2 years ago

2018 POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential government officials

Today, we introduce the second segment of the 2018 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.

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

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 4th Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who have utilized their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, October 25 at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the governor, lieutenant 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 and to purchase tickets please click here.

Thank you for being a loyal reader of Yellowhammer News.

State Rep. Will Ainsworth

Those looking for the next generation among Alabama political figures, look no further than Will Ainsworth.

Ainsworth has already served a full term in the Alabama House of Representatives. Now, he stands ready to expand into a legitimate statewide power base.

Ainsworth is currently the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Having already received nearly 400,000 votes, his profile has quickly elevated across the state and in Montgomery. With only token opposition, Ainsworth is poised to become first in the line of succession to the governor’s office.

He is known for taking strong conservative stands which will continue to endear him to the conservative base in Alabama. He is a former youth pastor with a business background who will be lined up with the electorate on social and fiscal issues.

Ainsworth is forward thinking and has shown that he is not scared to step into the fray. So, expect him to cut out a role for himself in policy debates at the statehouse. This will only increase his power and influence.

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

While Steve Clouse hails from the small southeastern Alabama town of Ozark, this veteran state legislator oversees one of state government’s biggest annual headaches – the general fund – for the House. This budget funds the state’s most controversial functions, including Medicaid, prisons and mental health. With all of that thankless responsibility comes considerable power and influence.

Having served in the House since 1995, Clouse has achieved a statesman-like leadership status in the lower chamber. He also helps lead the Wiregrass’ delegation, which is steadily growing in influence with the help of Reps. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva) and Paul Lee (R-Dothan). With Alabama’s General Fund Budget always a focal point of attention and political gamesmanship, Clouse figures to be an eminent political player for years to come.

Kay Ivey, governor of Alabama

Governor Kay Ivey has demonstrated raw political power unseen in state politics in quite a while.

In the Republican primary, she received 56 percent of the vote and avoided a runoff in a field of four. To put in perspective how resounding a victory she achieved, her opponents collectively outraised her by nearly $200,000 and still did not come close to holding her under 50 percent.

However, if campaigns are supposed to provide voters with a window into how a prospective officer holder will govern, then Ivey has shown she is a focused, confident leader. She has never strayed from her message and, when confronted with controversy, she responds with a decisiveness and clarity that should be in campaign consulting textbooks.

And we have seen this discipline in her governance. Ivey concentrates on what matters and does not get caught up in meaningless debate.

The state’s economy is roaring under Ivey. She is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump.

And she has the power and influence of executive branch resources at her disposal. Those state agencies affect the lives of every Alabamian in every community.

Most importantly, Ivey connects with people. She connects naturally with people of all backgrounds, ages and geographic locations.

These components are the perfect recipe for success and place Kay Ivey in a truly special position of power and influence.

State Rep. Mike Jones, chairman, House Rules Committee

The chairmanship of the House Rules Committee brings with it substantial clout in the Alabama statehouse. Mike Jones has maximized that opportunity to become one of the building’s key political players.

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.

Jones is a political animal who enjoys the machinations of the statehouse.

He is also just as likely to dive into the details of legislation as he is the House political apparatus.

His chairmanship allows him to have control over the ebb and flow of the debate on the House floor. When legislation gets bogged down, Jones has tremendous leeway in determining its fate. He has a strong voice in whether to move on or fight through.

Jones is among those who may actually see his influence increase during the new term as new members enter the ranks. Look for him to stay on the list of Alabama’s power players.

Del Marsh, Senate president pro tem

Del Marsh is the kind of public servant for which the current electorate craves and our founding fathers envisioned. Marsh originally ran for office simply because his state senator was not responsive to the needs of small business.

Once elected, Marsh became a tireless advocate for smaller government. He is as comfortable in a tree stand as he is a committee room and feels as much at home in his machine shop fabricating gun parts as he does working in a boardroom.

Marsh has built a long record of seeking conservative solutions to the problems facing our state. He led the charge to provide education freedom to Alabama families; he formulated the largest reductions to the size of state government in history, and no one has cut taxes and red tape for small businesses quite like Marsh.

This approach has propelled Marsh into one of the most powerful and influential positions in Alabama politics. As Senate president pro tem, he oversees every aspect of the legislative process in the upper chamber. From committee assignments to legislative priorities to the time of adjournment, Marsh remains in control.

Del Marsh remains one of the most powerful and influential people in state politics for a reason.

 

Steve Marshall, attorney general of Alabama

After Marshall last year was appointed as the 48th attorney general of Alabama, Yellowhammer News wrote, “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.”

Ever since Marshall’s first press conference as the state’s top law enforcement official, the former rural-county district attorney has handled the bright lights of Alabama’s political stage like a seasoned professional. With an even-keel demeanor and a genuinely warm personality, Marshall’s understated charisma is matched only by his legal intellect and political instincts.

Alabama has had a bevy of influential attorneys general in recent decades, with Marshall already making his own mark and then some. And his meteoric rise is not nearly over. He continues to get more and more involved with hot-button national issues such as immigration, abortion and oversight of tech companies, with his power and influence now extending beyond the Yellowhammer State’s borders thanks to a growing number of White House appearances.

 

Mac McCutcheon, speaker of the House

True leaders shine in times of chaos, and Mac McCutcheon’s rise to become Speaker of the House is bested in this department perhaps only by Governor Kay Ivey’s similar achievement in recent years.

One of the nice guys at the statehouse, McCutcheon has garnered power and influence even beyond his lofty position due to the sheer authenticity of his personality. With this comes the trust that legislators have in McCutcheon – if he promises something, you can take it to the bank. For his selfless, lifetime of service to Alabamians and significant contribution to the betterment of our state, McCutcheon this year will be presented with Yellowhammer’s Power of Service award.

With a new quadrennium on the horizon, McCutcheon will find himself in the political spotlight, as proposals regarding prickly issues like new infrastructure funding, the lottery and sports betting are all expected to come before the state legislature. Look for McCutcheon and the legislature’s leadership team to ably navigate several minefields in 2019.

 

State Rep. Bill Poole, chairman, Ways and Means Education Committee

Many refer to Bill Poole as a United States senator in waiting, and you can see why with a quick glance at his historic rise as a freshman legislator to chair the powerful committee in the House tasked with appropriations and revenue sources for the important Education Trust Fund – the state’s budget that handles K-12 and higher education funding.

Not only was his ascent impressive enough, but Poole has proven his merit and more since then, steering the education budget with such machine-like efficiency that you would miss what really sets him apart. When fellow legislators are asked about Poole’s talents, they cannot help but praise his intelligence, drive, vision and savviness. Yet, it’s that undefinable “it” factor that has political pundits and power brokers abuzz – Poole’s genuine, infectious likability.

Whether his future will continue to be in Montgomery or move to Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, Poole will undoubtedly be serving the people of Alabama in exemplary fashion for decades and decades to come.

State Sen. Arthur Orr, chairman, Senate Education Budget Committee

Now in his fourth year as chairman of the Senate Education Budget Committee, Arthur Orr has carved out a particular place of power and influence in state government.

The education budget in Alabama is a $6 billion chunk of money. And those who have any measure of control over state funds have a chance to exercise considerable leverage over policy-making. Orr has seized the opportunity before him.

An exceptionally smart and engaging lawyer by trade, Orr has an attention to detail which allows him to know every single line of the budget and every nook and cranny of state government to which that money flows. Orr makes anyone advocating for even the smallest portion of dollars from the education budget justify the expense.

As a result, other members of the legislature are highly attentive to Orr’s own legislative priorities which, in turn, only expands Orr’s power and influence even further.

Steve Pelham, chief of staff to Governor Kay Ivey

The success of the Ivey administration is undeniable. Governor Ivey has been a commanding figure during the term she filled and will likely enjoy a full term starting in January. However, that type of success for any political figure is a team effort. And the person coordinating that team for Ivey is Steve Pelham.

Pelham is a natural fit for his role as chief of staff to the governor. He is loyal, focused and selfless in his approach. Even though he sits in a position of significant power and influence, Pelham is rarely the subject of interviews or publicity. He understands the need for one voice representing the administration and the distractions that occur when that is not the case.

And, yet, no one outside of Governor Ivey, herself, plays a bigger role in the day-to-day operations of the governor’s office and has a greater say in the long-term vision for the administration.

Pelham has shown near perfect execution of the duties and role of the governor’s chief of staff. The result will be even greater opportunities for him to expand his power and influence in the future.

Greg Reed, Senate majority leader

Leading a majority party in the Alabama legislature is no easy task. It seems with any issue or strategy there will be conflicting motives, ideas, geographical concerns and – yes – egos. Under these conditions, being able to move the body forward toward any objective would seem a nearly impossible task. Furthermore, any person leading that effort leaves themselves vulnerable.

Greg Reed, however, can pull it off. Reed possesses exceptional personal and organizational skills which have helped him keep his caucus on track and still remain a popular figure with his colleagues. Reed is also a dogged competitor who, once his caucus sets off toward an objective, will work tirelessly to see it across the finish line.

Reed’s political career has accelerated at a rapid pace. His skills are a natural fit for Senate leadership. With numerous new Republican senators taking office in the upcoming term, Reed stands to become an even more trusted and influential player in statehouse politics. Greg Reed’s stock is only going up.

State Sen. Jabo Waggoner, chairman, Senate Rules Committee

The road to success in the Alabama Senate travels through the office of Jabo Waggoner.

As chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, Waggoner sets the daily agenda for his chamber. He has the ability to move legislation forward at the timing of his choice. Or, he can stop a piece of legislation dead in its tracks if he so chooses.

And that is not the only source of his considerable clout.

Waggoner represents the conservative, business-minded district that occupies much of the territory in over-the-mountain Jefferson County. Many of the executives from Alabama’s largest employers live in Waggoner’s district. They are the type of power brokers for which other members of the legislature clamor to represent. And he has always been responsive to the needs of this constituency. A staffer at a large business organization once wrote in a pre-election assessment of Waggoner, “Send me more like Jabo Waggoner.”

The truth is, though, there are no others like Jabo Waggoner. His power, his influence and his legacy are unique in Alabama politics.

State Sen. Cam Ward, chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

Cam Ward was made for politics. He started his career as a congressional staffer before quickly moving on to bigger and better things.

Ward’s victory in a House of Representatives seat in 2002 marked the beginning of a noteworthy career in office. He has served in the Alabama Senate since 2010. His district includes a large part of the areas just south of Birmingham where he remains incredibly popular. Ward has faced very little opposition on the home front his entire time in office. Much of this is a result of his constant work on the local level and his attentiveness to his constituents.

In Montgomery, Ward chairs the all-important Senate Judiciary Committee, which is a committee that takes up more pieces of legislation than any other committee in the chamber. And Ward controls the throttle on all of it.

Ward is hard-working, ambitious and always mindful of every political angle. This, combined with the amount of legislation that falls within his control, makes him a real power player in state government.

12 hours ago

Tomorrow is officially Small Business Saturday in Alabama

Governor Kay Ivey (R-AL) has formally proclaimed November 28, 2020, to be Small Business Saturday.

The proclamation issued by Ivey stressed that “the state of Alabama believes that small businesses are the backbone of our economy and the glue that holds communities together.”

Ivey subsequently recognized that small businesses comprise 99.4% of businesses in the Yellowhammer State, employing 48.1% of the private workforce.

“Alabama supports our local small businesses that create jobs, boost our local economy and preserve our neighborhoods,” the governor wrote.

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The proclamation concluded by asking residents to support small businesses this Saturday, as well as throughout the year. Small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

RELATED: Why Small Business Saturday really matters in 2020

This year’s Small Business Saturday comes amid the Keep Alabama Open campaign.

Ivey recently pledged, “I will not shut down businesses; the business community certainly has my support. As I’ve said many times, you cannot have a life without a livelihood.”

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

13 hours ago

Alabama, Auburn students participate in third annual Operation Iron Ruck to support veterans

Not even the COVID-19 pandemic could stop members of the University of Alabama Campus Veterans Association and Auburn University Student Veterans Association from holding the third annual Operation Iron Ruck, an initiative to bring awareness to the rash of veteran suicides in America.

Beginning Wednesday and culminating ahead of Saturday’s Iron Bowl, participants from the two schools are marching with each other from Auburn to Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, where this year’s game will be played.

During the trip, each student veteran will hike approximately 50 miles total. The participants walk for 2 ½ hours consecutively before climbing into a support vehicle for about five hours of rest before their next hike. The trip is about 151 miles long and takes approximately three days to complete.

Operation Iron Ruck supports Mission 22, a veteran suicide campaign recognizing that 22 veterans die by suicide daily across the nation.

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To bring attention to this statistic, student veterans from UA and Auburn this year are each carrying 22 pounds of materials in their rucksacks to be donated to Three Hots and a Cot, a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization that assists homeless military veterans transition from life on the streets into a self-sustained lifestyle.

“Veteran suicide is a serious issue in the veteran community,” commented Ben Shewmake, president of the UA Campus Veterans Association. “The loss of camaraderie, along with service-related problems leave some believing their only way to fix their issues is to end their life. This can be attributed to some people not transitioning back into society, sexual assault issues, family problems and military-related illnesses.”

“The awareness is not to say, ‘hey this is happening,’ but more to tell the ones who are thinking about it that there are people who care and are here if they reach out,” Shewmake added. “There is also a newer message that is popping up that is to tell everyone to keep in touch with their former colleagues and that one random text or call to someone may keep them from committing suicide and no one will probably ever know that. It’s as much to tell those who may be struggling that people care as it is to tell the people who care to reach out rather than wait on being reached out to.”

This initiative has attracted widespread support, including when Governor Kay Ivey last year offered her backing of the program and even formally declared Operation Iron Ruck Day in the state of Alabama.

“Since our country’s inception, our military members have shown their patriotism, their bravery, and ultimately, their willingness to lay their lives on the line for the sake of protecting our freedoms. That sacrifice does not end in combat, because even when our men and women return safely home, many continue to struggle with the impacts of war,” Ivey said in 2019.

“Sadly, in our country, suicide claims the lives of around 22 veterans each day. I urge Alabamians and people all across our country to continue fighting for those who fight for us. I am proud to see this committed group of students from Alabama and Auburn come together to bring awareness to this issue facing veterans in our country,” the governor concluded.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or have concerns about someone else who potentially is doing so, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will be routed to a local crisis center where professionals can talk you through a risk assessment and provide resources in your community.

Additionally, veterans and service members, as well as their loved ones, can call the Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line to connect with qualified, caring U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline (1-800-273-8255, Press 1).

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

14 hours ago

Alabama’s game against LSU rescheduled for Saturday, December 5

The University of Alabama Crimson Tide’s game against LSU, which was originally scheduled for November 14, will reportedly be rescheduled to Saturday, December 5.

The game was postponed earlier this month because of positive COVID-19 test results and subsequent contact tracing within the LSU football program.

It had since become doubtful that the game would be rescheduled, as LSU already has a make-up game against Florida scheduled for December 12, the designated weekend set aside by the SEC for games postponed due to coronavirus protocols.

Yahoo Sport’s Pete Thamel on Friday was the first to report that the SEC plans to readjust the remaining regular season schedule to allow Alabama to play LSU — the defending national champions — this season.

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It is expected now that Alabama will travel to play LSU in Baton Rouge next weekend.

Alabama’s game at Arkansas, originally scheduled for December 5, will thus be pushed back to December 12.

The SEC Championship Game will be December 19.

It has been reported that this planned schedule adjustment by the SEC is contingent on this weekend’s relevant games not being postponed.

The Tide face Auburn in the Iron Bowl at 2:30 p.m. this Saturday. Head coach Nick Saban will not be on the sideline due to a positive COVID-19 test result on Wednesday.

UPDATE 2:50 p.m.

The SEC confirmed the schedule change.

Alabama at LSU will now be played December 5 at 7:00 p.m., and CBS will broadcast the game.

“The cooperation and flexibility of our coaches, athletics directors and campus leaders along with the dedication of our student-athletes now provides the opportunity to reach this point in the season with the ability for each SEC team to play ten football games in 2020,” stated SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey. “We knew before the season there would be interruptions and scheduling challenges related to COVID-19 and we will continue to manage the remaining weeks of the football schedule to allow for as many games to be played as possible, with a continuing focus on determining an SEC champion.”

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

16 hours ago

Lockheed Martin completes acquisition of Huntsville company’s hypersonics portfolio, boosting Alabama-based national security work

Lockheed Martin this week announced it has closed on the acquisition of Huntsville-based Integration Innovation Inc.’s (i3) hypersonics portfolio.

Terms of acquiring this portion of the Rocket City software and systems engineering company were not disclosed.

A release advised that the acquisition expands Lockheed’s capabilities to design, develop and produce integrated hypersonic weapon systems for its customers.

Lockheed’s hypersonics program is based in Courtland, Alabama, which is less than an hour away from Huntsville.

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“Our customers require the most forward-thinking, advanced technology that anticipates and addresses their national security requirements. This business combination not only reinforces our commitment to their missions, but also expands our portfolio in a strategic way,” stated Eric Scherff, vice president of Hypersonic Strike Programs at Lockheed. “Combining i3’s talent and domain expertise with our shared vision for hypersonic strike will expand how we think about and deliver this critical capability to the warfighter across domains.”

Mike Wicks, the former CEO of i3, has been named vice president of the Hypersonic Engineering & Accelerated Technologies program within the Hypersonic Strike Portfolio for Lockheed Martin Space.

“We’re proud to be a part of the Lockheed Martin family, as they are a technology authority and employ some of the best and brightest in the industry,” said Wicks. “We have invested much time and energy into developing strategic solutions at i3. And, we’re finding the need to synergize these offerings with Lockheed Martin is more timely than ever and unlocks the value to our joint customers.”

The U.S. Army last year awarded Lockheed a $347 million contract to serve as its Long Range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW) prototype system integrator.

In addition to much of this work being conducted in Lawrence County, Lockheed chose Huntsville-based Dynetics (now a Leidos company) to work on this project, developing launchers with hydraulics, outriggers, power generation and distribution for the ground platform. Dynetics will further provide flight test and training support. Moreover, i3 was named as a part of that Lockheed-led LRHW team.

Separately, Dynetics Technical Solutions last year was also awarded an Army contract in the amount of $351.6 million to produce Common-Hypersonic Glide Body (C-HGB) prototypes in Huntsville. In turn, Dynetics selected Lockheed as a subcontractor on this project.

Both contracts are part of the Army’s work to advance the fielding of a prototype hypersonic weapon by Fiscal Year 2023 and transition the development of Army hypersonic capabilities out of government laboratories and into commercial production.

Beyond North Alabama’s private sector expertise in hypersonics, this collaboration is administered by the Army Hypersonic Project Office, part of the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO), which is headquartered at Huntsville’s Redstone Arsenal.

The C-HGB is intended for use by not just the Army but also the Navy and the Missile Defense Agency, which is anchored in Huntsville.

Hypersonic Strike capabilities have been identified by the federal government as a critical capability that must be addressed in support of the U.S. National Security Strategy. Hypersonic weapons are unique in that they are capable of flying at five times the speed of sound and operate at varying altitudes.

U.S. Senator Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) has been a key supporter of hypersonics programs, including in his roles as chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations and its Subcommittee on Defense.

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

17 hours ago

Birmingham’s Regions Center once again lighting up ahead of Christmas

Regions Bank’s iconic headquarters tower in Birmingham will once again be transformed into a beautiful holiday lights display starting on Friday.

This is an annual Magic City hallmark going back to the late 1970s.

Each year, red, green and white lights installed above the windows surrounding the 30-story tower are illuminated in the forms of Christmas trees, a massive wreath and a giant stocking.

The lights come on just before sunset each evening beginning the day after Thanksgiving, and the nightly display continues until January 1.

“The lighting of the Regions Center is a tradition going back more than 40 years, and Regions Bank is proud to keep the tradition alive, especially during a year in which so much has changed,” stated Joe Holcombe, senior facilities project manager in Regions’ Corporate Real Estate division.

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“In recent weeks, crews have been installing and testing lights, working hard to get Birmingham’s tallest holiday display ready for the season,” he continued. “As the lights come on this evening, we wish everyone a happy holiday season and a brighter new year to come.”

The Regions Center tower rises nearly 400 feet over 5th Avenue North at 20th Street North in downtown Birmingham.

While some of the best views are from Railroad Park or from Vulcan Park on Red Mountain, the customary lights are visible across the city, including to travelers on nearby Interstate highways and planes landing at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

Emilio Cerice, senior vice president of Corporate Real Estate for Regions Bank, said in a statement last year, “It’s something we look forward to every year – and it’s something the city looks forward to. In recent years, it’s been fun to watch social media and see people sharing creative photos of the building or sharing their memories of coming downtown to see the lights.”

In addition to this annual seasonal display, the Regions Center has also been illuminated to celebrate the Regions Tradition golf tournament, as well as the 1996 Summer Olympics (when Birmingham hosted Olympic soccer games) and in a patriotic display to support American troops during the Gulf War in 1991.

“Birmingham is our headquarters city. We’re proud to occupy a prominent spot in the city’s skyline,” Cerice added. “And we’re proud to carry on this tradition.”

You can read more about the history of the tradition and the process of displaying the lights here.

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