By Susan Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The Gulf State Park bill has been signed into law. Yet, rumors of treats and intimidation continue to circulate in Montgomery.
Rep. Joe Hubbard, a Democrat from Montgomery, and his former law partner Baron Coleman both opposed the Gulf State Park bill. “I thought it was bad politics, and I opposed it from the first day I read about it,” said Coleman, who denounced the bill on the popular political program “The Capital Buzz.” Coleman was substitute-hosting for host Mark Montiel the day before the Senate and House versions of the Gulf State Park legislation were set for committee hearings.
Coleman said he found the legislation controversial, and he addressed it extensively on the program. Later that day, a lobbyist working against the bill contacted Coleman and said he heard the program and needed someone to speak out against Rep. Steve McMillan’s version of the bill in the House Economic Development and Tourism committee, because the Senate committee was scheduled at the same time.
Coleman said all necessary papers were filed with the ethics commission and all disclosures were made to the committee. “I told the committee who I was, who I represented, and even pointed out that my law partner at the time was on the committee. My contract lasted for the length of that committee meeting, about an hour or two. That was it. I made my remarks, and my involvement with this bill expired when the committee adjourned.”
Coleman was quick to point out that Hubbard voted against him in the committee. “He amended the bill to resolve the concerns of the members and voted it out [of committee] and to the House floor. I, unfortunately, was on the opposite side of [Hubbard]’s vote, the losing side.” Coleman said that was the end of his involvement with the bill. For him, it was. For Republican strategists in the back halls of the Alabama Statehouse, it was not.
Hubbard said he was on the receiving end of threats and intimidation as a separate bill, Sen. Trip Pittman’s version of the Gulf State Park bill, made its way through the House Economic Development and Tourism committee, almost two months after McMillan’s version of the bill passed out with Hubbard’s help.
Hubbard said the threats came from republicans who tried to insinuate an improper relationship, or ethical violation had occurred because Coleman had lobbied in opposition to the Gulf State Park Bill.
Threats and bullying have been reported by democrats and republicans alike in the House where Speaker Hubbard is said to use any means necessary to have his way.
“I was outraged,” said Hubbard. “I was doing everything in my power to make sure that this bill ensured transparency and accountability in the use of taxpayers’ money, and here I was being threatened on the eve of the vote. They knew good and well that nothing Baron or I did even approached the line of impropriety, much less crossed it.”
Hubbard said, despite warnings from numerous fellow legislators who had heard the rumors of retribution, he opposed the bill on the House floor. “It was clear to me the fix was in,” said Hubbard. “Countless legislators I consider friends urged me to stand down, that one bad bill was not worth an ethics complaint. But I felt compelled to raise these issues of transparency and accountability to the people.” During the debate, Hubbard even urged McMillan not to take the debate personally, and McMillan replied, “You’re the one who should want to avoid this becoming personal.”
Hubbard explained his opposition to the bill as one more of form than substance. “I agree with many of my colleagues and much of the public that something needs to be done with our state’s most valuable piece of real estate. I just wanted to make sure that the process was as open and transparent as possible. I had and still have significant concerns about the bill that ultimately passed and was signed into law. It bypasses our state bid laws and gives the Governor or his successor sole discretion in choosing a contractor and assigning a 70 year lease on the crown jewel of our state’s park system. I wanted to see more transparency, more openness.”
Hubbard said his amendment to the House version of the bill in the first committee hearing moved the bill toward transparency by requiring requests for proposal to be issued and prohibiting anyone from unilaterally awarding a contract. “The openness of the process was what concerned the committee. We fixed that issue with my amendment, but when the Senate version of the bill made its way to the House floor, all those protections over the transparency of the process had been stripped out. I had no choice but to oppose it.”
On May 2nd, the bill passed the House 75-24. It had already passed the Senate and was sent to Governor Bentley, who promptly signed it into law.