By Lee Hedgepeth
Alabama Political Reporter
In his first interview after the end of the 2014 Regular Session of the Alabama Legislature, Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Hubbard told Phil Rawls of the Associated Press, “I am going on the offense.”
In an apparent first drive, Speaker Hubbard gave the Opelika-Auburn News a two hour interview at the end of last week. In it, he vehemently denies all implications against him that were revealed in convicted former Representative Greg Wren’s public corruption plea deal, and makes some accusations and admissions that may turn out to be less of a first down and more of a fumble.
As the Alabama Political Reporter has covered here, Speaker Hubbard is the only person besides Wren to be mentioned in the former Representative’s plea deal.
In the plea deal narrative, which Wren testifies to as accurate – under threat of serving his now-suspended one year jail sentence – Speaker Hubbard is shown to have been intimately involved in improperly granting a monopoly over some medicaid prescription drug programs to a firm with financial connections to both himself and Wren, who authored the 23 exclusionary words.
“Wren, and others affiliated with pharm co-op, had various meetings with members of the Alabama Legislature in which Wren sought legislative-support for the Co-op Exclusive Language,” the plea agreement says.
“Among the meetings Wren participated in while attempting to obtain legislative support for the Co-op Exclusive Language were meetings attended by the Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives.”
The plea deal goes on to assert that Hubbard “endorsed” the language, and directed its insertion:
“After meeting with Wren and others, and reviewing the Co-op Exclusive Language, the Speaker of the House endorsed the Co-op Exclusive Language and directed staff to add it to Medicaid’s section of the General Fund Budget. The Co-op Exclusive Language became a part of the House of Representatives substitute version of the General Fund Budget. The substitute version was voted on and approved by the House of Representatives on April 23, 2013.”
On one hand, in his new “offensive” interview, Hubbard completely denies that he endorsed the monopolizing language, and emphasizes that then-Representative Wren wrote the language.
“Most of it is just trying to appease my members, to get them happy,” the Speaker said in the interview.
“I’ve actually got pharmacists who are in the House who are very concerned about independent pharmacists begin cut out of Medicaid.”
On the other hand, Speaker Hubbard – for the first time on record (at least in public) – admitted in the interview that “walking in the chamber to vote” on the budget, he knew that language included in its medicaid section would grant a monopoly to APCI, a firm for which he financially benefited.
“When the language is put in, I find out when I’m walking in the chamber to vote on the budget that the way it was written that the only entity in the state able to do it is APCI,” Hubbard said.
Hubbard would go on to vote for that budget version not just once, but a total of a dozen times.
Alabama Political Reporter covered the monopolizing medicaid language before any other news organization, beginning here in June 2013, just after the budget votes occurred.
Hubbard has also said that after the vote, he went to the Alabama Ethics Commission to be sure that he had done nothing wrong. The Speaker says that after explaining the situation and the vote, director of the Alabama Ethics Commission, Jim Sumner, told him, “You haven’t even come close to the line. Nothing to worry about.”
While that may be the case, Ethics Commission Director Sumner has told the Alabama Political Reporter(see below)
Audio of Alabama Political Reporter’s interview with Sumner about not reviewing Hubbard’s APCI contract can be heard here.
Another issue that arose in the plea agreement’s “statement of facts” was that Speaker Hubbard had not informed Wren or other relevant legislators of his “financial relationship” with APCI: “Subsequent to the meetings, in which Wren participated, wherein the Speaker of the House reviewed and endorsed the Co-op Exclusive Language, Wren was informed by a lobbyist, who had represented Pharm Co-op in those meetings, that the Speaker of the House had an ongoing financial relationship with Pharm Co-op. The Speaker of the House had not informed Wren, or others Wren interacted with in those meetings, of that ongoing financial relationship.”
Hubbard now says that although he did have a financial relationship with American Pharmacy Cooperative Inc., he did not do anything that would benefit the Bessemer-based company in Alabama.
Hubbard described when he was approached by APCI:
“I said great, but I can’t do anything in Alabama. When they put the contract together, it specifically prohibits me from doing anything in Alabama.”
As mentioned above, Hubbard’s contract with APCI has not been disclosed to the Alabama public or, for that matter, to the Alabama Ethics Commission.
In what may be another mishandling of the ball, Hubbard took at not only Democrats in the new interview, but some Republicans – and some GOP members he says are really “liberal special interests.” Hubbard pointed to attacks from such groups as a possible reason for such scrutiny of his actions and unwarranted speculation about possible investigations.
“The world has changed in four years in terms of how Montgomery operates,” Hubbard said.
Because of that, that’s why you see what’s going on now. I believe very strongly that [those] that used to be in power are desperate. They’ll say and do anything right now to try to get the power back. That’s because desperate people do desperate things. They see this as their last opportunity to try to change Montgomery.”
Hubbard continued with what may be a veiled hit at Attorney General Luther Strange, who is a possible GOP contender for Governor in 2018:
“When you’re in my position and you’re viewed as the leader of the reforms, you take a lot of bullets from a lot of folks. … They want me out of play because they fear I may run for governor in 2018. That comes into play. There have even been some that are jealous in the Republican Party that they aren’t the ones who led the takeover. You make a lot of enemies when you take this job, unfortunately. It’s political. I’m under political attack … by people who are desperate and will try to do anything to get me defeated, or hurt me and my family. Overall, it’s to try to get us in position where we don’t have the power in Montgomery to continue to do reforms.”
Notably, Democratic Senator Lowell Barron, who is facing campaign finance violation charges, has also accused Strange of selectively, politically prosecuting cases.
Finally, Hubbard directly took aim at the Alabama Foundation for Limited Government, a group aiming to have candidates sign an “anti-corruption pledge,” and running ads pointing out corruption in Goat Hill, aiming to tie them to the AEA, though offering no evidence.
“This foundation didn’t exist four weeks ago,” the Speaker told Auburn-Opelika News.
“And now they have raised and spent $1 million in four weeks, and not reported a dime. Nobody knows where the money comes from. To me … obviously it’s coming from AEA. It’s got to be. We knew this was going to happen. Some they’ve given direct money, too. Others they’re funneling the money through the foundation, through the PACs so you don’t know where the money is coming from. But it’s clear who they’re supporting.”
Senator Del Marsh has also recently criticized AFLG, with his own “dark money” group running opposing ads. In addition, Marsh himself filed a complaint about the “anti-corruption” ads that has been forwarded to the AG’s office. APR’s coverage of that story can be read here.
Hubbard’s latest interview is likely to be one in a series of “offensive” plays by the Speaker to get ahead of the game. It is to be hoped that all of his future plays, though, will have as many confessional fumbles as this one.
Alabama DHR announces grants providing temporary assistance for stabilizing child care
The Alabama Department of Human Resources announced on Friday a new grant program to provide assistance to licensed child care providers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Temporary Assistance for Stabilizing Child Care, or TASCC, grant program’s purpose is to stabilize the number of child care providers that are open and providing services, as well as encourage providers to reopen.
DHR is now accepting applications for TASCC grants. The deadline to apply is August 7, 2020. The total grant amounts will be based on each provider’s daytime licensed capacity with a base rate of $300 per child.
To be eligible for a grant, licensed providers must be open or plan to reopen no later than August 17, 2020, and continue to remain open for a period of one year from the date of receiving the grant award. As of this week, 1,306 of Alabama’s 2,448 child care facilities were open in the state.
“We are proud to offer this program as a support and an incentive to an important sector of our economy. These grants will give the support many providers need to reopen and assist those already open,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “This program is going to be vital for our child care numbers to reach the level required to provide adequate services as parents return to work. We have already made significant strides in reopening facilities over the past several months; in April only 14 percent were open while now 53 percent are open.”
These grants will provide support for paying employees, purchasing classroom materials, providing meals, purchasing cleaning supplies, providing tuition relief for families, as well as other facility expenses.
DHR recommends child care providers read all guidance prior to submitting a TASCC application. Child care providers need to complete the application to determine the estimated grant amount. Grant applications will be processed as they are received and grants awarded once approved.
An online fillable application is available for the TASCC grant at www.dhr.alabama.gov/child-care/. The application must include an Alabama STAARS Vendor Code in order to be processed. For questions regarding the application, please email DHR at [email protected].
Gov. Ivey awards grant for new system to aid child abuse victims
Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded a $375,000 grant to establish a statewide network that will ensure that victims of child abuse receive immediate and professional medical care and other assistance.
The grant will enable the Children’s of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Pediatrics to collaborate with the Alabama Network of Children Advocacy Centers in creating the Child Abuse Medical System.
“Child abuse is a horrendous crime that robs children of their youth and can negatively affect their future if victims do not receive the proper professional assistance,” Ivey said. “I am thankful for this network that will ensure children get the professional attention they need and deserve.”
The medical system will be a coordinated statewide resource that includes pediatric physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses and other medical professionals along with specialized sexual assault nurse examiners.
The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grant.
“ADECA is pleased to join with Gov. Ivey and those dedicated people who are part of the Child Abuse Medical System to support these children at a time they need it most,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell.
Ivey notified Tom Shufflebarger, CEO of Children’s of Alabama, that the grant had been approved.
ADECA manages a range of programs that support law enforcement, economic development, recreation, energy conservation and water resource management.
U.S. Attorney Jay Town announces resignation
Jay Town, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, on Friday announced his resignation and plans to work at a Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company.
Town’s resignation will be effective Wednesday, July 15, according to a press release.
“After much thoughtful prayer and great personal consideration, I have made the decision to resign as the United States Attorney of the Northern District of Alabama. I have tendered my resignation to Attorney General William Barr. General Barr expressed his gratitude for my service to the Department of Justice and to the Northern District and, despite having hoped I would continue in my role, understood and respected my decision,” Town said in a statement.
“I am extremely grateful to President Trump, to whom I also tendered a letter, for his special trust and confidence in me to serve as the U.S. Attorney. It was an honor to be a part of this Administration with an unrivaled class of United States Attorneys from around the nation. I will forever remain thankful to those who supported my nomination and my tenure as the U.S. Attorney,” Town continued.
Town said his job with the unnamed Huntsville defense contractor and cybersecurity solutions company is to begin later this year, and the company is to announce his position “in a few weeks.”
“The Attorney General of the United States will announce my replacement in the coming days or weeks,” Town said in the release.
Town has served in his position since confirmation by the U.S. Senate in August 2017. Prior to that appointment, Town was a prosecutor in the Madison County District Attorney’s office from 2005 until 2017.
Attorney General William Barr in a statement Friday offered gratitude for Town’s three years of service.
“Jay’s leadership in his District has been immense. His contributions to the Department of Justice have been extensive, especially his work on the China Initiative and most recently as a Working Group Chair on the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice. I appreciate his service to our nation and to the Justice Department, and I wish him the very best,” Barr said in a statement.
The U.S. Justice Department in April 2019 notified Gov. Kay Ivey that the department’s lengthy investigation into the state’s prisons for men found systemic problems of violence, sexual assaults, drugs and corruption which are likely violations of the inmates’ Constitutional protections from cruel and unusual punishment.
Town’s office leads the discussions between the U.S Department of Justice and the state on the prison conditions.
Problems with violence, deaths and drugs in Alabama’s overcrowded, understaffed prisons have not markedly improved in the year’s since the U.S. Department of Justice released its report.
Alabama’s daily COVID-19 deaths second highest since start of pandemic
In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.
Alabama saw 35 deaths from COVID-19 on Friday, the second highest daily number of deaths since the pandemic began.
The previous record daily high was May 12, when the state recorded 37 coronavirus deaths. Prior to that, the high was on April 22, when Alabama saw 35 deaths from the virus. In the past two weeks the state recorded 190 coronavirus deaths, a 38 percent increase from the previous two weeks.
While cases have been surging since mid-June, deaths have largely remained stable. Deaths are considered a lagging indicator, meaning that it takes longer for deaths to begin rising after cases and hospitalizations begin rising.
“The fact that we’re seeing these sharp increases and hospitalization in cases over the past week or two is really concerning,” said UAB expert Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom earlier this week. “And we expect, given the lag that we know there is between cases and hospitalization — about a two-week lag, and a three-week lag between cases and deaths — that we’re on a part of the curve that we just don’t want to be on in our state.”
It’s unclear whether this new rise in deaths will become a trend, or whether it is a one-day anomaly, but the 14-day average of deaths per day is now nearly as high as the previous peak on May 14 — weeks after the state hit its first “peak” in cases per day in late April. The previous high of the 14-day average of deaths per day was 16 on May 14. The average is now at 14 deaths per day, on average.
The uptick in deaths comes after days of record-high new daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The state added 1,304 new COVID-19 cases Friday, down from Thursday’s record-high of 2,164, but the trend of rising daily cases has continued largely unabated since early June.
The 14-day average of daily tests was at an all-time high Friday, at 8,125, which was 308 more tests than the previous high, set Wednesday. The percent of tests that were positive also increased, however, so the new cases can’t be attributed solely to more testing.
The 14-day average of the percent positivity was 14.22 on Friday. Excluding Thursday’s figure, because the Alabama Department of Public Health didn’t publish total tests administered on Thursday, which threw off percent positive figures, Friday’s 14-day average was the highest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic.
There were a few higher 14-day average percent positivity days in April, but those numbers were skewed as well, because ADPH wasn’t able to collect all testing data from commercial labs during that time period.
Along with surging new cases, the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized on Thursday was higher than it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic. On Thursday 1,125 coronavirus patients were being treated in state hospitals, which was the fifth straight day of record current hospitalizations.
UAB Hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive care units were nearing their existing capacity earlier this week. The hospital has both a COVID ICU and a COVID acute care unit designated to keep patients separated from those who don’t have the virus, but it has more space in other non-COVID units should it need to add additional bed space.
Hospitals in Madison County this week are also seeing a surge of COVID-19 patients. Paul Finley, the mayor of the city of Madison, told reporters Wednesday that local hospitals were reporting record numbers.