Things took a turn for the worst in the aftermath of Wednesday’s House Economic Development and Tourism Committee meeting as a lobbyist for the Alabama Farm Wineries let her emotions get the best of her.
Claire Austin, a long-time Montgomery lobbyist and President of The Austin Group, was lobbying the committee to pass a bill that would allow the wineries to sell directly to retailers. This bill would create an exception for the wineries that would place them outside of Alabama’s current 3-tiered system in which they have to work through a distributor to get their products on shelves.
Discussions regarding the bill were fairly contentious. Debate ended with a 7-6 vote against the bill, thereby placing Austin and her client on the losing end with Rep. Joe Hubbard (D – Montgomery) casting the deciding vote.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Rep. Hubbard approached a representative from the Alabama Farm Wineries and began explaining his position. However, Ms. Austin cut him off and exclaimed “Joe, you are nothing but a [expletive] whore for the wholesale distributors.” Obviously taken aback by the outburst, Rep. Hubbard attempted to continue explaining his position but Austin interjected again by telling her client, “Don’t worry about him [Hubbard], he’s not going to be here in two years anyway. I’ll see to that.”
As a result of the run-in with Rep. Hubbard, Ms. Austin has been summoned to appear on Wednesday before the Joint Committee on Rules where she is expected to be publicly censured.
Rules of the legislature include provisions to censure lobbyists or even ban them from returning to the State House after instances of severe misconduct. A public censure of this kind is extremely rare. In fact, most insiders that I spoke with can’t recall the last time this happened. However, respect among colleagues on both sides of the aisle is strong enough that outbursts like Austin’s won’t be tolerated.