Dr. Paul Hubbert spent more than four decades fighting to ensure that teachers and other educators had a strong voice in the political process in Alabama. Anyone who knew him would not be surprised that at 78, and several years after his retirement, he was still fighting right up until his death for that same cause.
There are some who would argue that Hubbert was too successful in building the Alabama Education Association into a political force. They would argue -- I've done it myself at times over the years in editorials and columns -- that AEA under Hubbert's tutelage skewed the political process so much that it became difficult to get poor teachers out of the classroom and that teacher pay and benefits sometimes drained resources that could have been used for textbooks, technology and needed reforms.
But overall, Hubbert's contribution to public education in Alabama was far more positive than negative.
Just look what has happened to public education in recent years. After inflation, only Oklahoma has seen its spending on public education decline more than Alabama. On a per pupil basis, Alabama has led the nation in seeing a drop in its investment in public education since 2008.
That decline has coincided with an even greater decline in the political clout of the AEA.
It is that loss of an effective voice for teachers that spurred Hubbert a few weeks ago to lambast the current state of leadership within the AEA, and to call for reforms within the organization.
Hubbert blasted the leadership style of his successor at AEA, and urged reforms in how the organization handles its funding and listens to its veteran employees. It was a candid -- and I believe absolutely accurate -- assessment of what is wrong with AEA now.
This wasn't sour grapes on Hubbert's part. He prefaced his assessment of AEA's direction by writing that he did so "with great reluctance but absolute conviction in its necessity."
I can attest to his reluctance to publicly speak out about AEA's direction after he retired. A year or so ago, I approached him about an interview on the issue. He declined, but in doing so it was clear he had concerns even then.
It must have been painful for him to see the organization that he (along with AEA's No.2 leader, Joe Reed) had built into the nation's top state teacher lobbying group lose most of its clout and even more of its respect.
Hubbert was paid to represent the interests of teachers and other educators, and he did it better than any other teacher lobbyist in the nation. But he also felt strongly about improving public education as a whole.
That was never more clear than in 1990 and 1994, when Hubbert was running for governor.
I interviewed Hubbert several times in depth during those campaigns. I don't recall much in the way of specifics from those interviews. But I do distinctly remember coming away feeling that when Hubbert was not speaking as AEA's chief, he sounded a lot like most pro-education reformers -- just one who knew how to get the reforms actually implemented.
I also came away feeling that if he were elected governor, it might have proved to be the best thing to ever happen to public education in Alabama.
But that didn't happen. He came close in 1990, winning 48 percent of the vote but losing to Guy Hunt. In 1994, he failed to get past the Democratic primary.
As a journalist, I respected Hubbert for his access, his openness and his candor. As an opinion writer, I respected the fact that when I disagreed with his positions he did not take it personally. I also was impressed over the years by how many politicians who opposed him on the issues still respected his integrity.
In his recent letter addressing the recent failures of the AEA, Hubbert wrote: "Alabama needs a strong public education voice in making policy and budgetary decisions."
Anyone who believes in the importance of public education should agree with that statement, regardless of his or her political persuasion. It remains to be seen whether AEA can remake itself into a force that can work with both sides of the political aisle, or whether that voice comes through a new organization that rises from the ashes of AEA.
But Hubbert was right: Educators need such a voice, and public education would be better off if they have it.
Ken Hare was a longtime Alabama newspaper editorial writer and editorial page editor who now writes a regular column for WSFA 12 News' web site. Email him at email@example.com.