The Wire

  • Treasure hunters and FBI search for lost Civil War gold in Pennsylvania — NBC Nightly News

    A story that $55 million in Union gold was lost during the Civil War has long been dismissed as a myth — but this week, a team of FBI agents joined the search in rural Pennsylvania.

  • New law can send Alabama owners of vicious dogs to prison —


    In addition to new penalties for owners of dogs that cause injuries, the law sets up a process for people to file a sworn statement that a dog is dangerous, prompting an investigation by an animal control or law enforcement officer. If the investigator finds that the dog is dangerous, the dog will be impounded pending a decision by a municipal or district court.

    If a court determines that a dog is dangerous and has seriously injured or killed a person, the dog will be euthanized. If a court determines that a dog that has not seriously injured a person but is still dangerous, the court could order the dog to be euthanized or to be returned to its owner under strict conditions, including that the dog is microchipped, spayed or neutered and that the owner pay a $100 annual fee, post a $100,000 surety bond and keep the dog in a secure enclosure.

    If a dog that has been previously declared dangerous kills or seriously injures a person, the owner could be charged with a Class B felony, punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison. If a dog that has not been previously declared dangerous kills or seriously injures a person, and the owner knew the dog had a propensity to be dangerous and recklessly disregarded that, the owner could be charged with a Class C felony, punishable by 1 to 10 years.

  • Decatur man pleads guilty to kidnapping and child sex-trafficking charges — Justice Dept.

    A Decatur man pleaded guilty today in federal court to kidnapping and child sex-trafficking charges as part of a detailed plan to hire someone to kidnap a woman and her 14-year-old daughter, announced U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr.

    BRIAN DAVID “Blaze” BOERSMA, 48, entered his guilty pleas before U.S. District Judge R. David Proctor to attempted kidnapping of a minor, attempted kidnapping, attempted sex trafficking of a child, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a violent crime. A sentencing date has not been set.

    Boersma worked at the Alabama Farmers’ Cooperative in Decatur shuttling trailers from the storage yard to the warehouse where they would be loaded with merchandise for shipment to other locations. His plea agreement with the government lays out his efforts in the fall of 2017 to encourage a co-worker at the co-op to find someone willing to kidnap a woman and her daughter for payment. Boersma, in installments, gave the co-worker $3,440 to hold for a kidnapping payment. The co-worker alerted the FBI to Boersma’s plan in mid-September and the bureau sent two undercover employees to pose as willing kidnappers.


Yellowhammer Power of Service Video: A Commentary on Connection

Don’t miss key influencers from across Alabama articulate the reasons Yellowhammer is a unique, helpful, and invaluable media outlet. As the state’s most reliable source of news and trustworthy conservative commentary, it provides readers with hard-hitting political insights and encouraging stories about faith and culture you simply will not find on mainstream media outlets in Alabama.


Yellowhammer Announces New Editorial Management Team

Birmingham, Alabama, September 28 – Birmingham-based Yellowhammer Multimedia continued its expansion today by announcing the addition of an experienced and dynamic editorial team to oversee the content of its flagship publication,

Mobile native and conservative columnist J. Pepper Bryars has been named editor, while his wife, Birmingham native and writer Rachel Blackmon Bryars will serve as the site’s managing editor.

“We are thrilled to have Pepper and Rachel join our team,” said Allison Ross, owner and publisher of Yellowhammer Multimedia. “They bring an exciting blend of experience and share a passion for the principles advocated by our company.”

The duo will assume their editorial duties in November.

In addition to the popular conservative site, which has 12-million annual views, Yellowhammer Multimedia airs 3-hours of daily radio programming in the Birmingham and Huntsville markets, counts 26 radio news affiliates statewide and has expanded into film, television, and podcasting.

“Yellowhammer will continue supporting and defending the things we love – Alabama, and the people who make it great,” Pepper Bryars said. “Yellowhammer’s contributors will advocate for our political beliefs, which are conservative; celebrate our culture, which is Southern; and share our faith, which is Christian.”

Pepper Bryars, 43, began his career writing for military newspapers while serving in the Alabama Army National Guard. He then became a staff reporter for the Mobile Press-Register, spent time as an aide to then-congressman and Governor Bob Riley and served as a presidential appointee managing legislative issues for the Defense Department.

Pepper was also a strategic communication advisor to U.S. military forces operating in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. He was twice awarded the Office of the Secretary of Defense Award for Exceptional Public Service, once for service in Baghdad during the early days of the Iraq War and a second time for work at the Pentagon. He is the author of two books and most recently wrote a popular conservative opinion column that was published in the Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register, Huntsville Times, the Mississippi Press and at

Rachel Blackmon Bryars, 35, earned a master’s degree in communication with a political focus from the Johns Hopkins University and has been published in the Washington Post, Washington Examiner, Palm Beach Post and various other Washington-area newspapers and online outlets. She began her career as a television reporter for the ABC affiliate in Richmond, Virginia, after earning a bachelor’s degree in communication with a journalism focus from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She taught as an adjunct instructor for universities such as the University of Maryland University College in Naples, Italy, and Barry University in South Florida, and she owns a small communication training business. Rachel is active in her community and serves on the board of managers for the Hogan Family YMCA in Madison.

“I’m inspired by the vision that Allison Ross and our CEO, Brian Ellis have for Yellowhammer News,” Rachel said. “It will be a privilege to serve readers with curated content designed to inform, inspire, educate and entertain, that will spotlight talented Southern voices and provoke conversations about topics that matter to Alabamians.”

Pepper and Rachel met in Washington, D.C., and live in Huntsville with their five children.


Allison Ross Assumes Role of Owner & Publisher of Yellowhammer

Birmingham, AL (September 14, 2017) — Birmingham-based Yellowhammer Multimedia announced new leadership today along with plans to invest more resources into its popular broadcast and online platforms.

Allison Ross, 38, a successful consulting, real estate, and public relations entrepreneur, has assumed the role of Owner & Publisher of the company. Ross earned a degree in broadcast news and political science from the University of Alabama and has been an advisor to Yellowhammer Multimedia for a number of years.

The move was announced Thursday by Brian Ellis, chief executive officer of Yellowhammer Multimedia.

“I’ve had the privilege of working with Allison for some time and not only is she a true professional, she understands how to inspire excellence in those around her,” Ellis said. “As talented as she is, however, Allison is an even better person, and that’s what excites me most about her leading our team as the company’s Owner & Publisher.”

Ross brings more than 15-years of successful business and communication experience to the organization.

“Yellowhammer has positioned itself as Alabama’s premier source for conservative news, opinion, and analysis,” Ross said. “With over 12-million annual digital views, 3-hours of daily radio programming, 26 radio news affiliates and the recent additions of Yellowhammer TV, film and podcasts; the company is truly a multi-media enterprise. It is a great privilege to join the team as we continue to generate reliable and thoughtful content while expanding a brand that is poised for tremendous growth.”

Ross takes over from Birmingham businessman Joshua Jones, owner of StrategyWise, who took the helm of the company earlier this year.

“When Yellowhammer’s founding editor, Cliff Sims, took a position in the White House nearly a year ago, the company’s future became uncertain, and I saw an opportunity to step in to help stabilize and advance one of Alabama’s most trusted media brands,” Jones said. “This has been a fantastic experience for me, and the timing is perfect. We’ve reached a very positive agreement for my exit, and I couldn’t be more excited for Allison in her new role as Owner & Publisher.”

Ross praised Jones for his leadership and valuable insights.

“Yellowhammer will be forever grateful to Joshua Jones for his leadership over the past year and we look forward to his continued guidance and involvement as we move forward.” Ross said. “I am extremely impressed with the entire leadership team at Yellowhammer Multimedia and look forward to an exciting future as we continue to expand and cultivate our audience.”

Ross also serves as the CEO and a founding partner of the Alabama Tax Credit Exchange, a tax credit brokerage company. Since its inception, the company has developed the market for transferable tax credits in the State of Alabama. Ross has more than 11 years of experience in the economic development industry, representing projects on both sides of the table. After working as the Vice President of Morgan County Alabama Economic Development Association, Ross joined the team at Hickey and Associates, LLC, an international site selection and consulting firm. At H&A, she led strategic consulting services for capital investment projects across industry sectors spanning the United States, with specific expertise in new investments, relocations, incentive negotiation and project financing.

Ross, her husband John and their twins Mac and Clara have lived in Decatur, Birmingham, and Montgomery and currently reside in Memphis, TN.


9 local Alabama leaders who are running their regions of the state

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics and business — the men and women who shape the state. The 2017 list was broken into three segments: government officials and politicians, business leaders, and lobbyists and consultants.

In addition to the top 50, this year we are also digging deeper into various regions of the state to identify notable local leaders, which you can find below.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 3rd Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, September 14th at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists. For more information on the event click here and to purchase tickets click here.

Gulf Coast Region

Sandy Stimpson, Mayor of Mobile
Sandy Stimpson is the twice-elected mayor of Mobile. There is now no more powerful and influential figure in the Gulf Coast region, and observers from other parts of the state have begun to take notice. Stimpson has positioned himself as someone who will be on every list for Alabama’s highest statewide offices for years to come.


The Wiregrass

Wes Allen, Pike County Probate Judge
Few local elected officials have utilized their position to increase their stature the way that Wes Allen has. The former Crimson Tide football player and Troy University associate athletic director has shifted his sights to state government with a run for the State House of Representatives. With Allen already having outraised the opposition more than three to one, expect his profile to rise.

Davis Malone, III, Chairman and CEO, MidSouth Bank
Every region has those key power and influencers who are essential stops for those seeking a congressional office or seat in the Alabama Legislature. Davis Malone is that person in the Wiregrass. He is a lawyer, a banker and a member of the powerful University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. Anyone seeking a position that touches Davis Malone’s sphere of influence had better make their way to his office.


Central Alabama

Frank Brocato, Mayor of Hoover
The city of Hoover has become the bustling center of economic growth and quality of life for over-the-mountain Jefferson County. At the center of it all is the city’s tenth mayor, Frank Brocato. He began his public service with the city of Hoover as a firefighter in 1973. Finally elected mayor in November of 2016, Brocato is a passionate ambassador for his city and its 85,000 residents.

Ray Watts, M.D., President, University of Alabama Birmingham
The University of Alabama Birmingham is the largest employer in the state and the most powerful economic engine in central Alabama. Its more than $5 billion annual economic impact is felt across the region. At the helm of this colossus is Dr. Ray Watts. Watts became the seventh president of UAB in 2013 and has led the university through a period of unprecedented growth and record enrollment. A two-term chairman of the Birmingham Business Alliance, Watts is clearly one of the region’s preeminent power players.


River Region

Becky Gerritson, President, Wetumpka Tea Party
Sometimes it takes a little time for people to settle on where to mark off the boundaries of their power and influence. Becky Gerritson has had her time on the national stage delivering compelling testimony on Capitol Hill. She also had an unsuccessful run for congress in the state’s second district. Both of those things almost seem to take a back seat to the fact that no one organizes grassroots campaigns in the River Region better than Gerritson. Anyone running for office in the River Region had better make a trip to see Becky Gerritson and her Wetumpka Tea Party.


North Alabama

Tommy Battle, Mayor of Huntsville
Drive around Huntsville and the growth and prosperity of the city is visible to the eye. The man leading the effort is the city’s mayor, Tommy Battle. Battle is so well thought of in his region that he is the choice for governor of some of the region’s largest donors. In a year where north Alabama is making its case to be heard in races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and Speaker of the House, Battle is at the forefront of that effort. Stay tuned to see whether he becomes a statewide power and influencer.

Dale Strong, Chairman, Madison County Commission
It seems that north Alabama is chock full of heavy hitters these days and none hit heavier than Dale Strong. Strong is a political operator of the highest order. He is involved in every major issue and project in Madison County. He understands leverage and horse trading and is always eager to employ a lot of both. Combine that with his seemingly limitless energy and you end up with someone who is at the top of the list of most powerful and influential people in his region.


West Alabama

Tim Parker, Jr., Chairman, Parker Towing
Tim Parker, Jr. is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives, and he sits atop one of west Alabama’s most successful businesses. Both of those things are important components of his impressive resume of influence. The reality is, though, that Parker is the kingmaker in his region. When someone wants to run for office in his area, they go see Parker for his blessing. Without it, a candidate faces an uphill battle and low likelihood for success. Tim Parker, Jr. is a power and influencer for the ages in west Alabama.


Who’s Next? Meet the people who will be running Alabama in a few years

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics and business — the men and women who shape the state.

Today, we’re taking a look forward to the next generation of Alabama leaders. The individuals below are well on their way to landing on future Power & Influence 50 lists.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 3rd Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, September 14th at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists. For more information on the event click here and to purchase tickets click here.

State Rep. Will Ainsworth
An owner of the beautiful Dream Ranch in north Alabama, Will Ainsworth is finishing his first term in the Alabama House. The vocal conservative and former youth pastor is now trying to elevate his statewide profile and influence as he pursues the Lt. Governor’s office in 2018.


Matt Calderone, Deputy Board Secretary, University of Alabama System
Matt Calderone helps make the wheels turn for one of the most powerful boards in the state. The former SGA President at Alabama also occupies a seat on the Tuscaloosa City Council. Calderone has natural instincts for building relationships and leveraging his influence.


Will Califf, Communications Director for President Pro Tem Del Marsh
Will Califf is next in the generation of political players making a name for themselves in the halls of the Alabama State House. Known for being a brilliant campaign operative, Califf has carved out a critical role running the Pro Tem’s communications team.


Mary Margaret Carroll, Lobbyist, Fine Geddie
Mary Margaret Carroll has been on track as a power and influence riser for a long time. Carroll is a former SGA President at the University of Alabama and Capitol Hill staffer who has transitioned quickly and effectively to working the halls of state government. Her future is bright, whether in Montgomery or Washington, D.C.


Preston Cauthen, Lobbyist, Alabama Power Company
Preston Cauthen is next in a long line of lobbyists who have worked their way up the political pecking order through the state’s most powerful institution. Walking the halls of the State House on behalf of Alabama Power Company is a great way to ignite a career for anyone. Throw in Cauthen’s friendly, approachable demeanor and you have someone who is clearly “next.”


Collier Craft, President, Direct Communications
Effective grass roots communications are essential to success in politics, and that’s the bread and butter of Collier Craft’s business. He has been the lead on successful statewide issue campaigns and knows the ins and outs of coalition building. Whether you realize it or not, you will see more and more of his work in the future.


Jason Davis, Lobbyist, Alabama Power Company
Few, if any, lobbyists are better able to grasp the details and nuances of public policy as well as Jason Davis. When there are bills winding through the legislative process that affect the reliable delivery of electricity, in any way, Davis is the guy on call. He is a valuable member of Alabama Power’s governmental affairs team, and he is trusted by legislators for his insight on the issues.


Brandon Demyan, Policy Director and Legal Counsel for President Pro Tem Del Marsh
Brandon Demyan is what conservative movement folks call a “true believer.” He is also heavily involved in shaping the Pro Tem’s agenda on key conservative issues like education freedom and tax reform. Don’t be surprised if Demyan becomes a primary driver of conservative policy reforms in Alabama for years to come.

Jason Isbell, Vice President of Legal and Governmental Affairs, Alabama Bankers Association
In what seems like a short amount of time, Jason Isbell has acquired years of experience working in and around state government. He has worked in the Legislative Fiscal Office, the Office of the Speaker, and now he heads up the lobbying effort for Alabama’s banking industry. A lawyer by trade, who also teaches a law class at the Jones School of Law, Isbell is just now hitting his stride in Alabama politics.

Ross Gunnells, Lobbyist, Butler Snow
Ross Gunnells is helping lead the recently formed lobbying practice at Butler Snow. Having walked the halls at the State House as Legislative Director for former Governor Robert Bentley, Gunnells knows the process and the people. Expect to see him in even more legislative battles in future sessions.


Clay Loftin, Lobbyist, BlueCross BlueShield
Ever since Clay Loftin accepted the coveted job as deputy to powerhouse BlueCross BlueShield lobbyist Robin Stone, he has done nothing but impress as a dedicated and knowledgeable advocate for the state’s largest insurer. State House observers expect big things from Loftin.


Holly Lollar, President, The Lollar Group
Holly Lollar is on track to become Alabama’s next go-to public relations expert. She carries with her a full spectrum of experience from work in Washington, D.C. to Alabama political campaigns with corporate and non-profit communications work in between. In the coming years, Lollar will remain on speed dial for power players wanting to stay ahead of the news cycle.


Scott Stone, Scott Stone & Company
Scott Stone cut his teeth as a political consultant working on some of the key battles for judicial seats in previous election cycles. He is now working as one of the primary consultants with Steve Raby on Republican House races. A successful cycle for Stone will open up a wealth of even greater opportunities.


Derek Trotter, Lobbyist, Butler Snow
Derek Trotter is another up and coming power player who has amassed great experience in a short amount of time. He has led the communications effort for a statewide campaign and the Pro Tem of the Alabama Senate, and he has been the legislative liaison for a governor. Trotter currently serves as a key member of the relatively new lobbying practice at Butler Snow. Combine that experience with the relationships he has built and it is no surprise he resides on this list.

Taylor Vice, Director of Government Affairs, Charter Communications
Taylor Vice already has the reputation as one of the sharpest operators among business lobbyists. Vice’s knowledge of state government and its key players are part of the reason why he is perceived to be mature beyond his years. Sound advice: buy stock in Taylor Vice.


Jeremy Walker, CEO, Alabama Association of Realtors
Jeremy Walker transitioned seamlessly from an active law practice to being the lead lobbyist at the Alabama Association of Realtors. Walker’s subsequent transition to leading up the organization has been even smoother. As Walker settles into his duties as Chief Executive Officer for the 14,000 member association, expect to hear plenty more from this rising star.


Taylor Williams, PowerSouth
Taylor Williams has built a strong resume in the governmental affairs and economic development sector for PowerSouth. He continues to climb the ladder with added responsibilities in the operations side of PowerSouth’s business. Williams is on a steady trajectory that will leave him as one of the state’s business leaders for the long-term.


2017 POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential lobbyists & consultants

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics and business — the men and women who shape the state.

This year’s list is being released in three segments. Earlier this week we brought you the most influential people in the Alabama business community, the state’s most powerful politicians and government officials, and today we cover the state’s most powerful lobbyists. Names below are listed in alphabetical order.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 3rd Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, September 14th at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists. For more information on the event click here and to purchase tickets click here.

Ginger Avery-Buckner, Executive Director, Alabama Association for Justice

If you want a blueprint on how to adapt when the political winds shift dramatically, look no further than the Alabama Association for Justice and its executive director, Ginger Avery-Buckner. When the Republican majority blew into Montgomery following the 2010 elections, the association representing the plaintiffs’ bar had seemingly been left on the outside looking in.

The organization, under Avery’s leadership, has successfully rebranded and now enjoys an influential seat at the table on any issues that affect civil litigation in Alabama. Avery-Buckner is known as a tenacious lobbyist. She is married to decorated Special Forces veteran Jack Buckner, and yet we are not sure he is the toughest person in his own house.

Josh Blades, Lobbyist, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings

Relatively young in the lobbying profession, Josh Blades has already built a resume that would be a career for many. Although, this should not surprise anyone given that Blades had already owned a successful small business by age fifteen and entered a race for city council by the time he was nineteen.

Having served as Deputy Chief of Staff during the Riley Administration and Chief of Staff to former Speaker Mike Hubbard, he has extensive experience in both the executive and legislative branches of state government. Blades now occupies a position in the private sector with the national law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, where he is a key member of the firm’s lobbying team.

Alexia Borden, Vice President for Governmental Affairs, Alabama Power Company

Alexia Borden oversees Alabama Power Company’s state governmental affairs section. That’s a daunting task when you actually consider the enormous number of bills, executive orders, agency initiatives, regulations, rules, committee reports, studies and proposals that affect the company’s delivery of reliable electricity service to its 1.4 million customers.

Unsurprisingly to anyone in Alabama politics, Borden has thrived in that role. She has demonstrated an innate ability to identify potential issues for her company before they become problems. Certainly this is, to some extent, a result of the perspective Borden brings as both as an engineer and a lawyer. A graduate in engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Borden chose the law as her career path, having been a partner at the prestigious law firm Balch & Bingham prior to her current job.

Make no mistake, though, protecting your company’s interests in politics also involves seeing, hearing and knowing. Borden has built a roster of productive relationships envied by all other lobbyists. Whether in the statehouse or a state agency, “What does Alexia think?” are words often spoken. Tell-tale signs of a heightened level of power and influence are when you are known only by your first name, and they want to know your position before taking any action.

There will come a day when Borden transitions to a different section of this list. The question is simply when, not if.

Greg Butrus, Partner, Balch & Bingham

Greg Butrus is at the top of the list when anyone searches for the most politically influential lawyer in Alabama. With so much specialization having taken over the legal profession, Butrus is uniquely positioned to provide counsel on a range of issues. From campaign finance laws to state and federal energy policy, and ethics law compliance to regulatory affairs, his areas of expertise run the gamut.

From his lofty perch in the downtown Birmingham offices of Balch & Bingham, Butrus is the definitive voice for many of the state’s power players seeking legal advice.

Billy Canary, President, Business Council of Alabama

Billy Canary has had quite a run. He has been in charge at the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) since 2003. Before that he headed up the American Trucking Association. And if anyone spends more than five minutes with Canary, he will regale them with stories of his time working in the White House for President George H. W. Bush.

It’s possible that no one in recent Alabama history has been more successful at political guerrilla warfare than Canary. He was a trusted ally of Governor Bob Riley for eight years. During Riley’s two terms in the governor’s office, he counted on Canary to lead the opposition against an out-of-touch Democratic legislature, a role naturally suited for Canary’s skill set. The third point of that triangle of Republican power in those days was Canary’s close friend, former Speaker Mike Hubbard. It was Canary’s infusion of guerrilla tactics into Hubbard’s campaign plans that was crucial to their successful storming of the statehouse.

And, yet, Canary currently finds himself situated as one of the most divisive figures in Alabama politics. So much so that numerous former BCA chairmen recently felt compelled to send out a letter announcing their support for Canary. Detractors contend that the letter wreaks of vulnerability. Whatever the case, all eyes are on BCA and Canary as they attempt to adapt to the new environment where their goal is now vision implementation, rather than stiff opposition.

To trace the source of Canary’s power and influence, and his existence on this list, simply follow the money. The BCA’s political action committee contains nearly $2 million. If Canary is the man handing out those types of campaign contributions during the 2018 election cycle, he will be positioned as a power player for years to come.

Joe Fine, Partner, Fine Geddie & Associates

When they open the Alabama Lobbyist Hall of Fame, Joe Fine will be the first inductee. Those who have been around Alabama politics for a long time occasionally remark that they remember when the roster of lobbyists was only Joe Fine and five or six other people. The gentleman lobbyist, who never leaves the statehouse while the Senate is in session, has forgotten more about lobbying this week than all others learn in a lifetime.

Fine’s reputation outside of Alabama is just as impressive. Listen to a conversation about Alabama lobbying in D.C. or some other corporate hub, and Fine’s name will come up.

Fine continues to maintain a client list that is a who’s-who of not only Alabama business but also corporate America. It has been nearly fifty years since Fine entered Alabama politics, and he shows no signs of letting up.

Bob Geddie, Partner, Fine Geddie & Associates

Bob Geddie is the State House of Representatives specialist for the Fine Geddie firm. He knows every member, every rule and every tactic necessary to pass legislation through the lower chamber. Geddie is most often seen quietly observing from a small hallway off the main lobby on the fifth floor. From there he can see everyone who comes and goes, and he has ready access to members as they walk to and from the House chamber.

Geddie is known for his persuasive lobbying skills. For years, a common refrain among legislators has been that it is hard to say no to Bob Geddie.

Others have tried to replicate his formula of institutional knowledge, skill and relationships, and none have come away with the power and influence enjoyed by Geddie.

Robert McGhee, Vice Chairman, Poarch Band of Creek Indians

Robbie McGhee is the point man in politics for the burgeoning empire that is the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Under the leadership of Tribal Chair and CEO Stephanie Bryan, the Poarch Creeks have built a structure of prosperity and corporate citizenship previously unseen in Alabama. McGhee has astutely utilized the accompanying tools and resources provided to him to turn the Poarch Creeks into an influential force.

McGhee’s political rise began in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Department of Interior-Bureau of Indian Affairs, the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, and Troutman Sanders LLP-Indian Law Practice Group. He engages on political and legislative issues affecting the Poarch Creeks with a razor-sharp focus. The results show why McGhee deserves a place squarely on this list.

Steve Raby, Lobbyist and Political Consultant

Steve Raby is another member of the Power & Influence 50 who is relishing his second act in Alabama politics. Raby is a longtime Democrat activist and consultant, and he was the Democrat nominee for Congress against Mo Brooks in 2010. A decent first act for anyone.

Fast forward six years to when his friend Mac McCutcheon gets elected to serve as Speaker of the House. Suddenly Raby was back on the scene playing a key role as a close advisor to one of the most powerful elected officials in the state. All Speakers of the House have had a close advisor like Raby. These advisors provide counsel on how to handle members and staff and which issues to prioritize as part of the Speaker’s agenda. As much as anything, Raby is an extra set of eyes and he watches the Speaker’s back.

McCutcheon has also entrusted Raby with running the political operation for the House Republican Caucus. It’s a shrewd move on Raby’s part because this means that each House member turns to Raby for help in fundraising and campaign management. Few better ways exist for a lobbyist to enhance their relationships than directing a member’s successful election.

For most governmental affairs professionals, the type of work Raby does with the Speaker of the House would be plenty. However, he has not stopped there. Raby is also running the campaign operation for gubernatorial candidate Tommy Battle. Battle has posted impressive fundraising numbers over the summer. If Battle were to get elected to Alabama’s highest office, Raby would travel right with him to the very top of this list.

Clay Ryan, Vice Chancellor for Government Affairs, University of Alabama System

There are very few jobs that could attract a young partner on the management fast-track at a power firm like Maynard Cooper & Gale.  However, donning the political might of the University of Alabama System is too alluring for just about anyone to pass up.  Imagine entering a negotiation with the weight of the largest employer in the state, a stacked board of trustees, and even the nation’s most successful football program in your corner.  When he shows up, Clay Ryan is generally holding all the cards.

That level of political power would be intoxicating for most, but Ryan’s wit and charm give him a comfortability that puts his audience at ease.  He became active in politics at a young age cultivating relationships that span the business community, as well as generations of politicians.  His rolodex rivals anyone’s in the state and there is likely no one in Alabama who wouldn’t take a call from Ryan.

Whether as a partner at a powerful law firm, or spearheading the governmental affairs operation at a university system with a $6 billion budget, power and influence follows Clay Ryan.

Dave Stewart, Senior Advisor for Government Affairs and Economic Development, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings

Dave Stewart has an impressive history of maximizing opportunities.  After a notable performance as policy director for then Governor Bob Riley, he was called up to serve as the administration’s Chief of Staff.  Stewart then parlayed that position to secure a Government Affairs post at the prominent law firm of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings.

Stewart’s influence in Montgomery is born from two traits: his vast knowledge of policy and his lasting relationships within the legislature and each state agency.  Agency heads come and go, but Stewart has spent over a decade building a network of bureaucrats in every nook and cranny of state government.  He has an elite ability to blend policy arguments and political messaging to build the best strategic approach possible for his clients.  More importantly, he has the juice to execute his plans.

Dax Swatek, Partner, Swatek Howe & Ross

Wise corporate officers place their governmental affairs strategies in the hands of Dax Swatek. No one is better at providing the road map for passing legislation and achieving public policy goals than Swatek.

Swatek honed these skills early in his career as a campaign consultant. He has run the full spectrum of races for Republican candidates, from State House and State Senate to congressional, gubernatorial and even a presidential primary campaign. The lessons learned in those settings have served him well advocating for his corporate clients. The only person in Alabama more committed to the “process” than Swatek is Nick Saban.

Swatek has also spent years building relationships with elected officials at the highest level. Combine an exceptional strategic mind with strong relationships and you get a powerful and influential lobbyist.

Sommer Vaughn, Partner, Swatek Howe & Ross

There used to be an old adage that you could pass communism through the Alabama House of Representatives. This was a nod to a long line of former Speakers who imposed their will on the membership by forcing bills through the chamber, regardless of substance. Times have changed. The will of the body means something now. And this fact has made Sommer Vaughn one of the most powerful and influential lobbyists in Alabama.

No one is better able to build a member by member vote count in the House than Vaughn. The strength and breadth of her relationships on both sides of the aisle are why her impressive list of clients put their issues in her hands. Prior to entering the private sector, she worked in the executive and the legislative branches. That experience has translated into a thorough understanding of the inner workings of state government.

A member of our “Who’s Next?” list only a year ago, Vaughn is poised to hold her post on many more editions of this list.

R.B. Walker, Director of Governmental Relations, University of Alabama System

Also a member of last year’s “Who’s Next?” list, R.B. Walker has climbed the ladder of power and influence with tremendous speed. For anyone who knows him though, that’s no surprise.

A former SGA President at the University of Alabama, he has already worked for two of the state’s most powerful institutions: Alabama Power Company and the University of Alabama System. In his current job at his beloved university, Walker is a tireless advocate on any matter affecting the UA System. With no shortage of personality and the intellect to grasp the nuances of any issue, it is really Walker’s work ethic that separates him from the pack. No one works harder to foster relationships and communicate with the key players in state government.

Walker is the consummate operator; he is never not working. And his ascent is only beginning.

Steve Windom, Partner, Windom Galliher & Associates

The fact that being the first Republican Lt. Governor elected since Reconstruction is a mere postscript to Steve Windom’s career is a testament to his success as a lobbyist. There is not a craftier operator in Alabama politics than Windom. All of the clichés used to describe people of power and influence can be applied to Windom.

“Steve Windom knows where all the bodies are buried.”
“Steve Windom carries a big stick.”
“Steve Windom talks the talk and walks the walk.”

Pick your cliché. Also pick Windom when you want to win on your issue. He has taken the time to cultivate relationships in every corner of state government. He knows everyone from the maintenance man at an obscure state agency to the Governor of Alabama – and each person in between. Add in the fact that he is able to draw on decades of experience, during which he has witnessed just about every occurrence in state government, and you have a lobbyist who is primed for sustained success.

Steve Windom is a first ballot power and influence hall of famer.


2017 POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential political leaders

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics and business — the men and women who shape the state.

This year’s list is being released in three segments. Yesterday we brought you the most influential people in the Alabama business community. Today’s segment includes politicians and government officials. Be sure to check back tomorrow as we cover the state’s most powerful lobbyists. Names below are listed in alphabetical order.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 3rd Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, September 14th at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists. For more information on the event click here and to purchase tickets click here.

David Bronner, CEO, Retirement Systems of Alabama

Power players generally take one of two approaches to exercising their influence; they choose to achieve their goals through either friendship or fear.  David Bronner has gone all in on fear as his chosen method of motivation.

As CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, Bronner oversees a pension system into which more than 300,000 people have paid or are currently paying.  This means that he has a communication pipeline to names, addresses, phone numbers and emails for 300,000 Alabamians with a vested interest in engaging the political process.  Priming that pipeline with a message advantageous to him allows Bronner to quickly whip up an educated constituency when the time comes to apply pressure to members of the legislature on issues affecting the pension system.

Combine this with the virtual blank checks that RSA receives annually from the state budgets, and you have a powerful system of advocacy at Bronner’s disposal.  The fear of being on the receiving end of one of Bronner’s frequently combative newsletters or email blasts has kept many a member of the legislature from pursuing reforms of the pension system.

Bronner is the state’s highest paid employee, and he enjoys a lifestyle that exceeds even that.  So he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.  And neither is his power and influence.

Philip Bryan, Chief of Staff, Office of Senate President Pro Tem  

Philip Bryan is becoming an institution on the 7th floor of the Alabama State House.  As a result of his work ethic and quick wit, along with the big stick his boss carries, Bryan has become the go-to person for many of the members of the Alabama Senate when they are in need of advice and counsel.  His knowledge of the process in the Senate coupled with his savvy political mind has put him in the position of being the hub of information flow within the Statehouse.

Bryan earned his stripes as the communications director for the ALGOP during the historic takeover in 2010.  He quickly parlayed that success into his current role in state government and never looked back.  Senators and lobbyists alike know and understand that if they want an accurate assessment of where a particular piece of legislation stands at any given point in time, their first stop is Bryan’s office.  The senators are generally given an in-depth explanation.  The lobbyists?  Well, they’re more likely to simply receive Bryan’s wry smile.

Greg Canfield, Secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce

The day Governor Ivey was sworn in, there was at least one easy decision ahead – Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield.  There is no higher political capital these days than job creation, and Canfield delivers.  Upon the announcement his post was secure for another administration, you could practically hear a collective sigh of relief from every economic developer in the state.

Since taking office in 2011, Canfield’s numbers speak for themselves: Alabama has seen $28.5 billion in private sector capital investment and more than 107,000 announced new jobs. In addition, exports have topped $20 billion for the first time in state history.  He successfully launched the Made in Alabama campaign that re-branded his office and the state.  As if that is not enough, he designed and implemented Accelerate Alabama the state’s economic growth strategy which required the arduous task of passing major incentive reform through the legislature.

In the world of business recruitment, it is not often you get to witness such consistent dominance.  Where most organizational leaders may sit back and revel in this caliber of accomplishment, this self-described agent of change is so disturbed by complacency there has been little rest since he has taken office.  Canfield is one of the brightest stars in Montgomery, and many would speculate that the only barrier to holding a higher state-wide office is his desire to throw his hat in the ring.

Clinton Carter, Director, Alabama Department of Finance

Clinton Carter is the first Alabama Director of Finance to appear on the Yellowhammer Power and Influence list.  The simple fact he continues to hold this position speaks to his credibility.  Having only been appointed to office six months prior, Carter quickly found himself in the new Ivey administration defending his post.  But Carter’s impressive experience and refreshing willingness to utilize the position to not only manage the state’s finances but champion policy reform easily kept him in his office.

His resume has perfectly groomed him for the job and includes prestigious schools such as Wharton and Harvard.  As the Deputy State Finance Director with the Bentley Administration, he spearheaded a cost-savings initiative generating over $1.2 billion of annual savings to the State of Alabama.  Carter served as the CFO and VP of Finance and Business Affairs at the University of North Alabama prior to his appointment as State Finance Director.

But pedigree aside, Carter has a true business approach to state government and is becoming a strong voice for fiscal policy in Alabama.  During his first legislative session, he went toe-to-toe with heavyweight Retirement Systems of Alabama on a pilot program that would allow retirees to receive a lump sum payout.  When a first-time contender calls the big guy to the mat, the political world takes notice.

State Rep. Steve Clouse, Chairman, General Fund Budget Committee

Steve Clouse has the unenviable task of annually piecing together the Alabama budget that funds the state’s most controversial functions, including Medicaid, prisons and mental health.  However, being a chief policy-maker in these areas also means that Clouse is in a position of considerable power and influence.

Having served in the State House of Representatives since 1995, Clouse has achieved a sustained leadership status in the lower chamber, and he is one of southeast Alabama’s most powerful legislators.  With Alabama’s General Fund Budget problems going nowhere in the foreseeable future, Clouse figures to be a political player for years to come.

Kay Ivey, Governor of Alabama

If you’ve ever heard Kay Ivey deliver one of her rousing speeches, you may have predicted she’d hit a grand slam when called to the plate.  After all, this is not her first time at bat.  A seasoned politician who has spent more than 15 years as an elected leader, she has done a masterful job of providing stability to the office and state at a time when it was needed most.

Ivey flexed her executive muscles early when she moved up the special election to fill Jeff Sessions vacated U.S. Senate seat.  Since then she has deliberately and decisively made the changes necessary to make the existing Cabinet her own.  After being thrust into the limelight, Ivey has shown her true skill is surrounding herself with trusted advisors who, so far, have performed impeccably since taking over the reins of state government.

Her performance to date makes her the odds-on favorite in a heavily contested race should she decide to run for re-election in 2018.  What remains to be seen is after being called up, will she have the stamina to stay in the game.  All signs indicate she will.

State Rep. Mike Jones, Chairman, House Rules Committee

Mike Jones makes his first appearance on the Power and Influence 50, and a smart wager would be that it will not be his last.  The newly-minted House Rules Chairman has already placed a large imprint on the workings of the Alabama State House.

Rules Chairman has traditionally been a position of great power and influence.  As Chairman of the committee that determines the order of bills taken up each legislative day, Jones has the ability to set legislative priorities, which in turn provides him substantial leverage in dealing with lobbyists as well as his own colleagues.

That, by itself, would earn Jones a place on any list of power brokers.  In addition, though, Jones has taken on the role of close confidant to Speaker Mac McCutcheon.  Much of the recent restructuring in the House has occurred with significant input and guidance from him.  Jones’s power and influence only stand to increase from here.

State Sen. Del Marsh, President Pro Tem

Of the forefather’s behind the GOP takeover in 2010, Del Marsh is the last man standing, making him arguably the most powerful person in the state.  While most of the other areas of Alabama state government have experienced scandal and shifting sands, the Alabama Senate has remained above the fray, and that is directly attributable to Marsh’s leadership style and servant’s heart.

A man who has experienced a great deal of success outside of politics, Marsh carries an attitude of someone who doesn’t need the job, but rather simply wants a platform to make Alabama a better place.  He is one of the most respected politicians in Alabama’s sordid history because his colleagues understand that while they may not always agree, they will, without question, get a fair shake from Marsh along with a genuine effort to bring all sides together.  In the current divisive political world both at the national and state level, what more could you ask for in a leader?

By announcing his intention to seek re-election to the Senate, Marsh signals his desire to work with his close friend and ally, Governor Ivey.  Their coupling could set the stage for conservatives affecting notable change over the next quadrennium.

Steve Marshall, Alabama Attorney General

Appointed as the 48th Attorney General in Alabama, Steve Marshall has already entered the scene with an inaugural victory of losing the albatross that comes with being one of Bentley’s chosen.  Marshall has navigated these waters before.   Upon appointment by Don Siegelman in 2001, he served as Marshall County District Attorney for 16 years, never once facing opposition in re-election.  Then he successfully switched political parties in 2011.

Known for his calm, even-keeled demeanor, Marshall is one who speaks softly but has demonstrated that he will hold a firm line when it comes to defending the law in Alabama.  Since stepping onto the stage, Marshall has swiftly reacted to controversial issues like parental consent for abortions, and most recently enforcing penalties against the City of Birmingham for covering a Confederate memorial.

Marshall will likely meet some formidable opponents when he seeks his first state-wide election in 2018.  His ability to capitalize on the benefits of incumbency may prove he is one to watch in Alabama’s political future.

State Rep. Mac McCutcheon, Speaker of the House

What a difference a year makes.  Mac McCutcheon quietly resided on the 2016 Power and Influence 50 as a committee chairman and loyal member of the leadership team of former Speaker Mike Hubbard.  McCutcheon is now Speaker McCutcheon, and Hubbard is a convicted felon who is completely out of politics.

McCutcheon entered the Speaker’s office under very difficult circumstances at the end of 2016 and presided over a session in 2017 that contained the type of rough patches expected in that situation.  With a full year of prep under his belt, the spotlight will be on McCutcheon during the next regular session.  The Speaker of the House has tremendous power and influence over legislative process and agenda.  McCutcheon has already availed himself of these powers with numerous changes in committee chairmanships and committee structure.

McCutcheon is one of the nice guys at the statehouse.  He is known for his selflessness, which is a scarce commodity in politics.  The trick for McCutcheon will be channeling those traits into a leadership style that will allow him to experience a level of power and influence unattainable for most.

Judge Roy Moore

A recurring theme in the career of Roy Moore is that he is the exception to the rule.  Getting removed from office – let alone twice from the same office – is a career-ender for any elected official.  Not Roy Moore.  Most candidates for political office suffer as a result of negative advertising against them.  Not Roy Moore.  Running in a special election makes for a more difficult campaign.  Not for Roy Moore.

And for most elected officials on this list, the office they hold is their primary power and influence generator.  Not Roy Moore.  During those times when Moore actively served in a judgeship, his power and influence were actually constrained by the office he held.  Moore’s brand needs no further development.  He is of a stature that he can create his own platform to deliver his message.  Once the Court of the Judiciary removed Moore from office, his level of power and influence soared.

Moore’s position as one of the most prominent political figures in Alabama’s history could be cemented on September 26.

State Sen. Arthur Orr, Chairman, Education Budget Committee

Senator Orr has been a consistent face on this list by nature of his leadership position in the State House where his hand has been on the state’s purse strings for over six years.  Previously serving as Chairman of the General Fund Budget Committee, Orr successfully navigated year-after-year of budget shortfalls.  Now, in his most recent position as Chairman of the Education Budget Committee, he drives the engine that allocates over $6 billion of state resources.

There is arguably no statesman who is stronger back home than Senator Orr.  His ability to fundraise and his bond to his community provides a certain strength that has him unconcerned about his popularity amongst the lobbying class of Montgomery insiders.  However, the double edge sword of that bond heightens his sensitivity when the calls ring from his district on tough issues like education reform.

Steve Pelham, Chief of Staff to Governor Kay Ivey

In every administration, there is that one “go-to” person whom the governor trusts and relies on more than any other.  Sometimes it is a cabinet member; sometimes it is a prominent supporter from the governor’s hometown.  In the case of Governor Kay Ivey, that “go-to” person is her Chief of Staff Steve Pelham.

Pelham is smart, approachable and yet carefully measured in his interactions.  All traits necessary to serve as an effective chief of staff.  More than anything, though, he is relentlessly loyal to Governor Ivey.  Pelham managed Ivey’s first campaign for Lt. Governor and worked as her chief of staff for the entirety of her tenure in that office.  Several months before Robert Bentley forcibly resigned, Pelham had already started transition planning for his boss.

Pelham has taken on a meaningful role in not only the day-to-day operation of the governor’s office but also in the decisions involved in implementing Governor Ivey’s long-term vision for the state.  In the early stages of the Ivey Administration, Pelham has established himself as a top power player.

State Sen. Trip Pittman, Chairman, General Fund Budget Committee

Trip Pittman is approaching the final year of his career in the Alabama State Senate, and no one in the statehouse expects he will leave quietly.  No member of the Alabama Legislature operates with more determination than Pittman.  His booming voice and big ideas have helped Pittman carve out a prominent role in any debate on the floor of the Senate, in committee or behind closed doors.

Conservatives across Alabama should feel gratified that Pittman chairs the General Fund committee.  His strong personality and commitment to smaller government make him the perfect manager of Alabama’s beleaguered budget.

Pittman’s willingness to hold state agencies accountable and his palpable disdain for lobbyists allows him greater control of the process, thereby increasing his own power and influence.

Rep. Bill Poole, Chairman, Ways and Means Education Committee

It is obvious that anyone with a hand on the state’s largest budget wields incredible power and influence, but that may be the least remarkable thing about Representative Bill Poole.  When colleagues are asked about his talents, they remark of his intelligence, drive, focus, savviness or simply, his likability.  But what makes Poole such an impressive member of the legislature is that he is years ahead of his time in all of these qualities.

On the battlefield that is Alabama politics, Rep. Poole’s real superpower is his ability to think globally.  Most soldiers are too busy engaging in combat to see the big picture, but like any great leader will tell you, it takes a comprehensive approach to problem solving to be successful.  He does not attack issues with narrow focus, yet sees the landscape from above and maneuvers through policy issues with a unique clarity and prowess.

Possibly this is the reason he removed himself from the contest when a vacancy in the Speaker’s office presented itself.  Immediately upon entering the largest freshman class of Republicans in State House history, he has risen to the top of the class.  Whatever move he makes next, of the ones to watch, Poole is the one to watch.

State Sen. Greg Reed, Senate Majority Leader

Reed’s star has risen quickly in the Alabama Senate since his election in 2010.  The heir apparent to the Pro Tem’s position and close ally to current Pro Tem Del Marsh, Reed has gained the trust of the members of the Senate by remaining a calm, steady hand even in the most turbulent of times.  Much like “The Wolf” was summoned to solve tough problems in the cult classic film Pulp Fiction, Senator Reed is constantly working to mediate disputes between members to keep the trains moving on time in a place that can be shut down at a moment’s notice by something as trivial as a bruised ego.  Managing these personalities is a tough job, and Senator Reed handles it masterfully.

Most Montgomery insiders will tell you that there is really no ceiling for Reed.  The Walker County native is as talented as a politician as there is in the state.  A staunch conservative who has his own gospel music album, no one will ever be able to run to the right of Reed.  Yet, he balances this perfectly by also being a strong advocate for business, particularly in the area of health care policy.  If you’re looking for the perfect mold for a political candidate in the State of Alabama, look no further than “The Wolf” and don’t be surprised to see him being listed as Governor Reed on this list at some point in the future.

Bryan Taylor, General Counsel for Governor Kay Ivey

Sometimes people leave the political stage for a while only to return for a second act.  In the case of Bryan Taylor, not only has he returned for a second act, but he has demonstrated even more power and influence this time around.  Taylor represented Autauga and Elmore Counties in the Alabama State Senate for one term.  After choosing not to seek re-election in 2014, he largely stayed out of the political mix until Governor Ivey named him General Counsel upon taking office.

Taylor has flourished in his new role.  He has driven key policy decisions in the administration and has earned the trust of the Governor.  As a veteran of the Riley Administration and a fearless reformer in the legislature, he understands the path forward for an incumbent governor seeking election to a full-term.

The ability to provide trusted counsel to the Governor will only expand Taylor’s power and influence.

State Sen. Jabo Waggoner, Chairman, Rules Committee

Not a single piece of legislation makes it to the floor of the Alabama State Senate without the approval of Jabo Waggoner.  This alone makes Waggoner one of the state’s preeminent power players.  Throw in his uncanny ability to deal with people and discern their intentions, and he is often playing chess while others are relegated to playing checkers.

Waggoner is also someone who exercises his power and influence through friendship.  He is beloved in his district, respected by lobbyists and revered by his fellow senators.  When Jabo Waggoner speaks, people listen.  His career in public service provides a blueprint for statesmanship.

Take note and appreciate the illustrious career of Jabo Waggoner.

State Sen. Cam Ward, Chairman, Judiciary Committee

Resiliency is a vital trait for any successful politician, and Cam Ward’s cup overflows with it.  After facing some personal challenges the last couple of years, Ward has made a strong political comeback in 2017.  As a result, he regains a seat on the Power and Influence 50.

During the 2017 session, Ward single-handedly muscled through the Alabama Legislature an insurance mandate the likes of which were thought extinct after the Republican takeover.  Facing opposition over budgetary concerns, he was able to harness emotional support over the issue and pass a bill most thought would never see the floor.

Ward also retains a deft touch as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  There is constant tension in that committee over the interests of the business community and that of the plaintiffs’ bar.  Balancing those interests is never easy, yet Ward has managed to do so and come away with his power and influence intact.


2017 POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential business leaders

Today we introduce the first segment of the 2017 Power & Influence 50 on Yellowhammer News. Our team has spent weeks talking with key operatives and analyzing recent developments in public policy and politics. The intersection between business and politics in our state is undeniable, and our list is meant to provide you with an inside look at who wields the most power and influence in Alabama state politics.

Thank you for being a loyal reader of Yellowhammer News.

Joshua Jones
Owner, Yellowhammer Multimedia




The list is being released in three segments: Government officials and politicians, lobbyists and consultants, and today’s segment, business leaders.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 3rd Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, September 14th at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists. For more information on the event click here and to purchase tickets click here.

Paul Bryant, Jr.

If there is one name in the state of Alabama that by itself connotes power and influence, it is that of Paul Bryant, Jr. However, his name is simply the starting point when it comes to gauging the amount of power and influence that Bryant enjoys.

He is one of the state’s most successful businessmen. His holdings include, or have included, banking, insurance, construction, and agriculture. Bryant also possesses the type of influence one might expect – and then some – at his alma mater, the University of Alabama. Essential to all of his activity has been a vigorous engagement in the political process.

Critics and supporters, alike, recognize the size of the shadow Bryant casts. And that’s why elected officials from every corner of the state covet his support.

Rick Burgess and Bubba Bussey

The lone media personalities on our list, Rick Burgess and Bubba Bussey occupy a unique space in the culture of Alabama. Burgess and Bussey incorporate their faith and their politics as part of their everyday broadcasts. And they do so in such a way that few, if any, can personify conservative, Alabama values like the two of them.

The resulting effect is that Burgess and Bussey have come to serve as something of a bridge between politicians and normal, hard-working families in Alabama. If you are a politician, you listen to Rick and Bubba because they have an innate ability to convey what normal folks are thinking.

And then there is the elusive prospect of an endorsement. Broadcasting a show that airs on thirteen stations across the state will, by itself, make an endorsement by its hosts the apple of every politician’s eye. But Burgess and Bussey have built up such a level of trust with their listeners, that a joint endorsement by them brings instant credibility to its recipient.

Keenly aware of this effect, Burgess and Bussey are discerning and infrequent when it comes to their on-air endorsements, which in turn only strengthens their power and influence. Call it the principle of political supply and demand.

Mark Crosswhite, Chairman, President and CEO, Alabama Power Company

Mark Crosswhite is in his third year as Chairman, President and CEO of Alabama Power Company. In each of those three years, he has earned a position on this list. In 2015, we began our description of Crosswhite’s tenure with the following line: “Crosswhite is the most powerful CEO in Alabama, and it’s not even close.”

Nothing has changed.

Crosswhite runs a company that serves 1.4 million customers across Alabama and employs nearly 7,000 people. Every major economic development project in the state comes across his desk. His team weighs in on every piece of legislation, executive action, state agency initiative, committee report and local ordinance which may impact the delivery of reliable electricity service to those 1.4 million customers.

After seventeen years with the prestigious law firm Balch & Bingham, Crosswhite joined Alabama Power in 2006 as Senior Vice President and General Counsel. From there, his ascent to the top was rapid. In 2008, he was named Executive Vice President for External Affairs. Then in 2011 Crosswhite became President and CEO of Gulf Power, a Southern Company subsidiary. He was elected to his current position at the helm of Alabama Power in March 2014.

Tremendous civic responsibility comes with being the leader of the state’s largest utility and most prominent company, and Crosswhite has excelled in that role. He is chairman of the United Way of Central Alabama board. He serves on several civic and non-profit boards including Southern Research, the University of Alabama Law School Foundation, and Leadership Birmingham. He also serves on the president’s advisory council of the Freshwater Land Trust. He is a member of the President’s Cabinet of the University of Alabama and a graduate of Leadership Alabama.

Every single politician in Alabama covets a meeting with Crosswhite. And if he calls, everything else stops. It is because of this that Crosswhite occupies a level of power and influence in such rarified air that it is too difficult for most to breathe.

Grayson Hall, Chairman, President and CEO, Regions Financial Corporation

There was a time when Alabama could lay claim to being the banking hub for the entire southeast United States. As a result of a series of mergers and acquisitions in recent years, that is no longer the case. However, one large, multi-state bank remains headquartered in downtown Birmingham: Regions. Regions is currently the only Fortune 500 company based out of Alabama. And standing at the top of Regions Financial Corporation as Chairman, President and CEO is Grayson Hall.

Hall is a banker through and through. He began working at Regions all the way back in 1980 as part of the management training program. After having served in nearly every area of the bank’s business, Hall was named president and CEO in 2010 and then chairman in 2013. He also serves on the Federal Advisory Council of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Under Hall’s leadership, American Banker magazine recognized Regions as having the best overall reputation among U.S. banks in 2016.

Hall is a heavy-hitter in the world of banking, and with 226 branches throughout Alabama, he also retains significant political clout. Hall is a “must-call” for anyone seeking higher office in this state.

Ray Hayes, Chancellor, University of Alabama System

Ray Hayes has served as Chancellor of the University of Alabama System for just under a year. He has quickly established himself as an able leader of one of the state’s most important economic engines. The University of Alabama System has an annual economic impact of nearly $9 billion with its $5.9 billion budget, 65,000 students, and 37,000 employees.

Having that much of an impact on the economy of the state brings with it a sizable seat at the table of politics and policy debate. The UA System has become increasingly politically proactive in recent years, and Hayes has led an effort to ratchet up the activity even further.

With three campuses in three major cities, as well as the renowned UAB Health System, the UA System has an unrivaled footprint in the state which does not go unnoticed by elected officials throughout Alabama. Hayes and his team have effectively leveraged this to position the system as one of the strongest voices in the political process.

Johnny Johns, Executive Chairman, Protective Life Corporation

Alabama is fortunate to have a talented roster of business leaders throughout the state. Johnny Johns is not only included in that group, he resides at the top of that list. Johns is an icon in the Alabama business community. He currently serves as Executive Chairman of Protective Life Corporation.

Johns first joined Protective as Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 1993, when the company’s value was $580 million. By the conclusion of his tenure as President and Chief Executive Officer, Johns had led the company through its $5.7 billion sale to Dai-ichi Life of Tokyo, Japan. The company continues to operate in Birmingham as the world’s 13th largest insurance company and has pledged more than $23 million in donations to Alabama institutions through 2020.

Johns has reached such a level of power and influence that he is not only on every must-meet list for the state’s aspiring leaders, but he is also at a point where his name comes up regularly as a potential occupant of Alabama’s highest elected offices.

Terry Kellogg, CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama

If you have healthcare in Alabama, there is a 93% chance you have a Blue Cross Blue Shield card in your wallet. Because of this overwhelming share of the market and the 2.1 million Alabamians it represents, Terry Kellogg doesn’t just hold a seat at the table – he is the table when it comes to all things related to health and patient care in the Yellowhammer State.

In a sector that has had sweeping changes in regulation, Kellogg has not only been able to adapt to the new market but maintained the largest market share of any health insurer in the country. Few CEOs can say that their business operates in every one of Alabama’s 67 counties.

Similarly, BCBS’s position of strength at the State House has been solid amidst the shifting political landscape that has frequented Goat Hill. When Blue Cross weighs in on business issues in Alabama, everyone listens.

John McMahon, Chairman, Ligon Industries

Sometimes the most fascinating power players are those who maneuver outside of the normal channels and avoid the spotlight. John McMahon is one of those power players. His name rarely comes up, if at all, in the conversations of rank and file political operatives. Among those who really know, they understand the position of power and influence that McMahon holds.

It is not often in politics that the exertion of influence in one area leaves a lasting effect such as that which McMahon has had in the Alabama civil justice system. Nearly two decades ago, McMahon quietly led the effort to bring about conservative reform to the state’s high courts and pull them away from the philosophy that had led to the “tort hell” label. There still remain numerous jurists elected under the campaign structure set up by McMahon and like-minded members of the business community, and unpredictability in civil courts is no longer a concern for Alabama industry recruiters.

McMahon serves as a director on several notable boards, including Protective Life Insurance Corporation, ProAssurance Corporation, National Bank of Commerce, Cooper T. Smith Corporation, UAB Health Systems, the University of Alabama and Birmingham-Southern College. He garners such respect among his peers that a McMahon phone call has been known to pull large scale investment into targeted businesses sight unseen.

Meetings with John McMahon are difficult to come by. When a politician is fortunate enough to get one, it is worth bragging about.

Jimmy Parnell, Chairman, President and CEO, ALFA Insurance Companies and Alabama Farmers Federation

Whether you realize it or not, over the past several years ALFA has likely handpicked most of your elected officials for you. At every level of politics, no organization can match the grassroots impact this association can levy from everything to local ordinance change to overhauling statewide policy reform. At the helm of this dominance is Jimmy Parnell.

To say Parnell’s roots in Alabama’s agriculture industry run deep (although cliché) is an understatement. As a fifth-generation Chilton County farmer with a degree in agricultural business and economics, he is a partner in his family’s beef cattle and timber business and his long history within the Federation spans more than 20 years. These are his people, and he is a tireless advocate when it comes to the interests of those he serves.

Jimmy Rane, Chairman and CEO, Great Southern Wood Preserving

When it comes to name recognition in the state, not many Alabamians have more than the “Yella Fella” himself, Jimmy Rane. Even before Forbes named him as the wealthiest person in the state, Rane’s notoriety and impact have been a force in both the political and business arenas.

Congruently, Rane has focused that force on prospering all his great loves, including his alma mater Auburn University where he serves as president pro-tem of the Board of Trustees; the Jimmy Rane Foundation which has given over 250 college scholarships; and perhaps most impactfully, his hometown. As the Sam Walton of Abbeville, AL, the man known as Mr. Jimmy is single handedly responsible for sustaining the small town in Alabama’s wiregrass.

Possibly it’s the traits he learned during his journey growing a small family business to a global industry leader that paved the way to his insurmountable political influence. Many speculated he would exert that tenacity into Alabama’s most recent U.S. Senate race against the appointed incumbent. Maybe he is bidding his time until the runoff election, but one thing is assured, wherever he directs his efforts, great paths are laid.

Quentin Riggins, Senior Vice President for Governmental and Corporate Affairs, Alabama Power Company

In politics, relationships matter more than anything else. And in Alabama politics, no one has developed more relationships than Quentin Riggins. He has twenty four years of experience in Alabama state government, during which time he served under three governors and the Speaker of the House. Riggins later served as Senior Vice President of the Business Council of Alabama.

Riggins currently serves as Senior Vice President for Governmental and Corporate Affairs for Alabama Power Company. As if being a senior officer at the state’s flagship utility were not enough, he is also a member of the Auburn University Board of Trustees. Holding elevated status in two of Alabama’s heavyweight institutions affords Riggins the opportunity to exercise an uncommonly large measure of power and influence.

And, yet, the former All-American linebacker and SEC Legend has unmatched relationships with elected officials and business leaders from every corner of the state. Riggins is known, and held in high esteem, by so many decision-makers in Alabama that power and influence come naturally.

Britt Sexton, CEO Sexton, Inc., CEO of FS Financial, Inc., Managing Member of Sexton Investments, LLC

If you have sought statewide office in the last 15 years, chances are you’ve likely made a stop along the Tennessee River to visit Britt Sexton. From his office in Decatur, Sexton has not only built a significant business empire but has held a behind-the-scenes position as one of the most influential contributors to Alabama’s political environment.

Sexton serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of University of Alabama system and has been influential in crafting their ascent within the power vacuum left bare by the AEA. However, his power and influence have been wielded in a far greater degree toward his philanthropic contributions. Sexton is a definitive example of someone who has parlayed his accomplishment to do more than his part to better our state.

Zeke Smith, Executive Vice President of External Affairs, Alabama Power Company

If Alabama Power Company seems to have a presence in all things related to the political or economic growth of our state, that is a direct result of the vision and foresight of Zeke Smith. With over 30 years inside the organization, Smith’s influence has infiltrated just about every political, community affairs or economic development entity in the state.

A few of those who reside on this list exercise their power and influence behind-the-scenes. Some you may see or hear on a daily basis. Smith has incorporated the perfect balance to his approach on behalf of Alabama Power. If you look closely at major economic development announcements or philanthropic endeavors, you will see Smith. On the other hand, when important initiatives move their way through the machinery of state government, his input and guidance is often part of the process unbeknownst to policy-makers.

The depth and breadth of his impact is unique in that it traverses everything from environmental regulations to economic development to public relations. For a company of this size, that leaves Smith with a massive budget, an impressive team and a whole lot of power. Smith also possesses an unparalleled mastery of every layer and detail of Alabama Power’s business. Even more impressively, anyone who encounters him will tell you he such a sincerely nice guy, you’d never know the weight of the punch he is packing.

Gary Smith, President, and CEO, PowerSouth

Gary Smith made his debut on the Power and Influence list last year, and his spot still holds true for one simple reason: Smith has created and maintained a relevant seat at the table in Montgomery. PowerSouth’s expanded footprint across south Alabama has only strengthened their contribution to the political and economic development landscape. In 2017, the cooperative brought lower service costs to its members, while having higher customer service scores. Happy members solidify the presence Smith and his team have created.

Additionally, PowerSouth has made a commitment to grass roots education concerning the perception of fossil fuel sourced energy. The creation of the Energy Institute of Alabama focuses on strengthening the energy industry in their territory and beyond. Smith’s already notable trajectory in the industry should continue to impress.

Lee Styslinger, III, Chairman and CEO Altec, Inc.

Styslinger makes his second appearance on the Power and Influence list and for good reason. This year Altec hit the White House as Alabama’s hallmark in President Trump’s Made in America event and Styslinger himself joined discussions with the President directly via his position on a commission for American manufacturing. When you are asked to weigh in on everything from tax reform to deregulation by the national decision makers themselves, influence reaches a level unknown to most in Alabama.

Altec, started by Styslinger’s grandfather in 1929, has become a leading equipment and service provider for the electric utility, telecommunications, contractor, lights and signs, and tree care markets. Their products and services can be found in more than 100 countries. His membership in such exclusive groups such as the Business Roundtable and Augusta National certify that the country’s top leaders in the business world see Styslinger as an elite player.

Mike Thompson, CEO, Thompson Tractor

Mike Thompson has been getting Republicans elected in Alabama for decades, and nothing about that has changed. His recent post as the chairman of the financial leadership committee to elect Luther Strange to U.S. Senate will be critical as the campaign enters the runoff election.

But Thompson’s focus on policy issues can move the needle just as heavily as his ability to back election winners. The anti-tax political climate of recent years should’ve stopped any discussion of increased infrastructure funding dead in its tracks. Many would attribute the continued backing of this issue by the pro-business community heavily to Thompson’s influence. And with vocal support from the current administrative and legislative leaders, perhaps improvements to Alabama’s deteriorating infrastructure system may come to fruition in the not too distant future.