It is tasteful and comfortable, yet utilitarian, organized in a way that funnels the visitor into a tight talking spot formed by a firm couch and two chairs set around a small coffee table. It is a place that is welcoming, yet at the same time suggests you don’t get too comfortable.
If nothing else, it is meant to convey the message that the first Republican Speaker of the House since Reconstruction is all business, because he has a lot of business to conduct, his and the state’s.
Here is a busy person with many challenges.
Hubbard, 47, runs a multi-million-dollar company in Auburn, organizes and keeps together the state Republican Party and corrals his fellow representatives in the House while trying to maintain a normal life with his wife, Susan, and two children, Clayte, 14, and Riley, 9.
Perhaps nothing, however, is going to try him as much as a looming budget crisis that could threaten the very foundation of Alabama government.
"This is a very bad situation," he said, recently, from his corner office on the fifth floor of the Statehouse.
But, he added, "the budget situation is not surprising. We knew this was coming. So at least we aren’t being caught off guard."
It is, by anyone’s account, a dreadful fiscal picture.
Speaker Hubbard has chosen, however, to try to find something positive in this dismal situation. Now is the time, he says, to make government smaller and more efficient.
"This is a major concern," he said, "but it is also a good opportunity. This crisis gives us an opportunity to examine every dollar the state spends. Now, I can promise you there are wasteful programs. We need to find them and reduce those wasteful programs and reduce the workforce."
He did not offer any specific programs for elimination nor jobs to be cut.
What the budget crisis has done, he said, is create a climate that enables these kinds of changes to be made. In good times, the elimination of programs would be all but impossible. In the current environment, a streamlining of the entire state bureaucracy can be accomplished, he insists.
There are echoes of Ronald Reagan here, in his speech and all around him. A Reagan bust sits atop his desk, the former president’s autobiography is on the bookshelf behind him.
For Hubbard, the budget challenges ahead are about shrinking state government and making what is left of it more like private business.
Business as government naturally is where Hubbard drifts to, because he knows how to run one, and he’s good at it.
The mantra, “the private sector does not tolerate waste, therefore, why should the state?” is not vacuous to him. Efficiency and maximizing profits are what he thinks about when he runs his multi-million-dollar Auburn-based media companies.
Some say he pushes that too far. Late last year, for example, it was reported that Hubbard-owned media companies had gotten tens of thousands of dollars in business from Republican candidates when Hubbard was chairman of the Republican Party.
The Alabama School Journal, a publication of the Alabama Education Association, crunched the numbers and found that since 2002 some $1.5 million in campaign contributions had gone into Hubbard-owned media businesses, including Craftmaster, his Auburn-based company. The paper also found that more than $175,000 had come to his businesses since he took over as party chair.
Hubbard said there was no wrongdoing. His hometown newspaper, the Opelika-Auburn News chased him on the issue, but he ended up scolding the reporter, asking, “Out of about 80 candidates, you have only two using Craftmaster. Is this really a story?”
One might think he has an antagonistic relationship with the O-A News, but he says it is wonderful indeed, “never been better.”
From the time he was a boy, he says, growing up in Hartwell, Ga., on the South Carolina line, Hubbard wanted to be involved in business, specifically the media. His mother, the head of the county health department, badgered the local radio station owner until he relented and let young Mike hang around the place.
Eventually, that led to some time as a DJ, which led to his own program, which led to a scholarship to the University of Georgia, which led to a career in media and media relations.
Within a few days of graduating from Georgia, Hubbard was involved in expanding Auburn University’s media effort.
He did it by making a number of changes that eventually resulted in bringing all of the school’s various sports media programs under one roof and vastly improving revenues.
He stayed with the athletic department for several years and continued to expand the media program. He even managed to get some campaign experience. Earlier at Georgia, he had managed Herschel Walker’s successful Heisman campaign. When he came to Auburn, he headed up Bo Jackson’s.
In 1994, Hubbard left the school to form his own media company. In 2003, he sold it for $4 million.
That would have been it for Mike Hubbard, successful businessman, church-goer, family man, if not for a meeting with a politician running for Congress named Bob Riley.
"A friend of mine put us together," said Hubbard. "I don’t know; there was just something about [Riley]. I came away thinking I needed to get involved. I didn’t know what it was I wanted to do, the city council, the water board. I just knew I wanted to do something."
Hubbard circles back to Riley frequently, citing examples of when he influenced his life. He clearly thinks a lot of the man. His 9-year-old son is named after the former governor.
Riley’s congressional campaign received help from Hubbard, who attended the swearing-in and kept thinking about his next move.
In 1998, Riley spoke to Hubbard again, this time about running for an open state representative seat in Auburn. He took up the challenge, despite reservations from his wife, Susan, and beat out former Auburn Mayor Jan Dempsey by 15 points. He was 36 years old.
Since then, it has been a slow, but steady climb. He was a steadfast Riley ally from the beginning, encouraging him to run for governor against Don Siegelman. He served as the minority leader and worked for several years organizing the state Republican Party.
It was Hubbard, again at Riley’s urging, who started an effort called Campaign 2010, a strategy laid out in 2007 that aimed to put the Republicans in control of at least the Alabama House.
"Well, there is no doubt there was a Republican wave in 2010," Hubbard said. "But we also started this in 2007, and I think it put us in a much better position to go from a super-minority to a super-majority."
Today, Hubbard sits atop power in the state House at a very precarious moment in Alabama history.
Now the question becomes, how will he wield that power in this time of peril.
K. L. Brown, a Republican legislator from Jacksonville, reached in Austin, Texas, while on business late last week, said he has “the utmost confidence in Mike. He is willing to work across the aisle to get things done. He’s also a no-nonsense person and when we convene meetings he’s strictly business. I very much look forward to working with him over the next four years.”
On the issue of the budget, Brown said, “I can’t think of anyone I would rather have leading the effort to tackle the budget than Mike Hubbard. It’s going to be a very difficult process but I know that Mike will be fair and equitable.”
Even some Democrats agree Hubbard is well-suited to the task ahead.
“All of us, Democrats and Republicans, see a lot of things that have crept into the budget process in the last 20 years,” said Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke. “A lot of these things shouldn’t be in there.”
Not everyone agrees on what items should be cut, Laird noted.
“This is the challenge we have ahead of us,” he said. “And I am confident that Mike will lead us through that challenge.”
Hubbard has a devotion to small government, but he also has a desire not to drive the state into the ditch with reckless fiscal austerity.
There will be bloodletting, but not everything will bleed if he has his way. There are essential programs that have shown results that need to be safeguarded. Again, he is short on specifics.
He did, however, single out the Alabama Reading Initiative as an example of a program that is making a difference and spoke of expanding it as soon as the state is able.
Generally, though, there is a lot of gray. So he has constructed — at least in his head — a starting point for a conversation about budget cuts.
"The way I see it, we have to separate programs into three categories," he said. "They are either: necessary; nice but not necessary; not necessary."
Beyond offering up the Reading Initiative as solidly "necessary," he is not specific, but he is clear that it will be painful.
And for Hubbard’s approach to that reality, he takes issue with the suggestion that the opportunity for change he sees ahead is somehow ideologically driven.
What he proposes is simply, he insists, an attempt to be a better steward of the taxpayers’ money. And he will do it in the spirit of cooperation with the other side. Though he laces his speech with the phrase "Democrat Party," he says he wants to treat the new minority better than his party was treated when it was in the minority.
As for the future, he insists it is here and now, as he stays on top of the House and makes sure it is as efficiently run as it was under former Speaker Seth Hammett, a man he professes admiration for.
He doesn’t want to talk about Congress or Washington, but he does say he just might be interested in running for governor one of these days. For now, however, he is looking at the budget and other top issues such as ethics reform.
Settling into his desk, behind the bust of Reagan, he says he is preparing for a potential fight over ethics reform.
On safeguarding recent advances made in that area, he says, "we’ll hold the line on ethics reform. The only changes we’ll consider are the ones proposed by the attorney general or the ethics commission. We will not hear from anyone else, including the lobbyists."
Clearly there is a new man of the Alabama House.