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. Today’s segment includes politicians and government officials. Check back throughout the week for additional segments on the state’s most powerful lobbyists and businessmen. Names below are listed in alphabetical order.
Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 2nd 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 Friday, May 13th at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook. Last year’s event attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, numerous 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.
Governor Robert Bentley
Alabama’s scandal-ridden governor is in the midst of the most tumultuous period of his tenure in the state’s top office at a time when he thought he would be in full-on legacy-building mode.
His “Great State 2019” plan has been mostly ignored in the wake of audio evidence that he had an affair with his senior political advisor. The scandal has once again thrust Alabama into its familiar role as the butt of national media headlines. But perhaps more importantly, economic developers have expressed frustration that Bentley’s indiscretions are impacting the state’s ability to recruit jobs.
Threats of impeachment have further weakened Bentley’s influence on the legislative process, which was already limited by his veto being easily overruled by a simple majority vote.
In spite of it all, the governor still wields significant power over the dozens of executive branch agencies. The administration has shown a particular willingness to use its control over infrastructure projects as leverage to bend other government officials to Bentley’s will.
He was adamant during his first term that he would not allow himself to be remembered as a “caretaker governor.” Assuming he is not removed from office, he has a couple of years left to shape posterity’s opinion of what exactly it was he “took care of” as Alabama’s 53rd governor.
Senator Slade Blackwell, Banking and Insurance Committee Chairman
Outside of the senate president pro tem, majority leader, and the two budget chairmen, there is relative parity among Republican senators when it comes to power and influence. But Blackwell’s stock his risen significantly this year.
The young Mountain Brook senator’s superior talent was never in doubt, but the 2016 legislative session has been perhaps the first one to which Blackwell has been able to devote his full attention since he was first elected in 2010.
His vast business interests have given him a firm grasp on the finance issues he deals with regularly as the chairman of the banking committee, and his renewed focus on legislative issues has made him a player in the behind-the-scenes wrangling on matters ranging from Gulf State Park to infrastructure funding.
Blackwell is mentioned in almost every conversation about future statewide candidates. He is a fundraising juggernaut, which will likely make him a key component of next quadrennium’s senate leadership team, assuming he sticks around for another term.
His trump card is that many of the state’s most powerful and influential business leaders live in his district, which includes the most affluent zip code in the state.
Philip Bryan, Chief of Staff to Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh
Bryan has been a staple on the Power and Influence 50 since its first iteration shortly after Republicans came to power in 2011 and he positioned himself as Marsh’s right-hand-man.
He is always operating, always working an angle, and always advocating for his boss’s position. His work ethic and talent will make him a coveted governmental affairs asset in the private sector when the time comes, but until then he is the most powerful legislative staffer by a long shot.
Leura Canary, General Counsel, Retirement Systems of Alabama
Canary’s official title makes her the top legal counsel for Alabama’s public pension system, but this year she has taken on an expanded in-house lobbyist role and almost single-handedly fought back RSA reforms being pushed by conservative lawmakers.
Her boss, RSA CEO David Bronner, has been a powerful force in Alabama politics for decades, but at this point it is Canary — and her close relationship with House Speaker Mike Hubbard — that is keeping Bronner’s operation afloat.
She was previously appointed by President George W. Bush to be U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama. Since joining the RSA, she has earned a reputation for being a tenacious operator at the State House. She is also married to Business Council of Alabama CEO Billy Canary, making them something of a rare Alabama political power couple.
Alabama Secretary of Commerce Greg Canfield
Canfield has been the face of Alabama’s job recruitment efforts since 2011, racking up high profile successes including Airbus, Remington, Polaris and Google. He oversaw the rebranding of the Alabama Development Office, remaking it into the Alabama Department of Commerce, now commonly known as Made in Alabama.
The state’s business community looks to Canfield to take the lead, particularly when it comes to industrial recruitment, and has rallied to his aid to help get major deals done. He has Alabama’s top CEOs on speed dial, which will undoubtedly prove to be an asset for him when he moves on to his next challenge, whether it is in the private sector or another crack at elected office. He previously served in the Alabama House and was chairman of the commerce and small business committee.
His job has gotten a lot more difficult in the wake of Governor Bentley’s numerous scandals, but he hasn’t missed a beat.
State Rep. Steve Clouse, General Fund Budget Chairman
Clouse is genuinely one of the nicest guys in Montgomery.
As chairman of the House General Fund Budget Committee, he has found himself at the center of many of the most contentious issues on Goat Hill over the last several years. The General Fund is a nightmare to put together, due to its yearly shortfalls, and Clouse has been a central player in battles over Medicaid and prison funding. All tax bills originate in his committee.
Clouse is a long-time ally of House Speaker Mike Hubbard, a relationship that has afforded him the opportunity to become the Wiregrass area’s most powerful legislator.
Senator Gerald Dial, Health And Human Services Committee Chairman
No member of the Alabama Legislature knows how to turn the levers of state government more than Dial.
To illustrate that point, consider what Dial did shortly after Republicans took over the legislature in 2010.
While other members were angling for plum committee assignments, like general fund, judiciary or banking, Dial made sure he became chairman of the Legislative Committee on Reapportionment, chairman of the Long Term Transportation Committee and chairman of the Legislative Parking Committee — all committees that gave him leverage among his peers.
As a result, Dial had significant control over what legislators districts looked like, what infrastructure projects they got, and where they parked when they came to work in Montgomery. Brilliant.
He tackles a wide array of issues in the senate, from tablets for school kids to road funding. He also serves on the Troy University Board of Trustees and is a retired Brigadier General in the Alabama National Guard.
Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard
Hubbard’s ability to survive two full sessions as Speaker with a 23-count felony indictment hanging over his head is a testament to how large of a shadow he casts across the political landscape in the Yellowhammer State. Once viewed as a sure-thing gubernatorial candidate in 2018, the corruption charges — which he contends are politically-motivated — have likely destroyed his statewide aspirations, but do not appear to have significantly diminished his ability to rule the lower chamber.
His most significant political challenge is trying to keep his fractured caucus united. There is a bloc of House Republicans who are disillusioned with what they perceive as a lack of conservative priorities being advanced under the GOP supermajority. Hubbard, one of the most talented leaders the Alabama legislature has ever seen, has pushed through the sporadic rebellions and endured pressure that would have withered most speakers.
It’s pretty simple for Mike Hubbard. If he’s convicted, he’s done. He’ll be remembered as a kind of political supernova, shining brighter than anything else in the galaxy of Alabama politics for a brief period of time before disappearing out of the sky in the wake of a catastrophic explosion. If he’s found innocent, he’ll be the sun around which the whole galaxy turns.
Lt. Governor Kay Ivey
Critics of Ivey’s inclusion on the Power and Influence list in years past have justified their dissent by pointing out the lack of power and responsibility vested in the lieutenant governor’s office. But this year’s Bentley scandals have reminded everyone that Ivey remains a single breath — or impeachment proceeding — away from the big chair.
Ivey presides over the senate and determines to which committee each bill is assigned, but her role in the senate is minimal. That is not her fault, though. Democrats gutted much of the lieutenant governor’s authority in 1999 after Republican Steve Windom was elected and threatened to hold up Democratic Gov. Don Siegelman’s first-year legislative agenda.
Ivey already has a government-in-waiting if things go south for Bentley.
Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh
Marsh has been a steady hand at the helm of the Alabama Senate for the past six years, proving himself to be an unrivaled manager of the upper chamber’s oversized personalities and egos.
The controversies on both sides of South Union Street have kept significant reforms off the table this session, but Marsh has managed to keep the upper chamber rolling along. It actually says more about Marsh’s leadership that we haven’t heard much about the Senate in 2016. Chaos has reigned on Goat Hill, but it’s been pretty much business as usual on the 7th floor of the State House.
This is very likely Marsh’s final term in the Senate. The only question left is whether he will retire to his private island or jump back into the fray with a gubernatorial run in 2018. If he chooses the latter, he will be one of the favorites because of his unrivaled ability to tap into the deep pockets of the Alabama business community.
State Rep. Mac McCutcheon, House Rules Chairman
McCutcheon has proven himself to be a loyal lieutenant to Mike Hubbard, standing by his side as others began distancing themselves from the embattled House Speaker. That single decision has been perhaps the most impactful one anyone has made in the House in the last couple of years because McCutcheon is the only legislator with enough stature inside the House GOP Caucus to topple the Hubbard regime from within.
Universally liked and respected by legislators on both sides of the aisle, McCutcheon would be one of the favorites for the speaker’s gavel, if and when the time comes. Until then he is the member most responsible for making sure the legislative process runs as smoothly as possible in the raucous Alabama House.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore
Alabama’s controversial chief justice spent much of 2015 in the national spotlight during the same-sex marriage debate. Moore has been relatively quiet since January when he ordered local judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of a federal court, but he still has a couple of complaints against him pending with the Judicial Inquiry Commission. If momentum builds to attempt to remove him from office again, it might actually make him stronger.
He is one of the only individuals on the Power & Influence 50 who can garner national media attention, seemingly at a moment’s notice. That makes him unique among state-level politicians in Alabama, most of whom are relatively unknown to the general public, even if they wield significant power on Goat Hill.
Will Moore mount a third and final gubernatorial bid in 2018 before calling it a career?
Senator Arthur Orr, Education Budget Chairman
Orr is an enigma who continues to puzzle many people in Montgomery.
He is quick to sponsor legislation that makes conservatives cheer — like his bills to ban food stamp spending on liquor and strip clubs — but has been hard to pin down on tougher policy fights that aren’t as cut-and-dried politically.
He has developed a reputation for being difficult to deal with, but no one denies his ability far exceeds that of most state legislators. Orr has been rumored as a possible statewide or congressional candidate and will be able to tap into a well-developed fundraising base when he decides to make the jump.
Senator Trip Pittman, General Fund Budget Chairman
The larger-than-life General Fund Budget chairman is likely in the final couple of years of his lengthy tenure in the Alabama Senate, but he continues to play a central role in internal senate power struggles.
Pittman is one of the few senators who sometimes lays down in the middle of the road and basically says, “I’m not letting this bill pass until I get what I want.”
His libertarian streak makes him unpredictable and sometimes leaves him conflicted, especially since the budget he helps craft contains numerous government programs that are at odds with his political ideology.
Pittman has been a long-time proponent of term limits, but he took it a step further this year by introducing a constitutional amendment that would disband the Alabama senate entirely. Needless to say, it didn’t gain much support from his colleagues, but it illustrated just how far he is sometimes willing to go to buck the status quo.
He cannot be intimidated.
State Rep. Bill Poole, House Education Budget Chairman
When a reporter informally polled 20 legislators after the 2011 session, asking them which first-term lawmaker had the brightest future, 19 of them said Bill Poole. They were quickly proven right when he made the almost unheard of leap of becoming Education Budget Chairman before his first term was over.
The Education Budget is the largest pot of money in state government, which makes Poole a daily target of lobbyists looking to insert a line item into the budget or seeking a bump in funding. He has figured out a way to say “no” and keep the Montgomery Machine at arms length, without alienating his colleagues and powerful groups.
Poole unanimously passed his Education Budget in the House this year, which is a testament to his competence and ability to build bridges between disparate interests. He will be on the short list to become the next Speaker of the House, if and when the time comes, but has remained loyal to Mike Hubbard throughout the tumultuous past two years.
Senator Greg Reed, Senate Majority Leader
Reed is an ambitious lawmaker who aspires to statewide office, but has found himself on the fast track to become senate president pro tem, one of the two most powerful posts in the legislature. With Senator Del Marsh, the current pro tem, signaling this will likely be his last term in the legislature, Reed is likely to opt for the pro tem slot rather than risk a long-shot statewide run in 2018.
His current position as majority leader has given him a platform to cultivate a lot of friendships and loyalty.
Keep an eye on Reed in the years to come. He has natural political gifts and has an air about him that lends itself to leadership roles. He is already building out a formidable team so his likely transition to the top post in the senate will be seamless.
Attorney General Luther Strange
Ever since his time in D.C. as a top-tier federal lobbyist, Strange has had his eye on the U.S. Senate, but with both of Alabama’s seats occupied by popular incumbents, Strange has opted to build his résumé at the state level.
After an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor, Strange’s fundraising prowess propelled him into the attorney general’s office. He is already quietly laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial run in 2018.
His tenure as AG has been more controversial in political and business circles than it has been in the general public. But his political future likely hinges on the outcome of a case from which he has recused himself.
Strange’s name is on the office, so whatever happens in the Hubbard case is a reflection on him. But his recusal has left him in the unenviable position of bearing all of the public responsibility for what has been going on in Lee County without having the requisite authority.
Outside of the Hubbard trial, Strange’s office routinely garners headlines for suing the Obama administration and harassing the EPA — not a bad gig for someone aiming at higher office in Alabama.
Senator Jabo Waggoner, Senate Rules Chairman
Waggoner is the longest serving Republican in the Alabama Senate and has been a major player in state politics since the mid-1960s.
Ironically, the best thing that ever happened to his political career was that he narrowly lost a bid for U.S. Congress in 1984. Being one of 435 House members in Washington, D.C., would have likely given him far fewer opportunities to put his stamp on his home state than being one of the most powerful state legislators decade after decade. At this point Waggoner holds near total sway over what bills make it to the floor of the senate for a vote, thanks to his position as Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee.
All signs point to Waggoner running for a twelfth term in the Alabama legislature in 2018. For long-time legislators, staffers and governmental affairs pros at the State House, the day Waggoner walks out of his corner office on the 7th floor for the final time will mark the end of an era and one of the truly remarkable runs in Alabama political history.