By Rep. Joe Hubbard
“Everything’s for sale at the right price,” my grandfather used to say. As a boy, I thought this saying had about as much meaning as his other quirky sayings. Since being elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2010, I have learned this old adage has more meaning in our state’s politics than any Alabamian would care to admit.
I ran for office as a political outsider, as someone born and raised in Montgomery who cares deeply about my hometown’s future. I intended to be an independent voice for my district, to put the people I represent over the political parties and special interest groups that dominate our politics in Montgomery. I didn’t have political allies to help me raise money or build a campaign infrastructure, so I relied on family and friends. With hard work, we built a campaign that caught many in the political world by surprise. Eventually, support came from a number of established interest groups, and I, perhaps naively, believed it came with no strings attached.
Last month, my independence was tested in what should have been a nonpartisan, noncontroversial vote on the governor’s jobs package. House Bills 159 and 160, sponsored by Rep. Barry Mask, R-Wetumpka, would authorize the governor, the Alabama Development Office, and the Alabama Industrial Development Board to offer incentives to attract and retain industrial jobs in Alabama. The bills faced stiff opposition from the Alabama Education Association and its new leader, Dr. Henry Mabry, and House Democrats were urged to kill these bills.
However, for my district, these bills are an important part of putting Alabamians back to work. Incentive packages like this one brought us Hyundai, its tier-three suppliers, and the countless jobs that came with them. Montgomery weathered the economic downturn, while much of the state struggled mightily, thanks to the new industries and jobs these types of incentives brought to the River Region. At this critical time in our state’s economy, Montgomery is growing its way out of the recession. When we invest tax dollars to spur private-sector job growth, we see a greater return on those dollars as our citizens go back to work.
Notwithstanding the political pressure brought to bear by Dr. Mabry, I crossed party lines to help pass this historic jobs package. I worked with the sponsor, the governor’s staff, and the Republican leadership in the House to put much-needed amendments on the legislation and build consensus on how to proceed with the bills. Once I made it clear that I would not lead the charge to stop the bill, the political pressure doubled. I joined six other Democrats and 60 of my Republican colleagues to give our state a much-needed tool for recruiting and retaining industry.
Two weeks after the vote on the governor’s jobs package, Dr. Mabry called me to his office to explain my actions. I was candid and firm in my position and informed Dr. Mabry that I would be with him when he was right and against him when he was wrong. He lectured me about loyalty in “the business” of politics and told me that, while it may be “old school,” I was expected to help those who helped me. I informed him that my loyalty is to my district, and that a campaign contribution does not buy my vote. He told me I would be hearing from my teachers.
Twenty minutes later, my cell phone began to ring. The first caller said, “Joe, grow a backbone and take care of our schoolchildren.” The next caller was an old family friend who told me she had received a robo-call describing me as a liar who stole money from our schoolchildren to give to my political cronies. The voice on the call then said, “If you want to tell Little Joe Hubbard to grow a backbone, press 1.” Those who did were connected to my cell phone and home phone.
I do not subscribe to the politics of fear. And, while slash and burn tactics may make for good political strategy, they make for poor public policy. Some in the “old school” of Alabama politics may believe that each vote is for sale at the right price. Mine is not, nor should it be. For decades, that mindset led our state down a path of political gridlock and ineffectiveness. Those in the “old school” need to change or see their relevance meet the same fate.