By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Last Thursday, the State House was buzzing with rumors and questions about Speaker Mike Hubbard’s (R-Auburn) consulting contract with the Southeast Alabama Gas District. Even though the contract is over a year old, a recent press release by the company brought the questionable arrangement to light.
The contract with SEAGD signed January, 2012, pays Mr. Hubbard $12,000.00 a month for economic development.
According to filings, the Southeast Alabama Gas District (SEAGD) is a public corporation created on January 29, 1952, under Act Number 762, General Laws of Alabama. It was established to provide natural gas service to domestic, commercial and industrial customers located in 32 communities in the southeast portion of the state.
In announcing Hubbard’s position the company said, the “Board Retains Auburn Network and Mike Hubbard to help market [the] region to site selectors, prospective companies.”
According to the same press release, “Ozark Mayor Billy Blackwell, who served as chairman of the SEAGD board, said the District is well-positioned to be a catalyst for regional economic development.”
The stated reason for hiring Hubbard was to, “increased efforts to recruit new jobs, support local industries and better market natural gas.” Blackwell also said that the gas district wanted to, “partner with state and local leaders to move our region forward.”
Who would be a more useful partner than the man considered to be the most powerful politician in the state? Mr. Hubbard has a his history of not only enriching his partners but he also seems to benefit greatly from his positions. Just as he did when he was Chairman of the ALGOP and received hundreds of thousands of dollars for his printing company Craftmaster. Or the many other occasion when money flowed from the ALGOP and other PACs into campaigns and then back to Hubbard-owned businesses.
Concerning the SEAGD contract, Hubbard and the company sought the input of the State’s ethics commission. Writing for the commission, legal council Hugh Evans, III, said, “The only potential issue that we saw would be if something came before the legislature that uniquely affected the Southeast Alabama Gas District differently than it affected all other utilities around the State of Alabama. Should this happen we would expect that speaker Hubbard would have plenty of notice in which to remove himself from discussions, votes, etc.” Perhaps the key words in the commission’s finding are, “uniquely affected.”
SEAGD is a quasi public-private entity that is owned by 14 municipalities. They are Abbeville, Andalusia, Brundidge, Dothan, Elba, Enterprise, Eufaula, Fort Deposit, Greenville, Headland, Luverne, Opp, Ozark and Troy work in cooperation to provide their communities with natural gas service and numerous opportunities for economic growth. SEAGD also provides natural gas service to the franchise communities of Ashford, Baker Hill, Brantley, Coosada, Cottonwood, Daleville, Gantt, Glenwood, Level Plains, Midland City, Montgomery, Napier Field, New Brockton, Newton, Newville, Opelika, Pike Road, Pinckard, Red Level, River Falls and Rutledge.
Everyone of these municipalities will have occasion for local legislation to come before the Alabama House of Representative. All legislation that would affect these municipalities would come before Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard. Has Mr. Hubbard removed himself from every occurrence in which one of these 14 municipalities had an issue before the government?
As Speaker and consultant, what safeguards has Mr. Hubbard put in place to insure that he does not show favoritism to one municipalities over others? What safeguards did the Ethics Commission set in place to ensure that Hubbard would not use his influence?
The Ethics Commission did say that, “The general prohibition continues to apply, in that the Speaker may not use his position or mantle of his office to assist him in obtaining consulting opportunities or providing benefits to his consulting business or his clients. Otherwise other than this we see no problems.”
How does Mr. Hubbard put off the mantle of Speaker? How does the office he holds not come into play when he meets with potential customers of SEAGD? A position of such political power cannot be discarded as one would a coat or hat. Mr. Hubbard who has a State provided personal bodyguard and is a highly recognizable public figure is not seen by business entities as just “good old Mike.”
A former prosecutor who asked not to be named said, “This contract stinks on its face. Who is going to believe that the Speaker of the House is going to be seen as just another businessman?”
On March 05, 2013, Wiley Lott was named Director of Economic Development and Governmental Affairs for SEAGD.
The press release also said, “Rep. Mike Hubbard and Billy Joe Camp will continue to serve as Economic Development Consultants for The Southeast Alabama Gas District. “The Speaker and Mr. Camp have served this company well and I will draw upon their experience and knowledge as we seek new opportunities for economic growth in the communities we serve,” Lott said. Even Lott referred to Hubbard as Speaker. If Lott recognizes him as such, is it not fair to believe that a conflict of interest or at least the mantle of his office is in consideration?
It has been said that Mr. Lott will receive around $300.000 in annual compensation. Mr Camp is said to receive around $90.000 and Mr. Hubbard receives $144,000 for his efforts. This means SEAGD is spending over half a million dollars a year for three economic development professionals.
According to Hubbard’s contract he is to, “submit monthly written reports of his activities in form and substance acceptable to SEAGD on or about the 15th day of each month but not later than the third Tuesday of each month.” A request to review these contracts was ignored by SEAGD. Mr. Hubbard is also expected to turn in expense reports, these also were denied.
The question stirring around the State House on Thursday, was how does Mike Hubbard separate his $12,000 a month consulting job from his influence as Speaker of the Alabama House?
No one seems to be clear on the answer.
Redemption not revenge drives Tuberville supporter
It would make for a great political story if Edgar McGraw hated Jeff Sessions. In fact, it would be the kind of legendary story of revenge that TV movies are built around.
This man, Edgar McGraw, is arrested on drug distribution charges in 1986 and prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions. Sessions takes everything from McGraw and gives gleeful media interviews bragging about the arrest and seizures of McGraw’s property.
McGraw gets out of prison, rebuilds his life and becomes a respected, successful business owner. All the while, biding his time until the day he can exact revenge upon Sessions.
One day in 2020, he sees his chance: A former college football coach in a football-crazed state is running against Sessions for U.S. Senate. McGraw throws some money to the coach, hosts a fundraiser for him.
And the coach does the unthinkable. He upsets the 30-year politician. With McGraw’s help, Jeff Sessions’ career is over.
But real life ain’t like the movies.
And in real life, Edgar McGraw has none of these dreams of revenge. He holds no ill will. He wasn’t gleeful the night Sessions lost, instead he was glad his friend Tommy Tuberville won. And he didn’t back Tuberville because he was running against Sessions, but because McGraw and Tuberville were friends long before Tuberville dipped a toe into politics.
That’s life, I guess. You go looking for a revenge story and end up with a redemption story.
“(The conviction) is water under the bridge to me,” McGraw said. “I made my fair share of mistakes, I paid the price, and I have moved on with my life. I believe every single person makes mistakes in life, but how you respond to those mistakes and live life afterward is what really matters. As Dr. Tony Evans says ‘everyone is going to get knocked down in life in one way or another, what’s important is how you get back up.’
“I never look back, that is just my personality. Just like you don’t drive a car looking in the rear-view mirror, I am always looking forward.”
I first heard about McGraw’s history a week ago, when someone sent me photos of Tuberville speaking at an event, McGraw standing by his side. McGraw was labeled a “felon” in a description with the picture, and that piqued my interest.
I read through a few newspaper articles about his arrest in the 1980s on drug distribution charges, and I thought it was possibly one of the craziest things I’ve come across in quite some time.
Basically, the story is this: McGraw, who was a successful businessman in Camden even in the 1980s, conspired with a handful of people to fly about $2 million worth of marijuana from Jamaica to a private air strip in Camden. The weed was going to McGraw’s farm, according to court records, where it would have been distributed and sold.
It never made it.
Drug dealers apparently aren’t great at physics, and $2 million in 1980 bought a lot of marijuana — approximately 1,400 pounds — that needed to be equally distributed around the small plane. Instead, according to media reports, the guys in Jamaica — McGraw wasn’t one of them — failed to secure the load and it all shifted to the tail of the plane. The plane crashed into a marsh on takeoff.
Still, Sessions and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were able to build a case with several informants and by flipping witnesses. And they went hard after McGraw, who maintained that he had a limited role. The federal jury that convicted McGraw of conspiracy to distribute also acquitted him of conspiring to import the weed, so there was obviously some gray area.
Regardless, Sessions went after McGraw’s property, utilizing recent and broad changes to asset seizure laws in the late-1980s that allowed prosecutors to tie virtually any property to drug money and then seize it. The federal government, with little evidence, took McGraw’s motel, the Southern Inn in Camden. It was one of the biggest asset seizures in the country at the time.
McGraw ended up being sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served less than half of that and prison records show he was released in 1992.
When I learned of McGraw’s history, I tweeted a couple of the newspaper clippings and speculated that McGraw had thoroughly enjoyed Tuberville ending Sessions’ political career. Because, I mean, Sessions took the guy’s motel — for marijuana that didn’t even get here.
He has to hate him, right?
Then I emailed McGraw to ask if he’d be willing to talk to me about it. I expected one of two things to occur: Either he would ignore me altogether or he’d accept the interview and express his great personal satisfaction.
He did neither.
Instead, McGraw told me the same story that he’s been telling at the Christmas party for Camden work release inmates. He volunteers with a Christian ministry that works with the prisoners. And each year, McGraw, who now is best known as part owner of the McGraw-Webb Chevrolet dealership in Camden, stands up in front of those inmates and lets them know that there is a pathway to redemption. To a better life. To a happy life.
“What happened coming up on almost 35 years ago, seems like a lifetime ago,” McGraw said. “My faith grew immeasurably during those years and the Lord has blessed me immensely since. I have been happily married for 27 years and I have three wonderful children; 26, 25 and 21 years old. I would want people to know to not let the past mistakes in life mold you. Brokenness can be a breakthrough.
“I feel like I am one of the most blessed people in the world and I give God all the credit. I would hope that I would be thought of as someone who came back home, worked very hard and served his community, church, and family to the absolute best of my God given ability.”
As far as his dealings with Sessions, McGraw said he’s had very little. While he clearly disagrees with Sessions’ decisions in his case — all McGraw would say is that he’d leave that up to Sessions to answer for — he said he’s spoken to the former U.S. AG just once in the past three decades. That meeting came at an Auburn basketball game, where McGraw introduced himself and reminded Sessions of their past. McGraw said the conversation was cordial and lasted only a few minutes.
He swears he holds no ill will towards Session at this point. His support of Tuberville had nothing to do with his history, or even politics really. Records show McGraw has donated to only one campaign in his life — Tuberville’s. And that came about because the two are old friends.
“My relationship with Tommy Tuberville began sometime while he was coaching at Auburn,” McGraw said. “We became friends with the Tubervilles as our sons became close friends while attending Auburn University and our friendship has grown since. Our family made our first contribution to Tuberville in April of 2019. I want to be very clear that my support of Tommy Tuberville was only influenced by our friendship and his political views and had nothing to do with Jeff Sessions.”
And maybe that’s for the best.
2020 has more than its fair share of nasty political stories, revenge stories and just plain ol’ dirtiness. Maybe a good story of redemption is something we could all use at this point. Maybe what we need to hear is the message that McGraw gives to those 100 or so inmates each year at Christmas.
“I strive to give (them) the hope that whatever they have done in the past does not have to limit their future,” McGraw said. “I learned to take nothing for granted and that every single day is a gift from above.”
Merrill gives guidance on straight party, write-in voting
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill issued guidance Wednesday on straight party and write-in voting.
“Voters who wish to vote straight party for all of the Democratic or Republican candidates on their ballot may do so by filling in the bubble next to their party preference at the top of their ballot,” Merrill explained in a statement.
“If a voter wishes to vote for any candidate outside of the selected party, however, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the preferred candidate’s name. In doing so, the candidate(s) voted on outside of the voter’s designated party ballot will receive the vote for that particular race.
“In addition, if a voter wishes to write-in a candidate, he or she may do so by filling in the bubble next to the box marked ‘Write-in’ and then printing the name of the preferred candidate on the designated line.
“Write-in votes must be hand-written and not stamped or otherwise artificially applied to the ballot.”
Sample ballots for the Nov. 3 general election are available online.
Airbus celebrates five years of passenger jet manufacturing in Alabama
The Airbus manufacturing facility in Alabama has now been manufacturing aircraft for five years in the state of Alabama. The first Airbus passenger jet manufactured in Alabama was an A321 christened “BluesMobile” on Sept. 14, 2015. It went to Jet Blue.
Since then, 180 A320 family aircraft have been built in Alabama for eight airline customers. The Alabama-made passenger jets have flown 60 million passengers 500 million miles, according to Airbus.
“When we announced our intent to build A320 family aircraft in the United States, and to locate that facility in Mobile, Alabama, we also stated our intent to be a good neighbor, to create jobs and opportunities, and to help strengthen the U.S. aerospace industry,” said president and CEO of Airbus Americas C. Jeffrey Knittel.
The Airbus facility at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley directly employs more than 1,000 people. Earlier this year, Airbus opened a second assembly line at the complex that produces A220 aircraft. The operation represents an investment of around $1 billion.
“The achievements of the Airbus U.S. Manufacturing team over these past five years are just the beginning,” Knittel said. “We are proud to call Mobile our American aircraft manufacturing home, and we look forward to many more years of partnership with the community, our customers and suppliers.”
“Airbus has announced a series of expansions over the past few years that have placed Alabama on the map as a leader in the aerospace industry. Business analysts predict that by 2023, Alabama will be number 4 or 5 in the world for the production of commercial aircraft,” said economic developer Nicole Jones. “This is a testament to teamwork and strategic partnerships between the public and private sector as well as the quality, dedicated, and skilled workforce Alabamians provide and companies need. Alabama has a history of leadership in aerospace and aviation, and Airbus is an international pioneer in the industry. We are thankful to Airbus team for their continued commitment to our state, nation, and the world.”
This has been an extremely difficult year for the airline industry due to far less business travel, decreased tourist travel and many nations imposing travel restrictions for people from other countries due to the threat of the coronavirus. Many airlines are asking Congress to provide more stimulus dollars.
Alabama Gulf Coast beaches remain closed for now
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that beaches will remain closed for now due to ongoing repair and cleanup efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sally.
“Working closely with Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, as well as Commissioner Billy Joe Underwood, the governor has agreed to keep Baldwin County’s beaches closed until Friday, October 2nd,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “This will allow those communities additional time to get their beaches ready for public enjoyment in a safe, responsible manner.”
Mobile County beaches might open earlier than that.
“Likewise, the governor has been in touch with Mayor Jeff Collier, and she is prepared to amend the beach closure order for Mobile County when he signals that Dauphin Island is ready to reopen their beaches,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “At the present time, all Alabama beaches remain closed until further notice.”
Hurricane Sally came ashore near Gulf Shores on Sept. 16 as a category two hurricane with 105 mile per hour winds. Numerous homes, businesses and farms have been destroyed and many more have seen serious damage.
“As of Wednesday night, approx. 37,000 cubic yards of Hurricane Sally debris (equivalent to roughly 1,700 truck loads worth) has been picked up in Orange Beach since Sunday (4 days),” the city of Orange Beach announced. “Kudos to our debris contractor CrowderGulf.”
“I spent Sunday afternoon meeting with senior staff and I believe we will need some time to get our buildings safe for children to return,” said Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Taylor in a letter to parents. “We live in a very large county. Power may be on in your area and your school may not have any damage, but we cannot open schools unless all schools can open. Our pacing guides, state testing, meal and accountability requirements are based on the system, not individual schools.”
“We have schools without power and for which we do not expect power until later this week,” Taylor said. “In this new age, we need internet and communications which are currently down so we cannot run any system tests. We have physical damage at our schools including some with standing water, collapsed ceilings and blown out windows. We have debris on our properties and debris blocking our transportation teams from picking up students. All of this must be resolved before we can successfully re-open.”
“If everything goes as planned, I expect we will welcome back students on Wednesday, September 30,” Taylor said. “Prior to returning students to school, we will hold two teacher work days to get our classrooms and our lessons plans back on track.”