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When The Shoe Is On The Other Foot: Opinion

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

Just four short years ago, as Chairman of the State Republican Party, Mike Hubbard penned an opinion piece for his hometown paper, lauding Federal prosecutors for the arrest of four-sitting lawmakers.

Writing in October, 2010, Hubbard said, “The arrests and convictions of numerous public officials is happening much too frequently in our State. If the trend continues, Louisiana, with its long history and reputation for political graft and corruption, may soon look to us and say, “Thank goodness for Alabama!”

Hubbard not only praised the work of the prosecution, he damned the Democrats for suggesting that the timing of the indictments were proof of them being politically motivated. If all of this seems familiar, it's because Hubbard’s criminal defense attorney, J. Mark White, along with a host of GOP House members, have been preaching the same sermon about Hubbard’s indictments.

In 2010, Democrats claimed that Riley and his men were behind the arrests, according to Hubbard, “To think for even a moment that the current liberal-dominated Justice Department would coordinate with Riley to help Republicans and harm Democrats borders on paranoia.”

Of course, when the State’s Attorney General’s Office dominated by Republicans indicted Hubbard, his tune changed dramatically. I don’t believe that it’s paranoia on Hubbard’s part, just delusion; the only defense he has left.

After Hubbard’s arrest, elected Republicans and Democrats remained silent for the most part. It seems that many more fear Hubbard, more than love the truth. As for the rest, they have been allowed to eat scraps from Hubbard’s table, so why bite the hand that feeds them.

Chinks in the armor are beginning to show as Hubbard tried to strong arm House members to vote yes on a $200 million dollar tax package, that would give the Poarch Creek Indians a monopoly over Los Vegas-style gambling in the State.

Now, perhaps ironically, it was gaming that launched the investigation that lead to the lawmaker’s arrest in 2010. Then, gambling was bad, mostly because all the money went to Democrats; but that was because they had all the power. Today, Hubbard is fine with gaming, as long as the money goes to Republicans. Starting in 2010, the Tribe has spent a lot of money to help members of Hubbard’s party. No doubt money would keep following in that direction should Hubbard deliver PCI a monopoly. 

Hubbard seems to have had a real change of heart, something that was deftly pointed out in a recent column by John Archibald:

“'I don't want to do anything that would further legitimize gambling in Alabama,' Hubbard said in 2004, in opposition of a bingo bill. I think it's poor public policy for the State to depend on revenue derived through gambling,” the columnist recalled. 

There has been a great deal of speculation as to when Hubbard experienced this epiphany as it relates to the financial profit to be gained from gambling. Some would mark the date when Hubbard first began receiving campaign contributions from PCI, which were funneled through the RSLC.

Others on the fifth floor think this most recent conversion on the road to Damascus happened after a private meeting with PCI Tribal Chief Stephanie Bryan and Vice Chair Robbie McGhee. It is believed that their meeting was arranged with the assistance of Rep. Ed Henry.

It is thought that Henry developed a cozy relationship with PCI lobbyists Allison and Phillip Kinney after an early session dinner party at Montgomery’s pricey Central restaurant and bar. McGhee picked up the tab at this costly gathering of freshman legislators, who attended at Henry’s request. This once, earnest lawmaker has become quite the bon vivant, since gaining the trust of his boss Hubbard.

Around the same time as Hubbard’s private meeting, with the two tribal council member’s another meeting was held for the bi-partisan House Rural Caucus, who hosted PCI lobbyists, and McGhee. The night at Garrett’s, a swanky, restaurant off the Atlanta highway caused several lawmakers who were in attendance to expressed concern and even outrage at how McGhee address those gathered. The effort to secure PCI an exclusive gaming compact has been mostly lead by Barton-Kinney LLC,  according to those with inside knowledge. 

This event, along with the meeting in Hubbard’s office around April 22, has caused a stir at the State House, as rumors insist that the Tribe has agreed to pay Hubbard's mounting legal fees in return for an exclusive compact to control gaming in the State. These are only rumors passed around in Montgomery without evidence.

Hubbard’s plan as reported by several in the State House is to grant PCI Class III (Los Vegas style) gambling, plus land in Northeast Alabama for Class II gaming and a lottery. Hubbard is said to be determine to stop anyone else from opening a casino in the State.

Like the bingo trial that Hubbard was so quickly to condemn, there are many angles here, and more than enough intrigue.

The lawmakers, who Hubbard disparaged, were all found not guilty. However, many lost a great deal of personal wealth even though they had defense funds arranged by friends. Hubbard has a “defense fund” as well, which contributors can give to without fear of public disclosure.

Perhaps this time, if the Tribe were to offer Hubbard relief, they would be more careful on how the transactions are handled, as it has been made public, they funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to him in 2010, without the public becoming aware until much later.

In the bingo case, lawmakers were accused of taking a bribe to vote yes on gambling legislation, and the Feds tracked the money into candidates campaign accounts. In 2014, the favored method of hiding the origins of contributions was the use of non-profits. These have replaced the PAC-to-PAC transfers of the past.

Hubbard denounced the old PAC-to-PAC scheme. He said he wanted to clean up State government. He also championed and voted for the State’s tough ethics laws, but later asked former Gov. Bob Riley, “What were we thinking?”

Hubbard condemned Democrats for being indicted, chastised them for saying it was political, but now that the shoe is on the other foot, things are different. 

Ending his opinion column in the OA.News, Hubbard wrote,

“Democrats have controlled the Alabama Legislature for the past 136 years, and it is obvious they created an atmosphere that breeds corruption, invites abuse and gently punishes those who are caught."

"Thankfully, on Nov. 2, Alabamians will have the opportunity to go in another direction — one that brings a Republican legislative majority and true conservative change to Montgomery.” 

The voters did make a choice to elect Hubbard and his gang.

But, things haven’t just changed, they have gotten much worse.

 

Hubbard Tax Career Killer (Opinion)

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

The Special Order Calendar set to be heard in the House today, could endanger the political careers of every Republican member of the State House of Representatives.

Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard, has forced through a package of tax increases that will test the mettle of House Republicans, and determine once and for all, whether they are loyal to their ideals, their constituents or Hubbard.

House Republicans will face a choice between standing up to Hubbard or risk being labeled a tax and spend RINO in the next election. 

Hubbard, who stands accused by the State of 23 felony counts of public corruption, has devised a plan whereby he would raise between $100-$200 million in taxes and gain a potential $250 million from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians (PCI). The combined revenue would be near the $541 million Gov. Robert Bentley has asked the legislature to pass.

Sources within Bentley’s inner circle say that Hubbard has lobbied the Governor to accept his deal on taxes, in exchange for granting the PCI an exclusive gaming compact. 

Why Hubbard is risking political Armageddon just to pass a tax hike is not easily understood. And no one except Hubbard, and perhaps a lobbyist or a Tribal council member, knows exactly why he is pushing for a Indian-only monopoly.

A recent poll by the Alabama Political Reporter shows that granting the Tribe an exclusive compact for gaming only garnered 13 percent favorability. In a red state like ours, only someone like Heinrich Luitpold Himmler would receive a lower number. 

The House is controlled by a Republican supermajority, which, for the most part, has been loath to raise taxes. They surely never mentioned it to the voters during their campaigns. The Republicans won in 2010 and again in 2014 by running against higher taxes and government waste. Now, Hubbard is asking them to put their careers in peril, because he says so, and he has not even tried to offer a compelling argument as to why.

Hubbard has ruled the House with an iron fist; punishing those who didn’t carry out his will. His hold over members is so complete, that even after he was arrested on felony charges, only one, lone Representative refused to reelect him Speaker. Rep. Alvin Holmes, a Democrat, has shown the backbone of a man to resist Hubbard.

But House Republican’s no longer have a good reason to fear Hubbard’s ambient violence, at least in contrast to the wrath of the GOP voters. 

If the tax hikes on the Special Order Calendar pass, many so-called conservative Republicans will be facing a challenge from the right in the next election. 

Hubbard is scheduled to go to trial in his felony case in October. If he is convicted, these Republican House members will have another vote to defend.

Hubbard thinks he is all powerful, but all I see is a scared, little man hanging on by a very thin tread. He appears desperate, and even unbalanced, because he has lost control. And for a man like Hubbard, control is everything. Without it, he is lost.  His strength is an illusion. If Republicans bend to his will, then they deserve to be beaten in the next election. 

The "real" tax facing the House is the cost of supporting Hubbard, one that may very well cause some of the members to lose their careers and perhaps....their souls.

Hubbard Plan Will Raise Taxes, Give Poarch Creek Tribe Monopoly (Opinion)

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter 

MONTGOMERY—In a stunning move of political one-upsmanship, Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard announced that the House Republican Caucus has agreed to an alternative plan, just minutes after Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh released his omnibus gaming bill.

Hubbard’s plan to raise taxes and raid the Education Trust Fund, while granting a virtual monopoly to the Poarch Creek Indians (PCI), has left many House legislators thunderstruck and fearful for their political futures.

Over the last few months, Hubbard and House Republicans have been lukewarm and in many cases openly hostile toward Gov. Bentley’s plan to increase the General Fund through a series of targeted tax increases. 

Many House members pledged to not raise taxes as part of their campaign promises. Now, they are seemingly willing to break that vow to their constituents.

Up until recently, Hubbard has indicated that he would not support raising taxes. He has also given the indication of being on-board with Marsh’s plan to allow the people to vote on a lottery, expand gaming where pari-mutual gaming is already legal and authorize the Governor to enter into a compact with PCI.

The big question inside the halls of the State House is, why the sudden change of heart by Hubbard and Republican House members?

It has been well documented that members of the Tribe and their lobbyists have been working closely with Hubbard to secure a monopoly over gaming in the State. Many rumors have been circulating, including one that Hubbard could personally gain by securing a compact for the PCI. 

Hubbard stands accused by the State of felony charges for trying to pass legislation to benefit one of his clients.

Hubbard has been indicted on felony charges related to trying to pass legislation that would have given APCI an exclusive contract to manage the State Medicaid Pharmacy Benefit Management plan.

On Monday, Inside Alabama Politics reported, “It’s widely rumored on Goat Hill that Hubbard has already negotiated a secret deal with PCI which would allow the tribe to continue its gambling monopoly in Alabama. That should come as no surprise, since Hubbard has long-standing financial ties to PCI. Another rumor circulating this week was the PCI have offered to pay Hubbard’s legal defense bill, for assurances Marsh’s bill doesn’t pass the House.”

While part of this speculation has now come into fruition, the rumor about offering to pay Hubbard’s legal defense bill, is only a rumor.

Those close to Gov. Bentley have said, that on several occasions, Hubbard tried to convince him to support a exclusive compact with PCI. 

It has also been said, by those inside the governor’s inner circle who spoke on background, that Hubbard arranged for PCI and/or their attorneys to meet with Bentley's legal advisors. Sources inside the Governor’s circle say these meetings have already taken place. This publication has been told by reliable sources that Hubbard offered to implement a tax package, if Bentley would back the monopoly compact.

Hubbard has felony charges against him for lobbying the Governor on behalf of some of his clients.

Speaking off-the-record for fear of retaliation, member’s of the House Republican Caucus say, that many of their colleagues voted for Hubbard’s plan out of fear. Others reportedly are just blindly following along.

This split between Hubbard and Marsh is unprecedented. But, the greater worry is what this division will mean for Alabama's economic future.

Conservative Opposition to Gaming and Tax Plans (Opinion)

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

GOP candidate after GOP candidate running for office in 2014 said that they were for limited government, rightsizing government, and no new taxes, yet here we are a few months later and now GOP leaders are telling us that we need new revenues.  Nobody much talked about the revenue issue during last year’s election that has dominated this year’s legislative session.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley (R) is pushing a plan that would take an additional $541 million a year in from the private sector. Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard (R from Auburn) is proposing over $100 million in new taxes and giving the Poarch Creek Indians a statewide gaming monopoly in exchange for a $250 million one-time windfall payment to balance the general fund.  Even Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R from Anniston) has gotten on the new revenue bus proposing: a state lottery, opening up casinos at Victoryland, Greenetrack, the Birmingham Race Course, and the Mobile Dog Track to Class III gaming as well as the Governor  signing a compact with the Poarch Creek Indians.

On Wednesday, May 6 the Alabama Political Reporter asked former State Senator Scott Beason (R-Gardendale) when did Alabama Republicans started running for office promising higher taxes and expanding gambling in the State?  Sen. Beason said that he has been in Alabama politics for a long time and he has never seen anything like it.  Beason said he could not recall any GOP candidates ever having success by promoting higher taxes and gambling expansion.

Former Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said in a statement on Facebook, “If I told you 6 months ago that Alabama’s Republican Governor, Speaker of the House and President Pro Tem of the Senate would each have a separate plan to increase government spending by proposing tax increases, a lottery and casino gambling, most people would say I had lost my mind. But, that is what is happening. If you are opposed to these Democrat ideas you should contact your legislator and tell them to oppose these liberal ideas.”

Time is running out on this legislative session.  Under the arcane rules of the legislature, if the Governor’s tax proposals are not considered by this week in Committee they are dead for the Session and they are not on any committee schedule we have seen to this point. That will effectively eliminate Governor Bentley’s fantasy revenue plan without it visiting the floor of either House. Gov. Bentley failed to sit down with legislative leaders before this session and craft any sort of plan together. Instead legislators were forced to read about the Governor’s legislation in the press like everybody else. Threatening the legislators if they did not bow down to his demands has not won over many hearts and minds in Montgomery and it appears that the death of his unpopular tax plan is a result of this failure to communicate. Undaunted the Governor is threatening to bring everyone back for multiple special sessions if he does not get his money.

That leaves the Marsh gambling expansion plan and the Hubbard plan to give the Poarch band of Creek Indians a monopoly and raise a number of taxes for a total of over a $100 million. Speaker Mike Hubbard’s plan is on very shaky legal footing and if passed is almost certainly going to be challenged in the courts on state constitutional grounds. The only reason that plan is making any traction is that it has the backing of the powerful Speaker of the House: Rep. Mike Hubbard (R-Auburn).  Speaker Hubbard through sheer force of will has moved his package of tax increases through Committee and they will be considered on the House floor next week.  Speaker Hubbard has accepted a Poarch Creek offer of $250 million for a gaming monopoly that would bring Class III gaming to the Indians’ casinos in Wetumpka, Montgomery, and Atmore.  The Indians have reportedly also suggested that they might be willing to add a casino somewhere North Alabama casino to help with economic development there.

The tax increases are very unpopular with legislators and faces stiff opposition in the Senate. Many legislators speaking off the record have expressed reservations about giving anyone a gaming monopoly.  The popular Speaker’s influence may be waning due to his approaching criminal trial on 23 counts of felony ethics violations. If convicted, a new Speaker will have to deal with this budget mess before 2017 rolls around. 

Voice of Alabama Politics Pundit and talk radio host Baron Coleman wrote recently, “It’s unclear what Republicans in the lower chamber are thinking by going along with Speaker Hubbard’s plan. Many legal experts believe Hubbard will be watching the 2018 elections from the comfort of a 10x6 cell in one of our state’s overcrowded and underfunded resorts for the criminally-inclined. He has nothing to lose.”

Hubbard will likely have to gain the support of House Democrats for cloture votes on his bills next week during what are expected to be marathon House sessions.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has borrowed his plan from ideas originally put forward by the House Democratic Caucus.  The Marsh/Democrats plan would fund the general fund with a state lottery, class III gaming at the three Indian casinos, as well as at the four dog tracks in Birmingham, Greene County, Mobile, and Shorter.  The Marsh plan would require a referendum of the voters because it is a Constitutional Amendment.  The Marsh plan does not include new taxes or a $250 million one time payment so the estimated $261 million hole in next year’s budget will likely not be fully addressed though some legislators have suggested borrowing money to carry the state over until the gambling revenues come in, though Marsh himself has suggested that the state tighten its belt to get through the gap.

On Tuesday, May 5 the Alabama Political Reporter asked Marsh why if we are going to open Alabama up to gambling, why we don’t we go to Las Vegas and sit down with all the players in that business and invite them to all bring their proposals to Alabama.  You say that Mike Hubbard’s plan would create a monopoly; but your plan creates a cartel of Milton McGregor, Greentrack, the Poarch Creek Indians, and the ownership of the Mobile Dog Track, why not let the gaming commission decide who gets these licenses?

Sen. Marsh replied I have no problem with that.  If somebody wants to bring that amendment on the floor I am willing to change it.  Marsh said that his plan gives 20 year deals for those already in the state but if the gaming commission wants to bid it out in ten years he is open to that.  “I want the best possible bill.”  I am open to any ideas.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked Sen. Beason which of the two plans he preferred.  He said when your choices are between a bad plan and a worse plan you choose option C: none of the above.  Beason said that the state is doing their budgeting all wrong.  They are asking the department heads how much money do you need to keep doing what they are doing and then coming up with an amount or revenue needed to achieve that number.

Sen. Beason said that the state should instead come up with the expected revenue available and then prepare a budget in order of priorities.  Beason said that some in Montgomery are using the Obama playbook and are identifying the programs that people actually like and are threatening those programs in order to try to get people in line behind the tax increases.

State Representative Will Ainsworth (R-Guntersville) said in a statement on Facebook, “Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2015 were over 28 Billion in Alabama. I will not support Taxes or Gambling until we fix what's wrong in Government. The narrative in Montgomery that we need more revenue is wrong and I plan on fighting any revenue increase. Revenue proposals are the easy way out.”  Ainsworth said that the state should follow the example of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) who, “Turned a $3.6 billion deficit in Wisconsin to a surplus without raising taxes.”

The Alabama Policy Institute’s Katherine G. Robinson and Caleb Crosby wrote recently, “The General Fund woes present a very real challenge for our leaders, but the public is being fed a number of false choices as to how this problem must be solved. We should not be forced to choose which revenue generator is the least offensive. There are still plenty of good ideas and even bills on the table that would help the state do what the private sector does--scale back spending in a down year. The appeal of easy money through gambling is that those tough decisions can be sidestepped, but not without repercussions.”

Alabama’s Republican National Committeewoman Vicki Ann Drummond said recently, “I am not for gambling and I am not for taxes and if I were down there (Montgomery) I would vote against both.  I do believe there are a lot of places where we can cut back.”

Former Chairman Armistead wrote recently, “Government sponsored gambling is dishonest, financially damaging to citizens and is a major contributor to the unfairness and inequality in American life. It’s a policy experiment that has failed.  It has failed because it is proven itself to be blatantly dishonest and it has failed to generate genuine economic growth.  Predatory gambling is a something-for-nothing scheme that veils the most cut-throat business in the country.”

A recent Alabama Political Reporter polls shows that Alabama voters oppose tax increases 52.6 percent to 33.7 percent disapprove.  Only 12.0 percent strongly approve of raising taxes, while 40.7 percent strongly disapprove of raising taxes.  Republican primary voters are even less supporting of tax increases.

Las Vegas-style gambling is however supported by 55.5 percent while only 31.0 percent disapprove of Las Vegas-style gambling.

World Press Freedom Day: Little to Celebrate in the Heart of Dixie (Opinion)

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter 

Sunday was World Press Freedom Day, a time to “celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on [its] independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.” Originated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Unfortunately, the press has nothing to cheer about in Alabama. 

Not only has the State Senate tried to limit access to the State House (Which 19 Republicans stopped), but Speaker Mike Hubbard has worked diligently to undermine the press, threaten advertisers, ruin reporters reputations and destroy their livelihood, all the while coordinating a cabal of radio and online media to simultaneous plant lies and innuendo about other media and his opponents. He has viciously attacked this publication directly and through surrogates. He has threatened our advertisers in an effort to stop honest reporting on his dishonest activities. From lobbyists to university board members, we have reports of how Hubbard has worked to undermine this publication.

Richard Nixon used the same tactic, and his legacy lives on with Hubbard and other members of the Alabama Republican Party.

One has to wonder if Gov. Robert Bentley or Attorney General Luther Strange think it is right, ethical or even moral for Hubbard to try and destroy us by using the power of his elected office? Is the government of Alabama so reprobate that it will continue to give Hubbard silent permission to devour all who stand in his path?

The United States holds itself out as a bastion of freedom and it has been especially proud of it First Amendment Rights. However, Reporters without Boarders has ranked the US forty-ninth in freedom of the press. El Salvador ranks higher than us, even Nigeria and Chile have greater freedom of the press. 

I would dare say that of the fifty states, Alabama would rank near the bottom, if not dead last.

In the book, "Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture," by Mark Feldstein describes how Nixon tried to destroy syndicated columnist Jack Anderson.

"He plant[ed] letters and editorials criticizing Anderson," Feldstein says, and even ordered CIA surveillance of Anderson and his family — and White House operatives seriously considered assassinating the journalist, according to Feldstein research.  he also has stated, "So from that beginning, you have Nixon now retaliating against Anderson, and you have this sense that these dirty tricks are the way Washington works.”

It now appears that this is how Montgomery works because no one dares stand up and call Hubbard out except us and a very small group of individuals.

So, on the day after World Press Freedom Day, we, here in Alabama have little to celebrate because our press is under siege.  Hubbard, wants to cut off advertising, access to the State House and all the things that are an integral part of covering the news.

However, he will not be victorious, because just like Nixon, his own paranoia and vengeful nature will bring him down. Meanwhile, we will continue to report the news, despite the threats, malicious attacks and lack of support.

We will speak daggers to power, even under the threat of real daggers because that what the press is suppose to do.

 

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