The Alabama Speaker of the House, Mike Hubbard (R) – Auburn, has been convicted of 12 counts of using his office for personal gain. Hubbard was convicted on various charges including voting on legislation that benefited his lobbying client, soliciting investments for his private business, lobbying for clients using his office for influence and related charges. Hubbard was considered by many in Alabama to be the most powerful political figure in the state, except for maybe Governor Bentley’s mistress. His conviction results in an immediate removal from office.
Former Speaker Hubbard went way beyond the gray area. He entered into multiple lobbying contracts with large entities in the state that had a direct interest in legislation and oversight from the state government. Hubbard actively lobbied for those clients, using his office as a means of power and influence. Hubbard solicited investments in his private business by using his authority and influence as Speaker. No one believes that Hubbard would have made $10,000 per month from multiple clients for “consulting” if he wasn’t the Speaker of the House.
I am surprised that Hubbard was convicted. It is very difficult to get a conviction of a sitting politician, especially when tried in the district where the politician is very popular. Hopefully, Hubbard will be sent straight to jail and not allowed to sit in his La-Z-Boy during appeal like our former Governor Don Siegelman.
The conduct of most of the Republicans in the House has been shameful. They refused to elect another Speaker knowing the trial of Hubbard was scheduled and knowing a lot of the details of the case. Instead of putting Alabama first and electing a Speaker that could focus on the legislature’s business instead of a personal corruption trial, the Republicans chose party loyalty and their own self interest. Very few legislators were willing to risk being ostracized by Hubbard if he had been found not guilty. It’s not surprising that we see national Republicans doing the same thing with Donald Trump. It has become party loyalty above all else.
What should we do to remove as much corruption as possible from our elected officials? I have a few ideas:
1. Convicting the guilty is a great first step. The more guilty politicians we send to jail, the better off we will be.
2. Increase legislative salaries to provide a nice, comfortable living. This will expand the opportunity for public service to middle class people with regular jobs. More potential candidates will lead to better politicians in the long run. An honest politician needs to be able to afford to support their family, cover lots of travel and local charity expenses and maintain two places of residence. When looking at the amount of money the state spends, a nice salary for the legislature is a drop in the bucket. If it can cut down on even a few crony deals or bad bills, then it would benefit the state financially.
3. Accountability. We need to know what businesses and investments our politicians and their family and friends are involved in. We need to know where there may be a conflict of interest. Any questionable behavior should be exposed by the media and the politician given a chance to explain the action to the people. I would much rather shine a light, than simply ban all business activities among legislators.
4. Decrease the size of government. The smaller the government is and the less it does, the lower the options for graft and corruption are. When government operates at a bare bones level, there simply isn’t as much fat to hide and shuffle favors around in.
5. Elect candidates with only the highest ethics. We can never be sure about any politician’s real character, especially first time politicians. However, the local shady used car salesman is probably not a good choice. He has already demonstrated that he will do anything and screw over anyone to make a buck. Why would public office make him any more honest? It won’t. He will only get worse. Electing men and women of high character going in is one of the best insulators you can get.