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Stealing the Statehouse

The GOP, Gaming and the Politics of Hypocrisy

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
 
MONTGOMERY—If money is the mother’s milk of politics, then many prize-milking cows can be found at casinos. Just ask George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Haley Barbour, Bob Riley, Del Marsh and Mike Hubbard.
 
What do all of these politicians have in common? They are all republicans who have taken big money from gaming interests.

Some may say there is nothing criminal or immoral in their actions. Gaming is a legal business in many of our states and has been since its founding of our republic.
 
What is troubling are the hypocrites who demonize gambling while filling their campaign coffers with casino cash. Such was the case in 2010 when the Republicans campaigned to take over the Alabama State House.
 
In 2012, perhaps acting as apologist for the ALGOP, Gary Palmer, then head of the conservative Alabama Policy Institute wrote, “While there were a number of issues and reasons why Alabama voters threw out the Democrat majority and replaced them with a Republican majority in 2010, the key reasons were that voters wanted to put a stop to gambling kingpins tying up the Legislature and they were tired of them making a mockery of our state laws.”
 
In Palmer’s article he also says, “But according to Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, the days of the legislative session being held hostage by gambling interests are over.”
 
But during the battle to take control away those who Palmer disdains as “gambling kingpins tying up the Legislature and…making a mockery of our state laws,” it is well documented that Hubbard and Marsh then heads of the ALGOP solicited money from the Poarch Creek Indians (PCI) in order to wrestle control away from the Democrats.
 
What Palmer, who is now running for congress to replace retiring legislator Spencer Bachus, perhaps did accurately state, was those who gave gaming money to Republicans, would not be given any special privilege.
 
During the 2010 campaign cycle, Hubbard through Marsh solicited $350,000 from the PCI. In turn, Hubbard and Marsh gave that money to men like Senator Phil Williams (R-Southside) and Bryan Taylor (R-Prattville), who would actively seek to destroy the PCI in Alabama.

In 2010, Williams received $35,000 and Taylor received $23,200 from gaming interests.

A detailed account of who received PCI money from Hubbard and Marsh can be found at the Alabama Political Reporter, under this link.

But taking money from gaming interests by the GOP is nothing new or unusual. While striking in its hypocrisy, for those who woo the evangelical voting block, it is simply business-as-usual within the National Republican Party.
 
During the 2012 presidential campaign, hundreds of millions of dollars poured into GOP candidates. The Republican primaries saw unprecedented sums of cash flow freely into the war chest of presidential hopefuls, most notably were the contributions given by billionaire casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, of the Las Vegas Sands casino empire. Adelson, who is a stalwart supporter of Israel’s right-wing and an avid foe of U.S. labor unions, began flexing his political muscle as a super-donor after the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United. Again, Adelson, like the PCI, is exercising a legitimate right granted him by law. He has used his vast fortune to advance candidates and ideas that are to his liking or advantage. This is not a liberal phenomena, but a very conservative notion.

There are certainly those who truly believe in the evils of gambling and therefore refuse to take money from gaming operators.
 
However, more often Republican politicians, at least in Alabama, will take casino-born money, as long as the public doesn’t became aware of the fact.
 
Of course, that is why Hubbard and Marsh created such an elaborate ruse (moving the PCI money from Atmore to Washington, D.C. and back into Alabama).
 
Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour does not share in Marsh and Hubbard’s  sanctimony. He became a major gaming booster in his home state. Barbour, while governor, held a major fundraiser hosted by casino mogul, Steve Wynn.
 
According to the Center for Responsive Politics website opensecrets.org, the campaign cash received from gaming operations has been just about evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. In 2014, it appears the money flow will be trending more toward the GOP. Open Secrets also shows that Republicans in Congress are the top beneficiaries of gaming money. But top-tier republicans don’t generally hide their contributions from casino owners, they welcome them.

Hidden gaming money in Alabama did not originated with Hubbard and Marsh it was not even perfected by the duo. Former Gov. Bob Riley will stand for now as the ALGOP politician who most benefited from gaming, which he continues to deny to this day.
 
In a four-part series WTVY exposed some of the former Governor’s dealing with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
 
According to the report, “Governor Riley signed a letter opposing expansion of gambling casinos in Alabama on behalf of the U.S. Family Network, a public policy group funded in-part by money from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
 
Additionally, a Congressional hearing discovered a December 2002 emails between Abramoff and Scanlon discussing the need to get Riley elected so they could keep Indian casinos out of Alabama, therefore guaranteeing the Mississippi tribes a monopoly. Scanlon writes to Abramoff, “She definately (sp) wants Riley to shut down the Poarch Creek operation, including his announcing that anyone caught gambling there can’t qualify for a state contract for something like that…”
 
WTVY quotes from the final report in the hearing of disgraced felon Jack Abramoff, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians lobbyist, saying,
 
“[The] report stated Abramoff told a tribal leader that Chief Phillip Martin had spent 13-million dollars to…”get the governor of Alabama elected to keep gaming out of Alabama so it wouldn’t hurt… his market in Mississippi.’”
 
Riley denied the report by WTVY but abundant proof has been produced to back up the finding.
 
As long as the rule of law is followed there is nothing wrong with taking money from gaming operators.
 
In the 2013 Alabama Legislative session, the State approved a bill that would allow unlimited political campaign contributions from all corporations in Alabama. Current ALGOP Chairman Bill Armistead has said this will level the playing field. However, Armistead has made it clear that the Alabama Republican Party would not accept gaming money. Even stating that the party would not take funds from the Republican State Leadership Committee, (RSLC) which does accept campaign contributions from gambling interests.
 
However, this has not stopped many prominent Republicans from receiving money directly from the RSLC.
 
What seems abundantly clear is that there is a disconnect between the national party and those who wear the mantle of GOP in Alabama. Perhaps the greatest difference is in the way that Hubbard and Marsh solicited money from the PCI.
 
In 2012, API Director Palmer pointed out that he believed the people voted out those who took gambling money in return for legislative favor. He said he felt strongly that Hubbard and Marsh would never participate in a quid pro quo with gaming interests. Hubbard and Marsh not only took gaming money they begged for it, then tried to hide the fact that they asked for and spent gaming money liberally. The one thing the pair didn’t seem to do was give the PCI anything in return. In their acts they personified the politics of hypocrisy.
 
Editors note: The Alabama Political Reporter is owned by free market conservatives. Our news organization is a commercial enterprise funded by advertising, We will and do accept advertising from any legal business or individual.

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Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Buck’s pocket

Steve Flowers

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You voted Tuesday on a crowded ballot.

Historically, in Alabama we have voted more heavily in our Governor’s race year than in a presidential year. That is probably because we were more interested in the local sheriff and probate judge’s races, which run in a gubernatorial year, than who is president. The old adage, “all politics is local,” definitely applies here in Alabama.

We not only have a governor’s race this year, we have all secondary statewide offices with a good many of them open including Lt. Governor, Attorney General, State Treasurer, Auditor, and two seats on the Public Service Commission. We have five seats on the State Supreme Court, one being Chief Justice. All 140 seats in the Legislature are up for a four-year term. These 35 state Senate seats and 105 House contests are where most of the special interest PAC money will go. And, yes, we have 67 sheriffs and 68 probate judges as well as a lot of circuit judgeships on the ballot.

You may think the campaigning is over. However, some of the above races have resulted in a runoff which will be held on July 17. So get ready, we have six more weeks of campaigning before all the horses are settled on for the sprint in November.

We have a lot of folks headed to Buck’s Pocket. Last year after the open Senate seat contest, a young TV reporter for one of the stations I do commentary for asked me about Roy Moore and his loss. I told her ole Moore had gotten on his horse, Sassy, and ridden off into the sunset to Buck’s Pocket, which by the way wasn’t a long ride from his home in Gallant in Etowah County. She looked at me with a puzzled look. Probably a lot of you are also wondering what I’m talking about when I refer to Buck’s Pocket.

For decades, losing political candidates in Alabama have been exiled to Buck’s Pocket.  It is uncertain when or how the colloquialism began, but political insiders have used this terminology for at least 60 years.  Alabama author, Winston Groom, wrote a colorful allegorical novel about Alabama politics and he referred to a defeated gubernatorial candidate having to go to Buck’s Pocket.  Most observers credit Big Jim Folsom with creating the term.  He would refer to the pilgrimage and ultimate arrival of his opponents to the political purgatory reserved for losing gubernatorial candidates.

This brings me to another contention surrounding Buck’s Pocket. Many argue that Buck’s Pocket is reserved for losing candidates in the governor’s race. Others say Buck’s Pocket is the proverbial graveyard for all losing candidates in Alabama.

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One thing that all insiders agree on is that once you are sent to Buck’s pocket you eat poke salad for every meal. Groom also suggested that you were relegated to this mythical rural resting place forever. However, history has proven that a good many defeated Alabama politicians have risen from the grave and left Buck’s Pocket to live another day. Roy Moore may be a good example. He has risen from the grave before. He is only 70, and he may grow weary of eating poke sallet.

Most folks don’t know that there really is a Buck’s Pocket. Big Jim would campaign extensively in rural North Alabama often one on one on county roads. One day while stumping in the remote Sand Mountain area of DeKalb County he wound up in an area referred to as Buck’s Pocket. It was a beautiful and pristine area, but it was sure enough back in the woods. Big Jim who loved the country and loved country folks was said to say that, “I love the country but I sure wouldn’t want to be sent to Buck’s Pocket to live.”

Buck’s pocket is now not a mythical place. If you are traveling up the interstate past Gadsden, on the way to Chattanooga, you will see it. There is a Buck’s Pocket State Park in DeKalb County, thanks to Big Jim.

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So the next time you hear an old timer refer to a defeated candidate as going to Buck’s Pocket, you will know what they are talking about.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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In Case You Missed It

Hubbard’s Lee County Trial Finally Ends in Silence

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—The post-trial appeal of convicted felon and former Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard, finally expired on September 8, in silence, according to the Attorney General’s office calculations.

For almost four years, Hubbard, aided by his criminal lawyers, used the State House, the Governor’s Office and some within the Attorney General’s office to deny, deflect and delay justice. Hubbard stormed the State House presiding over an orgy of greed and corruption. Those days are over for Hubbard and so is any appeal before the circuit court of Lee County.

Under Rule 24.4 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, Hubbard’s motion for a new trial, dismissal and/or an investigation by the Lee County Sheriff were denied by operation of law because Judge Jacob Walker, III, did nothing.

Under the Rules of Criminal Procedure, “no motion for a new trial or motion… shall remain pending in the trial court for more than sixty days after the pronouncement of sentence.” Hubbard’s sentencing July 8, on 12 felony counts of public corruption, means as of September 8, the calendar has run out for him, with Judge Walker deciding not to rule at all.

Under Rule 24.4: Denial by operation of law. “A failure by the trial court to rule on such a motion within the sixty (60) days allowed by this section shall constitute a denial of the motion as of the sixtieth day.”

At his post-trial hearing, Hubbard’s attorneys made their last stand in Lee County, with Bill Baxley arguing that his client was blindsided, bushwhacked and bamboozled, to no avail.

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The Lee County case of the State of Alabama versus Michael G. Hubbard is over. He has a right to appeal his conviction to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals within 42 days, which expires on October 20.

Hubbard’s past efforts show he will seek every avenue available to delay his incarceration.

Every previous motion that Hubbard has set before the Court of Criminal Appeals, was denied without opinion. Many believe this same fate awaits Hubbard’s next appeal before the high court.

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Hubbard’s days of freedom are rapidly coming to an end. His appeal was silently denied and most didn’t even notice. He is rapidly becoming yesterday’s news.

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In Case You Missed It

Hubbard’s Post-Trial Snoozer

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

OPELIKA—While searching for any thread of an argument that might lead to a new trial for convicted felon Mike Hubbard—once the most powerful politico in the state—attorney Bill Baxley whined, fretted and accused state prosecutors of blindsiding, bushwhacking and bamboozling his client.

Having written about Hubbard’s misdeeds since late 2012, the courtroom drama ending with his conviction makes Baxley’s latest attempt at the September 2 hearing feel like Hubbard trial 2.0 ad nauseam. Only Baxley’s fantastical leaps of legal logic and strained linguistic gymnastics kept the proceedings remotely interesting. Baxley argued several points, only winning on one issue with Judge Walker’s ruling that Hubbard would not be required to pay $1.125 million in restitution, as the prosecution asked.

Before the hearing began, Hubbard’s criminal defense team filed a motion to unseal all court documents related to the case, except one document. Baxley indicated that Judge Jacob Walker knew “the one” he referred too. After some legal wrangling by the prosecution and with Judge Walker, the defense was directed to construct a list of documents to be unsealed. Judge Walker’s decision was followed by Baxley huffing and puffing. Finally, he made reference to testimony given by Professor Bennett L. Gershman a “so-called” expert in prosecutorial misconduct. Hubbard filed to have Gershman’s testimony unsealed in 2015, to no avail.

Testimony given by former State Ethics Directors James “Jim” Sumner is central to Hubbard’s motion to dismiss or grant a new trial, neither of which is likely to occur. But, Baxley and company need to earn the additional $50,000 plus Hubbard recently raised from “friends.” Baxley argued it was improper for the State to present “expert” testimony about what various portions of the ethics statute mean, and whether certain phrases or clauses within those statutes would or would not encompass certain situations or events. The court seemed unmoved by Baxley’s logic since Judge Walker certified Sumner as an expert.

During the two-hour hearing, Baxley’s delaying tactics appeared to try Judge Walker’s patience, especially when the defense claimed they were unprepared to hear testimony concerning jury misconduct. Judge Walker said he set aside other cases to hear Hubbard’s claims of jury misconduct, a surprising claim that surfaced quickly after Hubbard’s conviction.

Hubbard’s criminal defense team citing an affidavit from a panel member filed a motion just days after Hubbard’s conviction calling for an investigation into jury misconduct by an impartial third party. In searching for a neutral investigator, Baxley determined Hubbard’s friend Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones was the best choice.

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From the bench, Judge Walker informed Baxley that there is no legal basis for an outside investigation, and that testimony would be taken before his court to settle the matter. Baxley claimed the defense was once again unprepared for such at the hearing, and the juror who reported the alleged misconduct was unavailable.

Judge Walker questioned the two bailiffs and the court administrators who oversaw Hubbard’s trial. Bailiff Bobby Bond testified that he was instructed by court administrator Patricia Campbell, to caution a juror who reportedly was talking under her breath at the beginning of Hubbard’s trial. Bond said he issued the warning, but the juror denied the allegations and no further complaints were noted. Both Bailiffs who rotated sitting next to the jury box during the proceedings testified they never heard chatter from any jurors.

Under oath, Campbell confirmed she had received the complaint and reported it to Judge Walker, who ordered her to address the situation through the bailiffs. Baxley asked Campbell what was said. She remembered the accusing juror of claiming a fellow juror said, “Yes, now the truth comes out.”

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Defense co-council Lance Bell rose to claim that Hubbard had not received a fair trial an assertion soon rebutted by the prosecution.
He, along with Baxley said the jury was not impartial, and Hubbard should receive, at least, a new trial. Arguing for the prosecution, Assistant Attorney General Katie Langer cited case law and explained the split verdict showed they were, in fact, impartial because otherwise, the trial would have ended with a hung jury.

As Judge Walker pointed out several times, the clock is ticking with very few days remaining before the 60 day deadline brings all proceeding before his court to a close. The trial judge may rule on these motion or simply wait out the clock.

 

Photo Credit: Albert Cesare/Montgomery Advertiser/Pool

 

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In Case You Missed It

Attorney General Reacts to Hubbard Loyalist’s Plans for Ethics Reform

Bill Britt

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By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—Alabama House Ethics Committee Chairman, Mike Ball (R-Madison), announced his plans (yesterday) to form a commission to review the state’s ethics laws. Ball, a staunch defender of convicted felon and former House Speaker, Mike Hubbard, told WHNT-TV in Huntsville that his committee would “review the State’s Ethics laws and recommend improvements in time for the opening of the Alabama Legislature next year.”

However, just hours after APR published its story on Ball’s plan, Attorney General Luther Strange, sent his comments.  “I am strongly opposed to Rep. Mike Ball’s idea of a commission to review Alabama’s ethics law. The whole point of such a commission would be to undermine the law,” said Strange.  “Alabamians want our ethics laws enforced, not gutted.”

Ball also said he wanted an “open and honest” process, stating, “Our best chance for success is for it to be carefully looked at, out in the open.” Ball claims he is determined to stop three ethics bills from coming to the House because he didn’t want them “lost in the mix, however, there is a reason to believe other forces are at work, especially given Speaker McCutcheon’s promise of principled leadership.”

It would be difficult to fathom a Hubbard loyalist overseeing a commission to amend laws that landed his former boss in prison.

The day after Hubbard’s indictment, Ball stood by his side at a pep rally proclaiming his boss’s innocence while sporting an “I Like Mike” sticker on his lapel.

Ball regularly appeared on talk radio accusing State prosecutors of conducting a political witch hunt to ensnare Hubbard.

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In April 2015, Ball testified in a pre-trial hearing that Hubbard’s arrest was politically motivated. Under oath, Ball said the ethics laws needed amending to avoid prosecutions like Hubbard’s in the future.

Presiding Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker, III allowed Ball to testify, even though he said Ball’s testimony was not relevant to Hubbard’s indictments. Judge Walker ruled that accusations against Special Division’s Chief Matt Hart were not only irrelevant, but unfounded.

Ball is one of the remaining Hubbard loyalists at the State House.

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