15 Sep 2014
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—A cavernous room just off the Washington St. entrance to the State House is receiving a six figure facelift on orders from Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard.
“He is obsessed with renovating that room,” said a State House insider who asked to not be publicly identified in this report. The over $200,000 that is being spent to renovate room 200 comes from a 2006 Bond Issue according to the State’s Finance Department.
Under the Republican lead legislature, to date, over $2 million has been spent to refurbish the State House. The building is now replete with granite-topped tables, expensive leather chairs and faux marble flooring.
The stated purpose for the expensive renovation of room 200, is to offer the legislature a new joint conference committee meeting room. The Legislative Building Authority, which is overseeing the project, has justified the expenditure by saying that many conference committee meetings spill out into the halls due to the number of people wanting to witness the proceedings. Most of those attending conference committees are in fact lobbyists and not concerned Alabama citizens. In a time of financial crisis, this is just the latest in lavish spending for the comfort of lawmakers and lobbyists.
Beyond the new carpet, faux marble and expensive chairs for the State House, the Senate chamber is receiving a $200,000 facelift with new hickory desks custom built by State inmates at J.F. Ingram State Technical College in Deatsville.
The renovation of room 200 and the Senate facelift combined will cost State taxpayer around $500,000, at a time when budget shortfalls are estimated at well over $100 million for the coming fiscal year.
This is just the latest spending spree by the Republican Supermajority. (See Article: Hubbard Furnishes Luxury Cloakroom for Legislators at Taxpayer Expense)
During the 2013 legislative session, Hubbard authorized tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to paint and furnish a "cloakroom" for legislators to "relax in" on the fourth floor of the State House.
Information gathered from the Legislative Building Authority shows that Hubbard spent over $30,000.00 on furniture, paint and carpeting for room 402. This does not include built-in-bookshelves, a full kitchen or other amenities and construction costs.
This room, which has never been used, was adorned with expensive furnishings, all with an air of absolute refinement; the likes of which was never seen under the GOP's Democratic predecessors.
There was even a grand, eleven-foot conference table that cost the taxpayers $4,464.00. The hardwood table was surrounded by 20 San Simeon Fabric high-back chair with a price tag of $6,380.00.
Beyond the huge conference table, the opulent space was also decorated with 4 couches costing $6,166.00, chairs and a love seat priced at $6,537.00 and tables, et cetera at $3,051.00.
All this occurring while the State was forced to borrow $437 million from the gas and oil trust fund.
After this publication made its report on Hubbard’s cloakroom, the project was abandoned and some of the furniture was sold.
Speaker Hubbard has wildly expanded State spending on the trappings of power adorning his own office with new carpet, new paint and $2000 in silk plants at taxpayer expense. The Speaker’s suite is also outfitted with multiple flat-screen televisions, one completely dedicated to a continuous rotation of pictures featuring Hubbard with political dignitaries. The Speaker routinely travels with an entourage and personal body guard, many times in two black SUV’s with tinted windows. It is the Speaker's privilege to be provided a State employee for protection; however, few have ever accepted such a high level of security. (See Hubbard Wildly Increases Spending in Speaker's Office)
Republican Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh does not use a security person or State vehicle, which would be his privilege as well.
Once again, Hubbard is using his power as Speaker to spend more taxpayer money on luxurious vanity projects.
12 Sep 2014
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—On Wednesday, indicted lawmaker Rep. Barry Moore, R-Enterprise, was granted a continuance in his felony perjury case. Lee County Circuit Judge Jacob A. Walker III granted Moore’s request and has rescheduled his trial for October 27, just seven days before the State’s general election.
During the hearing, Moore’s attorney, Bill Baxley, restated many points of his argument that were rejected by Judge Walker in May and by the Alabama Supreme Court earlier in this month.
According the a report by oanews.com, Baxley told Judge Walker that, “We’re not able to adequately represent our client with the State’s discovery at this time, your Honor.”
In a legal strategy designed by Speaker Mike Hubbard’s white collar criminal defense attorney J. Mark White, the Moore attorneys filed a motion to have the case dismissed on the grounds that Attorney General Luther Strange did not have the authority to appoint supernumerary District Attorney W. Van Davis to represent him in the Grand Jury investigation into possible criminal activities of Hubbard and others.
Answering Baxley’s statement, that he had not had time to prepare for the case, Matt Hart, Chief of the AG’s Special White Collar Crimes Division said, “I think they were pinning their hopes on a 'Hail Mary' without prepping, apparently.”
Judge Walker has not been moved by Baxley’s previous arguments, but is operating his court by the strict letter of Alabama law.
Despite the fact that the prosecutors have turned over all available evidence found in discovery, Baxley continued to request more.
Baxley also made the argument that they need additional time to contact Hubbard, who is “intimately involved” in the case. To this Hart said, “They could pick up a phone and call him, but that’s their issue.” While granting the motion to continue courtroom observers suggested, that Judge Walker did not seem amused with Baxley stalling tactics.
Moore is charged with “knowingly making a materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation, in his answer” to the Lee County Grand Jury. The State has filed two felony complaints of perjury and two felony complaints of making false statements.
These charges are a result of Moore Grand Jury testimony in which he denies making threatening statements to his republican primary opponent Josh Pipkin. However, Pipkin recorded his conversations with Moore and those tapes were in the procession of the prosecution at the time of Moore’s testimony.
The Alabama Political Reporter was the first news organization to reveal the content of these tapes in March of this year. (See link here)
APR was also the first to publish the audio of Moore and Pipkin's conversation. (See audio here)
Over the course of several months, Hubbard and Moore met with various influential individuals in Enterprise, making it absolutely clear that they were determined to kill the new jobs coming to the city if Pipkin would not relinquish the race to Moore. If the deal fell through, the backup plan for EEC’s expansion was to relocate the facility to Oklahoma, a blow to the entire Alabama economy, not just Enterprise and Coffee Counties.
In the audio recording Moore can be heard telling Pipkin, “"I'm waiting to meet with the Speaker... I don't want to put the Australians [EEC] off too long so either way I've got to meet with Mike (Hubbard) this week. This deal is too important to our city. I know some think I have nothing to do with it but they are very wrong. Mike controls this deal and my relationship with him has everything to do with it. Relationships in politics are everything. And Mike is very loyal to his friends. He just is."
In another statement, Moore responded to a question about whether he and Hubbard were going to kill the jobs deal if Pipkin refused to abandon his race. Moore responded, "I got a meeting with the Speaker and he is furious… At the end of the day, yeah, because we were fixin' to land a pretty good deal, and there's a lot at stake, I can assure you, for our City and our community." Moore later told Pipkin, "If you'll give me your word that you'll get out, when I meet with him [Hubbard] next week, I'll tell him... he's going to get out, so we need this deal for him to stay out, but I need your word on that. And I'll talk with the Speaker.”
He also told Pipkin, that Hubbard, “I will bring Holy Hell down on [Pipkin] him,” if he did not get out of the primary race against Moore.
Moore actually won the Republican primary.
Moore’s trial is excepted to last two days and many defense attorneys have told this publication that it should be a slam-dunk for the State. Moore faces up to 60 years in a State prison if convicted.
23 Jul 2012
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Our country was founded primarily by two groups of people, those desiring religious freedom and those wanting to make a fortune.
The Declaration of Independence lays out our cause of freedom with lofty ideals for mere mortals, encapsulating the American soul with, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Like all great writers, Thomas Jefferson stole the idea and phrasing from John Locke.
Locke’s then radical view that government is morally obliged to serve people, namely by protecting life, liberty, and property became the bedrock of our nation's founding principles.
However, our nation has never fully lived up to this noble goal but we try in-spite of ourselves.
The questions never said very loudly is whose life, how much liberty and what property?
Thus, capitalism and religion have always had an uneasy relationship. One works on the bases of self-interest, materialism and even greed and covetousness.
The other is best practiced with love, self-sacrifice, charity and humility among other more noble principles.
While, in conflict on occasions, it is something our country as worked out over time but still does divide us on some very thorny issue.
Over the last few weeks the State of Alabama has received some very good news on the economic development front. In Mobile, Airbus will be building a huge facility to employ around 1,000 people and in Wetumpka the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI) broke ground on a new hotel and casino that will employ another 1,000 Alabamians.
The Airbus became the jewel in the crown of every politician that could get a headline or face time on TV. And it is something the state should crow about.
But for the PCI and the great opportunity for economic development they are providing, not many cheerleaders.
It is obvious that the PCI project is not politically popular because it involves gambling. That is understandable given the feeling of most of our citizens about games of chance.
However, there is polling data that points out that most Alabamians support or do not oppose gaming. These are private opinions not often vocalized too loudly.
I am certainly no fan of gaming but I also know that I live in the United States of America and that according to our founding principles, Americans should be free to throw away their money anyway they choose.
Is there a special place in hell for someone who spends the baby’s milk money on gambling? Probably not but maybe there should be.
Of course, the government can legislate morality, and does—-more so than anyone wants to admit.
As a matter of fact most of the big disagreements among our citizens is about what is moral and how to legislate it.
Drugs, drinking, gambling, who you can sleep with, these are all things we try to control with laws. The war on drugs is a policy born of legislation to regulate behavior, ergo, morality.
Many counties in our state do not let you buy alcohol on Sunday, ostensibly not because of someone like me who is going to be in church on Sunday but for those who are not. But maybe it is also to make sure the deacon shows up on time.
It is again legislation aimed at a desired moral effect.
During the past legislative session almost an entire legislative day was spent discussing what size of beer bottle should be legal in Alabama. Is this a thing we should spend so much time worrying about? Even the worst alcoholics I’ve known knew what amount of booze it took for them to reach the desire state of oblivion.
I worry that politics so greatly out weighs common sense that we can’t see the flaws in our logic.
Like most Alabamians I have witnessed first hand the devastation that comes from alcoholism, drug addiction and all manner of sins.
My older bother was murdered in a drug deal gone bad. I closed the lid on my brothers coffin, gave his eulogy as I looked into the tearless, vacant eyes of our mother.
Yes, I too know what harvest sin bares.
I am not advocating we do not try to legislate some morality but we should try to be intellectually honest.
Heaven forbid a politician with statewide ambitions should be seen as supportive of gambling or that those who run for office saying they would like to see and up or down vote on gaming keep to their campaign rhetoric.
For me what the PCI is doing is capitalism at work, they sell entertainment, in the form of gaming, people who want it buy it those who don’t will not. Is it all good, no, is it all bad, probably not.
But that pesky “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” does get in the way sometimes, and our constitution, it has so many instances that limit government that for almost the first one hundred years of our nation, we couldn’t figure out how to legislate much in the way of moral behavior. But then came the startling revelation that the Commerce Clause gave the Congress almost complete control over every aspect of American life.
But Chief Justice John Roberts in his recent ruling on the Affordable Care Act may have put a nail in the coffin of the dread Commerce Clause.
Like many of the nation’s founders I am in favor of religious freedom and getting out of the way of people who want to make a fortune. But I am also in favor of freedom from religion and prosecuting those who make their fortune dishonestly.
In 1656, John Locke wrote a letter expressing his approval of restrictions the government had placed on Quakers-—whom he called “mad folks.” Locke welcomed the restoration of the Stuart monarchy and wrote eloquently defending the prerogative of government to enforce religious conformity.
So much for the hero of life, liberty and all that jazz.
Unfortunately, It always comes down to whose life, what liberties and who gets the money.
10 Sep 2014
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard has called a Caucus meeting for Thursday, November 6, 2014 at 11:30 a.m. in Montgomery.
According to a Caucus email obtained by the Alabama Political Reporter, the stated purpose of the meeting is to “determine, by a vote of the Caucus, our nominees for leadership positions and operating Rules for the upcoming quadrennium.”
The actual, underlying reason for the meeting is that Hubbard is terrified that he will be defeated as Speaker. In 2010, before winning the House, the Republican caucus decided to institute a “pledge” whereby leadership positions were determined by a vote in the caucus, which could not be changed when it came time for the actual process on the House floor.
When the “pledge” was instituted into the process Hubbard and his fellow House Republicans thought they would gain control of the House, but did not realize that they would have a supermajority. The reason for the “pledge” was to keep Democrats from having any say as to who would be elected Speaker or any other positions. However, by creating a supermajority, the need for the “pledge” was not really necessary.
But now, Hubbard wants to use the “pledge” to ensure that his fellow Republicans can’t vote against him as Speaker.
Hubbard is counting on not being indicted before the elections, with the idea of being elected Speaker before he faces any criminal charges. Hubbard could then hold the “pledge” over his caucus member’s heads as a way to retain his speaker's seat even after indictments were served.
House members who spoke off the record for fear of retaliation are worried that Hubbard’s plan might work. “This is a diabolical scheme, because if he can pull this off we are almost trapped into keeping him as speaker, even while he faces criminal charges.”
Another Legislator says he thinks that the “pledge” would and should be void if Hubbard is in fact charged with committing crimes and using his office for personal gain. “After what the caucus did to Scott [Beason], it would be silly to think we would have to elect Mike, even if he is indicted.”
Many republicans have grown weary of Hubbard’s leadership and the impending threat of indictments and they are forming their own coalition to oust Hubbard from leadership. “If he is indicted he must step-down or be removed, said a long-serving republican House member, we cannot have an indicted Speaker, it is unacceptable.”
See email below:
Re: Important Caucus Meeting
All elected Republican Members of the Alabama House of Representatives will meet on Thursday, November 6, 2014 at 11:30 a.m. in Montgomery.
The purpose of this meeting will be to determine, by a vote of the Caucus, our nominees for leadership positions and operating Rules for the upcoming quadrennium. Since there will be a brand new legislature elected on November 4, it is imperative that we make decisions on our leadership and organization so that there will be no lack of direction as we head into the Legislative Orientation in December as well as the constitutionally-mandated Organizational Session in January.
Please mark this date on your calendar and if you are successful on Election Day, make certain that you attend this meeting.
The location of the meeting will be determined closer to the date.
Lunch will be served.
17 Jul 2012
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Most people who study statistics understand that there are lies, damn lies and statistics.
This is also true when looking at unemployment numbers released by the government.
It is first important to understand the government does not know who is working and who is not. Each month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates the number of unemployed based on a random sampling of the population. The feds conduct surveys of households and employers, which form the basis of the main employment statistics. The definitions of the survey date back to the Great Depression.
According to these parameters people count as employed if they are doing any work for pay. The unemployed are people who are not working but are trying to find a job. People who aren’t working but also are not trying to find work are not considered part of the labor force period.
The official unemployment rate is based on a survey of about 60,000 households, not on unemployment benefits, which are administered by the states.
Using a sampling model is not really a problem, to do it differently would be very expensive and labor intensive.
The problem occurs when a politician pretends that the estimate is an exact measurement. It is not, so, the gage is flawed and therefore misleading.
Next it is important to understand that each month, more people join the working age population than retire or die. As a result of these added individuals, the economy needs to add about 180,000 jobs a month just to keep up with population growth.
Once again when politician pretends that adding more jobs means there are fewer people out of work it is not accurate.
So, when someone says the economy added X amount of jobs, there must be 180,000 subtracted to have an accurate number.
The "labor force" is the number of employed and unemployed people.
The people who are capable of working but are no longer looking are called, non employed, the non employed are not counted in the official numbers released by the government.
Once again when politician claim that a lower unemployment rate means that more people are working, that is not really the case.
The numbers can’t be fully trusted to mean what politicians say they mean or put another way politicians who quote job numbers can't aways be trusted.
08 Sep 2014
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
Friday’s ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court to deny Rep. Barry Moore’s writ of mandamus sent a bold message to the corrupt elite of State politics, “No you don’t have 9 of 9 Justices in your pocket.” In its unanimous decision the court rejected politics and allowed the criminal justice system to move forward, unhindered by partisan politics.
Speaker Mike Hubbard’s attorney, J. Mark White, took to the pages of al.com to once again try and spin his losing argument that W. Van Davis and Matt Hart were not lawfully endowed with the power to act in the investigation of Hubbard and others criminal activities.
Hubbard's white collar criminal defense attorney issued a statement saying, “By denying Rep. Moore's petition without opinion, today's ruling leaves unanswered, the fundamental constitutional questions Rep. Moore raised. Those questions remain for another day.”
White’s statement that the court left questions unanswered is either delusional or disingenuous or both. The court’s ruling could not have been clearer: They rejected Moore’s argument completely.
White’s stratagem (not Rep. Moore’s attorney Bill Baxley) to have the case dismissed on the grounds that Attorney General Luther Strange did not have the authority to appoint Davis, was a flawed effort, that depended on the court ruling according to political persuasion and not in accordance with State statute. But White, like his client Hubbard, thinks the courts are tools that can be bent to the will of the well-connected crook.
The Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Roy Moore, executed justice, while showing judicial restraint in its simple denial of Rep. Moore’s writ. An opinion was not necessary nor warranted.
But from the beginning, White has carried out a plan to spin Hubbard’s innocence. White’s method is to backslap or bully his way around the media and even the courts. This is his standard operating procedure, which fits nicely with his client's own modus operandi. White is not a trial lawyer, he is a fixer.
The days leading up to the court’s ruling were filled with an abundance of rumors. The most gratuitous was that the fix was in because former Gov. Bob Riley had convinced the court to rule in Rep. Moore’s favor and by extension, quash any pending indictments against Hubbard.
One of the more common rumors wafting like so much dung stench from Goat Hill, was that Davis and Hart had made a deal with Riley and Hubbard to drop the investigation, “for the good the the Republican party.”
Most of the rumors had more to do with the fact that Hubbard was hosting a pricey fundraiser last week than any actual truth about the investigation.
The aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling has generated an atmosphere of jubilation and fear.
The most absurd spin coming from Hubbard loyalists is that Hubbard and Moore were betrayed because White and Baxley are Democrats. The other gem is that the court’s ruling was just the latest in a political battle between warring factions of the Republican party. The fact is that the court did their duty, before the law and the people of this State.
Rep. Moore’s trial is set for September 15, but it is believed that his attorneys will file for a continuance, and that it will most likely be granted.
Even naysayers now believe that Hubbard and others will be indicted, something this publication has predicted all along.
A quote attributed to both Bert Masterson and Earl Wilson states, "Somebody recently figured out that we have 35 million laws to enforce the Ten Commandments.”
It appears the Ten are still present in the court led by Chief Justice Roy Moore.
05 Jul 2012
By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—Much has been made of the ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts since last Thursday when he sided with the liberal wing of the court to uphold the key provisions in the Affordable Care Act.
For most conservatives Roberts’ ruling has been seen as a betrayal of principle, a death blow to the republic and everything in between.
Historically, such knee-jerk hyperbole is usually wrong and sighting something as a work of an activist judge generally means that the jurist didn’t rule the way a certain group wanted them too.
But what if in Chief Justice Roberts 59-page opinion there is a means by which future courts will be able to rule more narrowly on laws using the Commence Clause as their basis and what if his “Gun to the Head” opinion can be the opening needed to not only stop the federal government from forcing unconstitutional mandates on states but even allow states to overturn longstanding laws?
What if all the anger against Roberts is misplaced political posturing and not a rational assessment of his opinion at all?
What if the Roberts' ruling is the most brilliant Supreme Court ruling in 80 years--not only limiting the Commerce Clause but also a coups de grâce to unwarranted federal powers?
Soon after the court’s ruling Neal Katyal, the Justice Department lawyer who argued for the Obama administration in the circuit courts, wrote in "The New York Times," saying the Medicaid ruling “contains the seeds for a potential restructuring of federal-state relations.”
“This was the first significant loss for the federal government’s spending power in decades,” wrote Katyal. “The fancy footwork that the court employed to view the act as coercive could come back in later cases to haunt the federal government. Many programs are built on the government’s spending power, and the existence of an extraconstitutional limit on that power is a worrisome development.”
A portion of the Roberts opinion which was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan said that the federal government had gone too far when imposing requirements on states as a condition of accepting federal dollars.
This type of finding by the justices' writing for the majority has not been present since FDR and the “New Deal.”
In his opinion Roberts said the federal government “in this case the financial ‘inducement’ Congress has chosen … is a gun to the head.”
While the opinion dosen't categorizes a clear test for when new federal requirements cross that line it did say that one does exist.
By saying that the government had gone too far with its decades old carrot-and-stick approach to forcing states to enact federally mandated programs or forfeit millions in federal dollars, Roberts may have set up a way that forever changes how much if any pressure Washington, DC, can place on the states.
The right to opt out of the Medicaid expansion could set up a scenario where by states could offer legal challenges to other such programs.
While not certain, would not the Clean Air Act fall into this category? The law mandates that states implement programs that meet national pollution limits or they can lose federal highway dollars. Does this not fall under the Roberts' finding?
What about No Child Left Behind, or the Americans' with Disabilities Act or even Title IX?
Perhaps this is expanding the scope of the court’s opinion too far, but is that not how these things begin, by case precedent?
I am not a lawyer, but I have pretty good reading comprehension skills and I see an opening for states like Alabama to begin to challenge the powers of the feds to impose their will using a carrot and a stick.
So, perhaps my conservative friends should look at Roberts not as a traitor but as the man who took a lemon and gave the states the tools to build a lemonade stand. One that can’t be controlled from Washington.