would just win based on what you can offer in terms of workforce and other issues, but that’s not the world we live in. It’s very competitive. Not only are we competing with our sister states in the Southeast, but we’re competing with other states around the country, and other countries. We have to be competitive. We have led the country over the last several years under Governor Riley’s leadership in economic development; we simply have to be in a position to do that. That’s why Governor Bentley was so adamant about his economic development incentive package and hopefully we can get that through the House.
APR: You’re to be commended on that. In the conservative mind, sometimes financial incentives just don’t look right. And in the liberal mind, they don’t want you to take any money away from any social programs. Yet we have to expand the base and compete in the real world. Sometimes I say conservatism is sort of a misshapen pearls, it can’t always be how we want it to be.
Speaker Hubbard: That’s right.
APR: One of the things I don’t think I’ve heard reported and it’s just something I’ve heard around and thought about. When you put together the various committees within the House, there’s a real fairness and balance there that I don’t think people are aware of. You could have done these committee assignments any way you wanted to, but there is real balance with representation.
Speaker Hubbard: Well, I really set out to do that, When we put the committees together, I wanted to be fair and done proportionately within terms of race and political party. I believe we’re fairer to the Democrats than they were to us, which was my goal to be honest with you. I wanted to be fairer. For instance, they had taken away Republican slots on the top three committees: the Ways & Means committees (two of them) and the Rules committee. I was the one that got kicked off Education Ways & Means. When we came into the leadership, I replaced the seats back on Education Ways & Means and General Fund Ways & Means, and Rules Committee. I placed the minority leader on Rules Committee and Education Ways & Means Committee. We have been fairer to them than they were to us.
APR: Well that’s something I think is under reported. Because you just don’t see that every day.
Speaker Hubbard: When Rep. Alan Harper switched parties a few weeks ago, he was in a white Democrat spot on Education Ways & Means, so I replaced him with a white Democrat. I’m trying to keep everything balanced and fair. I think you’ll see the bills we consider, they’re going to be fairly balanced. Now that doesn’t mean all other bills pass, but everybody is going to have the opportunity to have their bills heard. Having served in the minority for so long, I understand what it’s like to be in the minority and that probably helps me to understand the importance of the minority party.
APR: Speaking of Rep. Alan Harper, one of the things you are noted for, is your ability to bring money into the party. I don’t think that’s a secret that you have that ability and have had great success. In fundraising, you have a lot of conservative support around the state. You’ve supported a number of conservative legislators. Do you see any other Democrats that may be leaning towards the Republican party and thinking about switching sides?
Speaker Hubbard: You never say never. But I will tell you, I think any Democrat who would be a true conservative we would like in the party, have probably already switched. We don’t want to take people just because they want to get re-elected. We want people who really believe what we believe from a philosophical stand point. We want people who are philosophically aligned with us, and Alan definitely was and is. We are happy to have him. We’re not in a position where we have to take everybody. The others that are remaining, I don’t question whether their motives were did they believe in what Republicans believe. And that’s something we’re concerned about in 2014. More than likely, in a lot races, it will be over after the Republican primary. We have to be very conscious of the fact that the people, who have been in charge for so long, the special interest, the labor unions, the trial lawyers and whatnot. These people who represent special interests are not just going to roll over and pack their bags and go home, they’re going to try to run people in our primaries against our good conservative, pro-business members. We have to be in a position to defend that, and we will. It’s one of the things I’ve been working on, and raising money along with Governor Riley and President Pro Tem Marsh. We have to understand what the landscape is and understand where the battles will be and prepare accordingly.
APR: On that front, I know there are more battles ahead for you guys. The AEA certainly has put forth their best face to derail the jobs bill. They came up very weakened in the end.
Speaker Hubbard: Well it’s amazing to me; I just find it incredulous the battle they would pick would be over jobs. It’s just common sense we need to make the pie bigger, to have job growth. If we have growth, then the Education Trust Fund is going to get bigger, not smaller. That’s how it grew and grew in to what it is now, by the base getting bigger. It’s just amazing to me that all things to pick a fight on, it was a jobs bill. To me, that just doesn’t make a whole lot of political sense.
APR: Do you expect them (AEA) to come back on any other issues other than charter schools?
Speaker Hubbard: I don’t think so, but you never know. I’m sure they’ll fight charter schools because they’re for keeping the status quo. They don’t want any competition; they don’t want anybody to have a choice. At the end of the day, I believe it just proves the fact that they’re ultimate goal is to not educate kids. And that’s what our goal is: to provide quality education for every student in the state of Alabama who wants to attend a public school. We don’t think you should be forced to send your child to a failing school based on where you live or how much you make. You shouldn’t be forced, as a taxpayer, to send your child to a failing school. That’s just all about providing choices. I’m sure they will fight for the status quo, but my question will be ‘Well, you know insanity is defined by doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.’ The status quo in my opinion is just not an option.
APR: We have generational failures in some of our schools, which leads to higher crime in those communities and higher incarceration in those communities.
Speaker Hubbard: Right, it also costs taxpayer’s money.
APR: Right, we have to change it at the head and work down. One of the things that is on my mind, we have been looking into state retirement pension plan quite a bit. The shortfall there and how it is affecting the budget. It’s a massive strain on the budget. We have looked at the numbers and they certainly don’t reflect what we would expect out of a state pension fund, or any type of investment fund. Take a golf course in Ohatchee that lost $400,000 last year, it just doesn’t seem like we’ve been prudent with that fund. It’s putting a drain now on the entire system. Any comments on that?
Speaker Hubbard: We’re going to have to make some changes in the retirement benefits. There’s no doubt about it. Not for people who are already in the system and not the retired folks, but we simply have to make changes because we can’t sustain it. There’s more coming out than there’s going in. The investments obviously have not been what they need to be. We’re not the lone ranger here, this is happening in virtually all states. You have some liberal states like Massachusetts and New Jersey that are making changes to their public pension plans because they can’t afford them. They have bigger problems than we have. But you’re exactly right; we can’t continue to take almost a billion dollars out of the budget of taxpayers’ money to prop up their retirement system, of which the vast majority of Alabamians don’t participate in. It’s just not fair to ask taxpayers to pay that tab for a system they don’t benefit from. Most folks in Alabama don’t have retirement, if they do, it’s certainly not as lucrative and as liberal as the one the state of Alabama provides. We’re going to have to make some changes and we’re working with the RSA and with the Governor’s Office. I think everyone understands we can’t continue to do the same thing. To be honest, the politically convenient thing to do is to kick the can down the road that would be the easy thing to let someone else deal with it. But that would not be the responsible thing, if we’re looking to do what’s right, then we have to start making changes now to ensure the retirement system remains an ongoing entity.
APR: One of the things that, of course, conservatives expect out of this session, is you to do just those things. Do the hard things, rather than the easy things. Is it business, is it life experiences? How have you become so prepared to do these things, rather than as you say ‘kick the can down the road’? Are there things you can point to in your life that brought you to do the tough stuff first?
Speaker Hubbard: I guess it would be the business background, and the fact of the matter is, we now have a majority of folks in the House and the Senate who are business people. They think like business people, rather than educators or public employees and I think that’s important. The private sector is what drives the economy and what makes everything work. We have to start operating state government like a business, and I understand that it is a different animal. But you can certainly apply business principles and invest practices to make sure taxpayers money is spent wisely. At the end of the day, it’s just doing the right thing. It’s not that hard to know what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s not very difficult to look at something like the retirement system and say ‘Hey this thing is broken, unless we do something it’s going to be bankrupt, and a whole lot of people are going to get hurt at some point in time.’ So we have to make some changes and now is the time to do it. I tell people all the time, if you ever start making votes based on what’s best for you for re-election, then you need to quit. That’s not what we’re sent down there to do. Whenever you’re so dependent on that when you base your votes on re-election, then it’s time to get out. You need to do what’s right. I believe nine times out of 10, or even 10 times out of 10, if you do the right thing, everything is going to work out fine. The electorate is a lot more perceptive than you give them credit for.
APR: One of the things that we of course have witnessed with our Republic, capitalism has sustained it and made it work. Whenever we turn away from capitalist principles, we lose the notion of our freedoms and our liberties and the right to actually earn a living and own things. Capitalism works with our form of democracy, however strange that may seem to some, it works.
Speaker Hubbard: Absolutely. When we stray away from it, that’s when we start getting in trouble.
APR: Yes, absolutely. And these pension plans have moved far beyond what is wise from that view point.
Speaker Hubbard: Entitlement programs are living proof of that. When we start getting into the situation when the government needs to take care of everybody, that’s when it starts falling apart.
APR: There are a million other questions I’d like to ask you, but you’re a busy man. Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Speaker Hubbard: I think that’s probably it. So far it’s been a good session; it’s been very productive for the jobs package. I look forward to the education reform and the efficiencies in state government that will be coming. Finally, legislative redistricting we plan to tackle in this regular session. It’s never been handled in a regular session before, but we intend to at least attempt to try to get it done. That’s our goal, to save the taxpayers from paying for us to go into special session. Like congressional redistricting, we anticipate in doing it in this regular session.
APR: The congressional redistricting went amazingly smooth. No challenges in court. Would you like to comment on that?
Speaker Hubbard: Well I’m very, very proud; it’s pretty historic that we were able to accomplish it. It went through the Justice Department without challenges and went into law. I’m hopeful we can do the same thing with legislative. I fully expect there to be some challenges, but as long as we follow the rules and don’t do things based on politics and do what’s fair and right, I believe then we will be successful again. It’s certainly our intent.
APR: I have to commend you on the efficiency in which things are running. We’re very happy to get bills and committee meetings calendar on Friday’s. It certainly helps those in our world to be prepared.
Speaker Hubbard: We’re all about transparency and openness so people know what’s going on and that there’s no surprises.
APR: Thank you so much for your time.
Speaker Hubbard: Thank you Bill.