By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The Republican House caucus is in a growing state of turmoil. By now, it is almost universally believed that Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard is facing some serious problems.
Over the last three weeks, the Speaker has made a series of uncharacteristic moves, culminating in the hiring of Super Lawyer J. Mark White, known as one of Alabama’s best “white-collar” criminal defense attorneys. Yet, some news reports have made it seem as if White is only looking to send letters to those who have allegedly made slanderous or libelous statements about Hubbard.
One criminal defense attorney who is intimately familiar with White’s work questions that characterization: “No one hires Mark White to send out letters…White is a criminal defense attorney…you hire a man like White when you believe you are going to be charged with a crime.”
The attorney spoke to the Alabama Political Reporter under conditions of anonymity.
Hubbard’s hiring a high-profile attorney is quite fitting, seeing as he is, perhaps, the most powerful politico in the state. Over the years, Hubbard has used his immense public relations skills to sell himself as “The Face of the Alabama Republican Party.”
Among the voters, Gov. Bentley may be the better known Republican, but, in the moneyed circles of high-dollar donors, Hubbard is the Republican party’s financial juggernaut.
But, the flow of campaign dollars into Hubbard’s war chest has been slowed to a grinding halt, causing a political consultant to suggest that Hubbard’s Storm PAC be renamed, Drizzle. One thing big donors don’t like is uncertainty; and one thing they fear is legal scandal.
At the dedication of the Mike Hubbard Center on the Auburn Campus, AU board member Jimmy Rane, famous as the “Yeller Feller,” said he was ready to back Hubbard if there was a fist-fight. However comforting Rane’s offer may have been to his friend, most corporate attorneys would advise their CEO’s against joining in even so much as a spelling bee with any politician who is under a cloud of legal suspicion.
Even if a few like Rane are ready to go to the mat for Hubbard, that is not a widely shared feeling among those with responsibilities to stockholders.
On the political front, the chattering class has been engaged in a hypothetical guessing game of who might replace Hubbard. However, over the last few weeks, that question has been transformed from a purely mental exercise among Montgomery’s elites, into a real and pressing subject of private conversations within the House Republican caucus.
Careerist politicians and true believers alike are beginning to look for the man or woman who could wield the Speaker’s gavel in the event that Hubbard is indicted.
Current political thinking says if Hubbard is arrested, he should step down as Speaker for the good of the party. However, those who believe they know Hubbard well, think he would never voluntarily give up the Speaker’s chair.
This means that a coup would need to be launched against Hubbard’s speakership.
Several names are being bantered about, but no natural successor has become evident.
Perhaps the main reason there is no heir-apparent is because much of the Republican House consists of freshmen. The other reason–no one has ever dared or was ever allowed to shine too brightly in Hubbard’s presence.
It seems certain that if Hubbard were to face a criminal indictment, many in the House would find a way to show him the exit, rather than face the voters and try to explain Hubbard’s situation. In an election, any “Hubbard Republican” could be challenged—fairly or unfairly—as just an extension the same allegations of corruption.
There are also rumblings in the upper chamber as senators are wondering what, if any, involvement Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh might have in a grand jury investigation.
Marsh has served faithfully as Hubbard’s right-hand man for many years, and played an especially prominent role in the 2010 GOP takeover. It had been thought that a grand jury was impaneled in Marsh’s district back in the fall. But, lately, not even a whisper of scandal has been heard in connection with Marsh.
Several senators have remarked that Marsh has, of late, shown a renewed vigor and has asserted himself more aggressively in recent meetings. However, the once popular Marsh may see his reputation diminish by his close association with Hubbard.
No doubt, if Hubbard finds himself in trouble, there will be more than a few in the Senate who will look for a way to replace Marsh as well.
Unlike the House, the Republican-controlled Senate has several able leaders who could not only replace Marsh, but reestablish trust with the Democrats and restore decorum to the senior body.
Currently, there is some quiet and cautious planning behind the scenes. No one is certain who might be on deck to replace Hubbard…but the smart people are not idle.