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As re-do election looms in 78th District, Hubbard breaks her silence

Incumbent State Rep. Penny Hubbard is appealing a judge's order for a special election to be held next week. The judge ruled in favor of Bruce Franks, Hubbard's opponent, who filed a lawsuit against the St. Louis election board after the August primary.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Incumbent State Rep. Penny Hubbard is appealing a judge's order for a special election to be held next week. The judge ruled in favor of Bruce Franks, Hubbard's opponent, who filed a lawsuit against the St. Louis election board after the August primary.

For state Rep. Penny Hubbard, the disputed 78th District House race is unlike anything she’s experienced in politics.

The three-term Democratic lawmaker has faced challenging elections — and criticism for how she voted in the Missouri General Assembly. But the scrutiny has increased since St. Louis Democrat narrowly wonher primary bid against Bruce Franks. That includes a St. Louis Post-Dispatch article that brought up questions about whether her campaign misused the absentee ballot process.

As she prepares for a potential do-over election against Franks next Friday,Hubbard is pushing back against the notion that she or her campaign did anything wrong. And as Hubbard’s attorneys appeal a judge’s decision that ordered the Sept. 16 election, she’s raising numerous concerns about whether such a contest can go off without a hitch.

"We should not be taking away the rights for people to vote," Hubbard said. "And on that note, I'm hoping that I win my appeal." 

In her first radio interview since the Aug. 2 primary, Hubbard spoke about the allegations against her – and how she’s preparing for a potential re-match against Franks. She emphasized, among other things, that the judge that ordered a new election wrote that there was "no credible evidence" that any voter fraudulently cast a vote. (Franks and his attorney say they ended up zeroing in procedural defects in the absentee ballot process during that trial -- not the accusations in the Post-Dispatch article. Hubbard attorney Jane Dueker replied: "The case was about what the case was about, and that was their choice. The circuit attorney's office is reviewing allegations around the Hubbard-Franks race.) 

Questions and responses in the following interview have been edited for clarity and length.

ROSENBAUM: Some of your detractors have pointed out that whenever somebody in your family runs for an election … you all get large amounts of absentee votes. And they say there’s something unusual about that. I wanted you to explain why that’s the case and whether you think it is unusual or not.

Hubbard: Well, I don’t feel it’s unusual because my entire family works hard. We don’t sit back and wait for someone to hand us anything. We get out on the streets. We engage ourselves with the constituents that live in our community. And that’s the only way we know how to win an election – being out on the streets and working hard. And also going to various areas throughout our community letting people know what we are attempting to do and what we are doing.

Unlike some of the other legislators that sit back and figure that if they’ve got the right amount of money coming from the right people that this is going to be an automatic, we believe in working hard. We didn’t just start working hard on this particular election. When [former state Rep. Rodney Hubbard], my son, was a state representative, we hit the streets and we worked hard. And we did same thing as it relates to my daughter, Tammika Hubbard, who is an alderperson.

Rosenbaum: Can you explain why you and your family get so many absentee ballots? Is it just because you have a big organization that goes out to people who may need it because they may be sick or they may incapacitated or something like that?

Hubbard: My entire family has actually been in politics for over five generations. We understand that there are constituents that live in our community. And in the past, they have not come out to vote because some of them have disabilities. They’re handicapped. They’re sick and too ill to come out. So when they mentioned to us that they’re not going to be able to come to the poll … we engage in the absentee process.

What people don’t understand is that some parts of our city, there are people in our community that don’t have vehicles. There are a lot of low-income housing to where they don’t have rides to the polls, because they’re disabled with them needing a lifter to get in a certain kind of vehicle.

So that’s been a problem. Because they had these disabilities and handicaps, they decide to just not vote and stay home.

I want to give you an opportunity to address specific allegations that were printed in the Post-Dispatch. One allegation is that members of your campaign encouraged people who didn’t have a valid reason to vote absentee to vote absentee anyway.

Hubbard: First of all, I don’t believe that allegation. So it’s kind of hard to me to give an answer to that. But in responding to your question: I don’t believe anybody who worked in my campaign would ever encourage anyone to vote an absentee. First of all with them being out there campaigning, the absentee question doesn’t come up unless someone asks them about an absentee ballot.

Did your husband, Rodney Hubbard Sr., take stacks of absentee ballots to the election board?

Hubbard: I am aware of the fact that the courts has decided that there were some irregularities with the way business was being done at the Board of Elections. I’ve always, and I’m 62 years old, believed that the Board of Election that we have here in St. Louis City is legit and operates in a legit fashion. I don’t believe for a minute that the Board of Elections would allow Mr. Hubbard or anyone else to enter into their establishment and do any kind of nonsense like that. So to me, that’s kind of ludicrous. I believe in the system. I would be the first to say that not only the Board of Elections, but any state or city office, could possibly at any given time, if it’s not in compliance with the state statute, make some changes. But as far as anyone at the Board of Elections allowing Mr. Hubbard or anybody else to storm up in their office with anything that’s inappropriate, I don’t believe that.

So you’re denying that accusation?

Hubbard: I don’t believe in it. I don’t think the Board of Elections would allow any nonsense like that to go on. And that’s just about as far-fetched as the Superman deal and the superheroes and all that craziness. That’s crazy to me.

Did anybody from your campaign fill out absentee ballots for anybody? Because in that Post-Dispatch article, there were examples of multiple applications being done for people. Do you have knowledge of your campaign doing that?

Hubbard: I have no knowledge of anybody working in my campaign ever doing that. I can speak strongly for myself. I’ve never filled out an application for an absentee ballot. I wouldn’t be able to tell you how to fill out one. And I don’t think anyone working for my campaign would take it upon themselves to just arbitrarily and randomly go crazy with doing an absentee ballot. To me, that’s crazy as well.

Obviously the redo election is being appealed right now. But if that election goes forward, how are you preparing for next Friday’s election?

Hubbard: I feel like it’s very unfair that you have a sitting state rep that won an election and someone could persuade them to do a redo election. It’s very important to me that my constituents that I serve in this community are being treated fairly. I think through all of this, they’re the ones that are really affected by this.

I think it’s disheartening for our constituents in the 78th District to be afraid to vote now. This does not move us forward. I’m of the opinion that it moves us backwards. Anytime you can have low-income residents in the community and in the 78th District that are afraid to vote now, that’s a problem. That’s not just a problem for the Hubbard family. That’s a problem throughout our entire state. To ensure the fact as much as I can possibly do to get the word out to my constituents: I don’t want them to be afraid to vote.

It’s unfair for anybody to take away their rights. It’s also an issue to where the Justice Department, thanks to Congressman Clay, will be stepping in to deal with this.I think that with all the crime and all the issues that we have throughout this entire city, county and state, we need to make sure that we’re working with our constituents. We need to make sure we deal with the real issues out here. And the real issues are the constituents that vote. They have a right. It’s their constitutional right to be able to vote. There shouldn’t be any circus or carnival or whatever you want to call it with someone walking around talking about their superman or superhero B.S. We need to be about these constituents.

So therefore in the original question about what am I doing? I’m going to fight hard. I’m going to do whatever I can do to get to my constituents, to work with them, to encourage them to vote. I will not, and let me make myself real clear with this: I will not apologize for trying to assist the constituents in my district that are handicapped and getting them to the poll. I will be riding them in my car to the polls. I will be doing whatever I can do to engage in whoever wins this election. It’s important that they not be taken out the situation of having a say and a vote in this election.

I think one of the reasons your opponent has a lot of supporters is that you have tended to vote with Republicans on certain issues. Not all issues, but on some major ones – like redistricting. Do you think that’s what’s driving a lot of opposition to you right now?

Hubbard:No. I don’t think that’s driving it. Sometimes you have to work across the aisle. The Democrats up there in Jeff City, we’re outnumbered. Yeah, there was some controversy regarding the redistricting. I sat on that committee.

Lacy Clay has worked to do the right things in our community. So I highly support him and I will continue to support him. As it relates to other issues working across the aisle, Doe Run was one of them. Doe Run was one where I was attacked on the news by the media saying that I totally went against my party with that. Well, I find it very strange that Rep. Penny Hubbard was in favor and voted for Doe Run, but so did [Sen. Jamilah Nasheed and Maria Chappelle-Nadal] – as well as the black caucus.We didn’t think Doe Run was the best thing as a piece of pie going. But the fact of the matter is there was money that was available to clean up water areas, also to do some abatement. And that money was granted to the city. No, we didn’t take care of all the problems within the St. Louis School District.

I believe Lacy Clay was calling members of the Black Caucus and saying that veto should be sustained. Did you get a call from him?

Hubbard: No I didn’t get a call from Lacy. I made that decision. And I know it was a hard decision to make. There are a lot of hard decisions that make in Jeff City. But our sole purpose for being in Jefferson City is to support and get things done for my constituents.

And it had nothing to do with your son being a lobbyist for Doe Run at the time?

Hubbard: No. My son is a lobbyist. And I happen to think, and I am very proud of him, a good lobbyist. And I’ve said this numerous times that my votes will never be based on what my son says. I took the oath. That’s my oath. I took it. And I’ll do the best thing that I can do for my constituents and my community. 

I guess if you don’t have a son or a niece or a nephew or a cousin something, that’s OK with what your choices are as voting. But there again, I think that was an attempt to attack the Hubbard family.

Is all of this worth it to be part of the Democratic superminority? And if it is, what do you want to do in your final term if you wind up winning?

Hubbard: I’ve been a public servant most of my professional work history for almost 50 years. My community and my constituents are very important to me. I would always say as long as I had the strength, the time – I’ll always work for my community. So when you ask me a question about is it worth it? Of course. It’s always worth it. It’s worth it whether or not I’m a state rep or not.

I am very concerned if there were a situation where I wouldn’t win this election, I’m concerned about my constituents and what is being brought to the table to support them. I think my opponent doesn’t have a clue of what it takes to be a state rep. I don’t he understands the needs of the constituents. I don’t even think he understands the 78th District. It’s about making these communities safe. It’s about setting examples. I think elected officials ought to be held to a higher standard. 

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.