Mike Hubbard reported to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office on Friday to begin serving his four-year prison sentence.
Hubbard’s new mugshot was plastered all over news sites on Friday evening, and those stories and screenshots made their way around social media all weekend. Those pics and stories, and the thoughts of the state’s former most powerful lawmaker beginning a prison stint that will put him behind bars for more than 1,400 days, should send chills up the spines of current lawmakers.
Those images of Hubbard should be the turning point in one of the nation’s most politically corrupt states. The former House speaker and leader of the Republican Party being just another inmate should be a clear deterrent to the future lawbreakers among Alabama’s lawmakers.
But it won’t be.
I hate to be a downer, because this should be an occasion that we celebrate. No, not Hubbard going to prison — that’s nothing to celebrate. We should celebrate the hard justice of what we did in this state — took a powerful, rich, white man who was misusing his public office for personal gain and we prosecuted that guy just like we would prosecute any other lawbreaker.
The judge didn’t give him any breaks. The prosecutors from the AG’s office, which was led by another Republican, went after him hard. The jury held him accountable with a well-reasoned verdict.
That sends a message.
That cleans things up and makes your government honest.
Unfortunately, everything that has happened since that jury verdict in Lee County over four years ago has undone everything that led to that verdict.
And this is not just me saying this, it was someone from the team who helped prosecute Hubbard — one of the guys who took unending BS from ALGOP leadership, various moles all around the AG’s office and shameless hacks within the Legislature. In fact, it’s so bad that the person didn’t want to be quoted directly, because it would only lead to more problems now.
That’s where we are.
The prosecution of Mike Hubbard wasn’t a lesson not to steal. It was a lesson in what the thieves needed to fix so they wouldn’t get caught like Hubbard did.
“I wish it weren’t true,” the person said. “The people who would violate the laws, they know if someone is really watching. And now, who’s watching?”
The answer, of course, is that no one is watching.
The first act of the ALGOP in the post-Hubbard conviction world was to destroy the two things that led to his arrest: the Alabama Ethics Laws and the Special Prosecutions Division of the AG’s office.
They have been successful in both.
The ethics laws have been gutted to the point that it is now legal to do half of what Hubbard did exactly the way he did it, and it’s legal to do the other half if you can claim it was done in the interest of economic development.
These changes were made for two reasons. The first was that lawmakers claimed innocent businessmen and lawmakers could be trapped by unclear ethics laws that could criminalize personal friendships. This is ludicrous and was easily avoided, as evidenced by the 95 percent of Alabama lawmakers who didn’t violate the laws.
The second was that economic development could be hampered by these special laws. Except other states also have these laws and not one economic development deal in the history of this state was hampered by the laws in any way.
But Alabama voters were going to vote Republican regardless of what the crooks pushed through, so here we are with gutted ethics laws.
The other step was to gut the SPD, which investigated and prosecuted Hubbard and his pals.
Within a few weeks of current AG Steve Marshall being elected, the former head of that department, Matt Hart, was shown the door. Responsibilities have been shifted and new directives handed down.
There will be no more major ethics investigations. And especially not of Republicans.
Hell, a litany of charges against former Democratic state Sen. David Burkette was handed over to the AG’s office. The Ethics Commission passed along at least three felony counts.
Burkette resigned after being charged with a single misdemeanor.
So, no, sorry, the end of Hubbard’s long, slow walk to prison is nothing to celebrate. It won’t be remembered for what it changed or the crime it stopped.
Instead, it’ll be another sad marker of yet another point at which we could have made a change, could have chosen the more righteous path, could have altered the way this state handles its business.
But we just kept doing what we’ve always done.