AEA’s director Hubbert’s fight for the ages
Published 8:39 am Wednesday, December 24, 2008
By By Steve Flowers
It was 1971 and a 35-year-old educator named Paul Hubbert took on the Goliath of Alabama politics, George Wallace, in the heyday of his political power and beat him. It was a remarkable David vs. Goliath victory that propelled Dr. Paul Hubbert to stardom and power in Alabama politics. Hubbert became the King of Goat Hill after that momentous conquest and, after 36 years on the throne, has never relinquished his crown.
Dr. Hubbert had earned his Ph.D. from the University of Alabama at a young age and became a school administrator in Tuscaloosa. Then at age 30 he became superintendent of Troy City Schools. The Alabama Education Association was a toothless, social organization run by school superintendents. In 1969, they were without an executive director so Hubbert was approached to take the position even though thirty others had applied. After turning it down several times Hubbert finally acquiesced to take over the reigns of AEA. It has never been the same.
At age 33, Hubbert became the executive director of AEA and quickly merged with the sister black organization of teachers headed by a 31-year-old Joe Reed. Reed and Hubbert have been a team since 1969. That merger was a bold move in a 1969 Alabama boiling with racial tension. It was a quiet but powerful move.
Even though they had no financial resources at that time they stepped out and for the first time endorsed a gubernatorial candidate. AEA openly endorsed the progressive Albert Brewer over George Wallace in the 1970 Governor’s Race. A contest considered the most volatile, hostile, memorable and pivotal governor’s race in Alabama history. Wallace came from behind to edge Brewer in the runoff in the most racist battle in our political lore.
It was early 1971 and Hubbert had just hired former State Senator Joe Goodwyn to help him politically. Wallace, who believed in repaying his enemies, called Goodwyn and Hubbert out to the Governor’s mansion and subtly asked Hubbert, “Don’t ya’ll have about $300 million over in the Teacher’s Retirement System?” To which Hubbert responded, “Yes Governor, that’s about right.” “Well you know,” Wallace countered, “that carpet bagging, scalawag federal judge Frank Johnson has ordered us to update our mental health facilities and it is going to cost us $35 million. What do you think about us borrowing some of your money to pay for this problem?” Hubbert replied, “I don’t mind loaning the state the money as long as we get paid the same return.” Wallace had dropped a hint and Goodwyn told Hubbert after the meeting, “I don’t think you’ve heard the last of that.”
Sure enough, a month later Wallace called Hubbert to a meeting in the Governor’s office. Hubbert had to fly back from a national educator’s convention in Detroit. He came to the Governor’s office like a gladiator into a Lion’s den. Wallace had the entire House, Ways and Means and Senate Finance and Taxation Committees awaiting Hubbert. Wallace danced up and down the room extolling the need to use the education dollars to support mental health. After the tirade, a bold 35-year-old Hubbert looked him squarely in the eye and told him over my dead body.
Hubbert rallied the state teachers like they had never been rallied before. They got their backs up over their retirement fund being raided and their retirements threatened. Wallace countered with his plan when the Legislature convened in May. Hubbert rallied his troops and there were 400 to 600 teachers a day descending on the Legislature. Wallace dug in deep. He attacked Hubbert, but neither Hubbert nor his throng of educators backed down. Instead, there were now close to 1,000 a day coming to Goat Hill. They were dubbed “Hubbert’s Herd,” an analogy to the famous golfer of the day, “Arnie’s Army.”
The legendary Rep. Pete Mathews, Wallace’s floor leader, said, “I’ve been in the Legislature 18 years and during that time I have dealt with every kind of pressure group, but I have never seen anything like when the teachers found out someone was going to fool around with their retirement funds. When I came home and went to the post office, they were there. They were at church and when I went home I couldn’t find a parking place in my yard. Now that gets your attention.”
When the vote was finally taken the teachers and Dr. Hubbert beat George Wallace in his prime by a vote of 92-9. Wallace called Mathews frantically and said move to reconsider. Mathews retorted to Wallace, “Reconsider? Hell, we done lost 5 of our 9.” That was the day Paul Hubbert earned his spurs. Hubbert, who turns 73 on Christmas Day, shows no signs of slowing down.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His column appears weekly in 72 Alabama newspapers. Steve served 16 years in the State Legislature. He may be contacted at www.steveflowers.us.