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.

5 hours ago

Alabama basketball completes the sweep against Auburn

Fresh off of winning the SEC regular season championship for the first time in 19 years, the Alabama Crimson Tide on Tuesday completed a sweep of Auburn for the first time in six years after defeating the Tigers at home 70-58.

Jayden Shackelford led the way for Alabama in Tuscaloosa, as the talented sophomore guard went 5-9 from behind the arc to finish with 23 total points in the win over Auburn.

Sophomore Jahvon Quinerly scored 11 points off of the bench and provided sparks for Alabama in crucial moments of the game.

While Alabama led by as much as 16 points in the first half, Auburn was able to cut the lead to five in the second. However, Alabama’s defense began to stiffen up, and seniors Herbert Jones and John Petty stalled the Tiger’s offense out before they could get too hot.


For the Tide, the three-ball has become a major part of their offense. Second-year head coach Nate Oats always tells his players to get at least one touch in the paint first before shooting. This green-light mentality is becoming more and more popular throughout college hoops.

Bama has done really well with this philosophy by becoming one of the most dominant teams from downtown in the conference. Tuesday’s game showed that even when the three doesn’t come through for the Tide, they have other ways of scoring.

Alabama drove the basketball extremely well in the second half against Auburn and proved to be the more physical team in their win on Tuesday night. When tournament time begins, they may have to lean on this more physical style of play in certain games.

The Tide have one more regular season game against Georgia in Athens on Saturday. Bama will look to finish the regular season on a win before the SEC Tournament in Nashville gets underway.

The Tide are currently projected to be a two seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

Hayden Crigler is a contributing college football and college basketball writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him through email: hayden@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter: @hayden_crigler.

5 hours ago

Alabama House recap: Bills to increase executive branch oversight, update sex ed language pass chamber

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives met Tuesday and passed six pieces of legislation, including bills that would increase oversight of executive branch agencies and update language in the state’s policy on sex education.

After convening shortly after 1:00 p.m. the chamber spent much of the next five hours in extended debate on two bills, with members of the Democratic Party engaging in protracted discussions of legislation they began their remarks saying they would ultimately vote for.

Seeing the most debate were HB 392 from Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia) and HB 103 from Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville).

Jones’ bill creates a joint legislative committee to oversee large financial agreements made by the executive branch, and Kiel’s would prevent the state government from picking which businesses close during states of emergency.


More information on Kiel’s bill is available here.

The legislation from Jones, chair of the powerful Rules Committee, would create the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Obligation Transparency. The committee would have the authority to approve or disapprove of contracts, leases and agreements by the executive branch and the agencies therein.

Under the proposed law the committee would meet to review any financial agreement greater than $10 million or 5% of the agency’s annual appropriation from the State General Fund.

Making up the committee would be the chair, vice-chair and ranking minority members of the committees in each legislative chamber that oversee taxation.

The proposed oversight committee would be able to meet when the legislature is in or out of session. It would have to issue approval or disapproval within 45 days of a state agency submitting a proposed contract.

If the proposed committee disapproved of a contract it would be delayed from going into effect until the end of the current or next occurring general session of the legislature.

Jones noted in remarks on the floor that this delay would give lawmakers time to address via legislation the proposal disapproved of by the committee, and added that new legislation would be required to put a halt to any state contract of which the proposed committee disapproved.

HB 392 ultimately received unanimous support in the House, with a final vote of 98-0.

Also passing the House on Tuesday was HB 385 sponsored by Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). The bill updates language in the legal code that governs how Alabama educators must teach sex ed.

It also deletes from the Code of Alabama language that requires those teaching sex ed to emphasize that “homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.”

Rep. Terri Collins (R-Decatur) and Rep. Charlotte Meadows (R-Montgomery), two staunch conservatives with backgrounds in education policy, spoke in favor of the legislation on the House floor and voted for its passage. The bill passed the House on a vote of 69-30.

Three other pieces of lower profile legislation passed the chamber on Tuesday:

HB 255 from Rep. Randall Shedd (R-Cullman) that would add a tenth member to the advisory board of directors of the Department of Senior Services, and let ex officio members name a designee to serve in their place.

HB 330 from Rep. Alan Baker (R-Brewton) that would change the outdated language in the state legal code concerning video depositions in criminal prosecutions.

HB 136 from Rep. Chip Brown (R-Hollinger’s Island) that would designate the aquarium at Dauphin Island Sea Lab as the Official Aquarium of Alabama.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

9 hours ago

Alabama House passes bill that would block the government from picking and choosing which establishments close during states of emergency

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that would prevent the state government from designating which types of businesses were allowed to stay open in situations such as the one experienced during the advent of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Sponsored by Rep. Jamie Kiel (R-Russellville), HB103 would not infringe on the governor or state health officer’s ability to implement public health guidance. It would only say that any business or house of worship that followed public health guidelines would be allowed to open.

“I think if it is safe enough to go to the liquor store and wear a mask and socially distance, then it is safe enough to go to church and wear a mask and socially distance,” argued Kiehl on the House floor.


The vote on the floor was 75 in favor and 22 opposed with three members abstaining.

The bill applies to declared states of emergency that involve a “pandemic, epidemic, bioterrorism event, or the appearance of a novel or previously controlled or eradicated infectious disease or biological toxin,” per the text of the legislation.

In explaining what inspired him to author the legislation, Kieh said of last spring, “I saw businesses in my town that were suffering,” adding that some small business owners he knew were “scared to death they were going to lose their livelihoods.”

Governor Ivey’s “Stay At Home” order, in place for most of April 2020, allowed major retailers like Walmart to remain open while smaller retail stores that did not sell groceries were forced to close.

Kiehl feels that this arrangement was unfair, and that small shops and establishments deserved the chance to stay open if able to implement the health guidelines. Ivey has expressed regret in recent months about creating the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses.

“[W]hat we were really doing is were we driving all the customers that would have been in all these other stores — in the small mom-and-pops, the Hibbetts of the world — we were driving all those to one central location to buy clothing. That cannot be good for the spread of the pandemic — to bring everybody together in one location or a few locations,” Kiel told FM Talk 106.5’s “The Jeff Poor Show.”

The National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) is strongly supporting the passage of the legislation.

Kiel’s bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

10 hours ago

Alabama Senate passes Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act

MONTGOMERY — On a party line vote, the Alabama Senate on Tuesday passed SB 10, the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

Sponsored by Sen. Shay Shelnutt (R-Trussville), the bill would ban the performance of medical procedures and the prescription of puberty-blocking medications and sex-change hormones used as transgender therapies for minors, with certain exceptions.

The vote was 23-4, with the only four Democrats present all dissenting: Sens. Billy Beasley (D-Clayton), Vivian Figures (D-Mobile), Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) and Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham).

Shelnutt, since first introducing a version of the legislation last year, has said his goal in bringing the bill was to simply protect children from making harmful longterm decisions that they may later regret once more mature.


“The primary concern here is the health and well-being of Alabama’s children,” stated Shelnutt. “We must protect vulnerable minors who do not have the mental capacity to make life-altering decisions of this caliber. The efficacy and effects of these particular surgeries and methods of treatment are not well-sustained by medical evidence, and actions of this severity cannot be undone.”

“I believe it is our responsibility as lawmakers to do all we can to keep our children out of harm’s way,” he added. “Protecting minors from these powerful drugs and consequential procedures will help ensure they do not feel responsible to make a decision they may wish to later undo, ultimately causing more harm.”

The House Judiciary Committee last week approved as amended the lower chamber’s companion version of the bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Wes Allen (R-Troy). HB 1 now awaits consideration on the House floor.

In response to the passage of SB 10, Scott McCoy — SPLC interim deputy director for LGBTQ Rights & Special Litigation — released a statement.

“The Alabama State Senate is dangerously close to passing yet another piece of discriminatory legislation that likely will lead to long and expensive litigation at high cost to Alabama taxpayers,” McCoy decried.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

11 hours ago

Alabama GOP Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard: 2020 election ‘stolen from President Trump’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lynda Blanchard on Tuesday called upon the Alabama House Constitution, Campaigns, and Elections Committee to vote down a bill that would legalize no-excuse absentee voting in the state, among other alterations of Alabama’s elections laws.

The committee is set to meet on Wednesday regarding HB 396, which is sponsored by State Rep. Laura Hall (D-Huntsville). The bill was originally backed by Secretary of State John Merrill, although he has now withdrawn his support for the measure.

Blanchard served in the administration of President Donald J. Trump as his ambassador to Slovenia, the home country of then-First Lady Melania Trump.

The Montgomery resident is Alabama’s only declared U.S. Senate candidate ahead of the 2022 race to replace retiring U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL). Blanchard in a written statement said HB 396 significantly weakens Alabama’s absentee balloting rules.


“Absentee balloting invites corruption, cheating, and fraud, so it should be allowed only in rare and unavoidable cases,” she said. “The bill that has been introduced in the Legislature leaves the door wide open for ballot harvesting and other abuses that allowed the recent presidential election to be stolen from President Trump.”

“The bill also begins a dangerous process of watering down Alabama’s election laws, which could lead to the repeal of our photo voter ID requirements and other safeguards that Republicans have put in place,” Blanchard continued.

She concluded, “Alabama should focus on strengthening, not weakening, our honest election reforms, and we certainly shouldn’t implement no-excuse absentee voting, which is often used by liberal Democrats who have refined election fraud and ballot stuffing into an art form.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) and Congressman Mo Brooks (AL-05) have already voiced opposition to HB 396.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn