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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.

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