Alabama Relives the Gingrich Revolution

As a couple, Alabama and the Democratic Party were more Nelson and Mary Clark Rockefeller than Mike Tyson and Robin Givens, if you know what I mean. If you don’t, look it up.

When the Republican Party finally seized control of the Alabama House after the 2010 midterm elections, it ended 136 years of unbroken Democratic rule. Given the Democratic Party of Alabama’s legacy of racism and brutality, one might have been forgiven for thinking this changing of the guard was a good and well-merited thing. Alas, one would have been wrong. The Alabama Democrats were on the mend, while their successors are revanchist reactionaries with they moral compass of a viper.

It would not take to long for this to become clear.

Powerful Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard has been arrested on felony ethics charges, accused of using public office for personal gain. Hubbard was indicted by a grand jury on 23 charges accusing him of misusing his office as speaker and his previous post as chairman of the Alabama Republican Party.

Acting Attorney General Van Davis announced the indictment Monday.

Speaker Hubbard was the Newt Gingrich of the Alabama Revolution. He was the self-proclaimed leader of the Republican takeover. And, exactly like Gingrich, he took whatever preexisting public corruption that existed and he turned it up to eleven.

Mike Hubbard is the one under indictment. He’s the one who now faces 23 Class B felonies, any one of which could send him to the slammer for two to 20 years. He is the one who faces losing the title of Alabama’s most powerful politician, of losing the job as Speaker of the House. He is the one – and this is no small thing — who faces disgracing the party he put in position to dominate this state.

That’s huge. That’s overwhelming and that – well that was sort of expected after all these months. But it turns out that’s not even the most interesting part of the story that broke over Alabama today. Because Mike Hubbard is not the most famous or noteworthy person tied up in this probe. He’s not the richest or perhaps even the most powerful.

When the Speaker is a graftmaster, there’s a line of graftees at his door.

And the people wrapped up in Hubbard’s alleged crimes in some ways are bigger than Hubbard himself. They are not just movers and shakers. They are flat-out Alabama royalty. Former Gov. Bob Riley – the one Alabama loved because he didn’t embarrass us — and his daughter Minda were solicited, according to the indictment.

So was Yella Fella himself. Auburn University trustee Jimmy Rane was asked to pay $150,000 to invest in Hubbard’s company, Craftmaster. So was former Sterne Agee CEO Jim Holbrook, political operative Dax Swatek, and honored Birmingham businessman Rob Burton, CEO of giant Hoar Construction.

The Business Council of Alabama, one of the biggest players in Alabama politics in the last decade, is tied to the charges against Hubbard, along with its president Billy Canary and its former board chair Will Brooke – who ran for Congress this year.

These are the people who got things done in Alabama. No, that’s not it. These are the people who get things done in Alabama.

The Republicans had claimed, with some justification, that the Democratic Party ran the state like mafiosi and that they would clean things up.

Many of them are the very ones who screamed the loudest – and so very rightly – that the Democrats had run this state like the Corleone Family, that Alabama needed to sweep them away and replace them with something honest and sincere. These are the people who made ethics their calling card and their legacy.

This is exactly like the Gingrich Revolution, which was fueled by the relatively petty institutionalized corruption that had built up over fifty years of uninterrupted Democratic rule of the House of Representatives and quickly replaced it with corruption several orders of magnitude more serious and damaging to the Republic.

And if these indictments are true – if it is shown that the architect of Alabama ethics reform didn’t just ask for money and favors but received both from people Alabama trusted, this won’t simply be an indictment of Mike Hubbard.

Oh, Hubbard is the one indicted in a legal sense.

But in a more general sense this is an indictment of all those who burned through trust in the time it took them to gain absolute power.

It is an indictment of business as usual. It is an indictment of partisanship as a way of life, of the seize-power-at-any cost culture that swept in on promises to rid the state of corruption and preyed on good will.

This isn’t just an indictment of the speaker of Alabama’s House of Representatives.

This is an indictment of Alabama.

It’s really just a case lesson on the false promises of the Conservative Movement. They don’t deliver better government. They take the low-level corruption that greases the skids of progress and transform it into an unambiguously criminal enterprise that frustrates the very functioning of government.

And then they point to their own ineptitude at governing to prove the case that government is inefficient and rotten to the core.

And then the pattern repeats itself.

Maybe it’s time that Alabama and the Democratic Party get some couple’s therapy. They need to get back together.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.