8 months 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.

8 hours ago

Bill to abolish marriage licenses passes Alabama House, heads to Ivey’s desk

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday passed SB 69, State Sen. Greg Albritton’s (R-Atmore) bill that would end marriage licenses in the Yellowhammer State.

The bill previously passed the House on a 67-26 vote. The legislation previously passed the Senate 26-0.

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After Obergefell v. Hodges essentially created a protected legal right to marriage, judges in some Alabama counties decided to stop issuing marriage licenses altogether so they would not have to approve licenses for gay couples.

Instead of the local probate office issuing marriage licenses in each county, the new system proposed by SB 69 would simply provide for affidavits of marriage to be filed with the probate office. So, instead of needing a probate judge’s approval for marriage, spouses would only have to register with the probate judge’s office.

This means judges who have religious objections to gay marriage will no longer have to issue marriage licenses in violation of their religious beliefs. Proponents of the bill said SB 69 will ensure federal law is being followed in the state while taking away the burden of approval or rejection of marriages from individual probate judges.

Opponents of the legislation have said the bill was born out of prejudice.

State Rep. Neil Rafferty (D-Birmingham), the only openly gay member in the Alabama House, told reporters the bill itself is not prejudiced but that it originated from “homophobia.”

However, no members of the House debated SB 69 on the floor, making for a surprisingly quick final passage. State Rep. Matt Simpson (R-Daphne) handled the bill in the chamber.

The bill now heads to Governor Kay Ivey’s desk.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 hours ago

Byrne, Shelby file bill to ensure terrorists like the ‘American Taliban’ are never again released early

Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) on Thursday introduced the No Leniency for Terrorists Act that would prevent convicted terrorists from being released from federal prison early for good behavior.

Yellowhammer News was the first to report on this legislation when it was imminent on Wednesday.

The legislation being filed comes the day John Walker Lindh, known as the “American Taliban,” was released years early on his original 20-year sentence.

“A convicted terrorist walking free before his sentence is completed should never happen again,” Byrne said in a statement.

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After being captured in Afghanistan in 2001, Lindh pled guilty to serving as a soldier of the Taliban. He was held responsible for the death of Johnny Micheal “Mike” Spann, a Winfield native and Auburn University alumnus who was the first American known to be killed in “The War on Terror” in Afghanistan after 9/11.

“The Spann family asked me to address this injustice, and I want to make sure no other family has to go through what the they have been through,” Byrne concluded. “The No Leniency for Terrorists Act will prevent terrorists from taking advantage of our laws to avoid paying their debt to society. We must ensure that terrorists will remain behind bars where they belong.”

Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Congressman Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) joined Shelby and Byrne in introducing the legislation.

“The early release of convicted terrorists sends the wrong message to those who have fought against terrorism and those who want to cause us harm,” Shelby remarked. “This legislation will help us prioritize the safety and security of our nation above all else. Today’s early release of John Walker Lindh is disheartening and unacceptable, and I am proud we are taking this step to make terrorists ineligible for early release.”

Under existing federal law, any federal prisoner can be released early for “exemplary compliance with institutional disciplinary regulations.”

There are no exceptions to this law, including those who have been convicted of terrorism charges, and there are 108 other terrorist offenders who are scheduled to complete their sentences and be released from U.S. federal prison over the next few years. The No Leniency for Terrorists Act amends federal law to say those currently serving or those convicted of crimes related to terrorism in the future cannot be released early for good time served.

As of a 2017 Foreign Policy article, Lindh still intended to spread terrorist ideology upon his release from prison.

His release came only a day after NBC reported that Lindh, in a letter to a producer from Los Angeles-based affiliate KNBC, wrote in 2015 that ISIS is “doing a spectacular job” and “is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation to establish a caliphate through armed struggle.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

9 hours ago

Mountain Brook High School band members prepare to perform on the beaches of Normandy

Mountain Brook High School’s marching band is gearing up to participate in the D-Day 75 Normandy Parade, which will commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2019, according to a CBS 42 report.

Expected to leave June 4 and return June 11, the 24 students from Mountain Brook High School taking part in the event will reportedly march on the beaches of Normandy as they are looked upon by cheering crowds.

Band director Jason Smith shared his excitement of the opportunity and said he was “proud” of the kids.

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“I’m so proud, these kids are the hardest working kids at Mountain Brook High School,” Smith said via CBS 42. “The parents have stepped up to support there travels, and their ability to do something like this is unspeakable.”

D-Day occurred on June 6, 1944, and 160,000 forces, including 70,000 Americans landed on 50 miles of Normandy coast. More than 2,000 Americans lost their lives when they stormed the beach to reach high ground. Over 8,000 others also lost their lives in the days after.

Donations can be made to support the Mountain High School Band by calling 205-414-3810 to speak with Jason Smith or by emailing smithj@mtnbrook.k12.al.us.

Kyle Morris also contributes daily to Breitbart News. You can follow him on Twitter @RealKyleMorris.

9 hours ago

Montgomery selected by military for major software development project

Alabama’s capital city has been selected by the Air Force for a new software development project that will attract top IT talent to the area, spurring increased new-age economic development in Montgomery.

TechMGM, the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce’s initiative to connect and leverage the city’s unique technology assets, on Wednesday announced a partnership with the Air Force Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate Program Executive Office to host a new military software development project that will offer private sector collaboration called BESPIN.

Marking a shift in the way the Air Force approaches software development and acquisition, BESPIN (Business and Enterprise Systems Product Innovation), pairs in-house developers with private sector developers and uses an agile development methodology in a collaborative and innovative environment to turn projects into new solutions to support the Department of Defense.

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The Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate based at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base has been charged by the secretary of the Air Force for acquisition to stand-up a software factory focusing on Business and Enterprise Systems (BES) applications. BES runs the systems that run the Air Force.

The local chamber partnered with BES to provide an initial off-base space at their facility, where work is already underway to create mobile applications for BES with the first focus being logistics systems used on the flight line, including those at Maxwell Air Force Base and the Alabama Air National Guard.

Through BESPIN, previously slow and costly products can now be met with flexible solutions that allow developers to adapt on the fly – and deliver real results more quickly.

By training and encouraging in-house talent to develop software using agile practices, the Air Force is starting to attract top IT talent. Meanwhile, they are also collaborating with digital services market leaders to transform their process and train their workforce.

In April, BES awarded a contract to Fearless, the company responsible for 1). redesigning the SBA.gov site, 2). modernizing Medicare beneficiary API products for Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and 3). building software for other federal, nonprofit, city and healthcare clients.

“Fearless is excited to partner with USAF, TechMGM, and the City of Montgomery at large to support in the growth of the local tech ecosystem. The BESPIN and TechMGM visions align well with our mission to build software with a soul, and to see a world where good software powers things that matter,” Delali Dzirasa, president of Fearless, stated.

BES is also a founding member of the national Digital Services Coalition and is passionate about assisting the government in making its technology work better for all residents.

“We’re essentially replicating a structure that has proven successful in the commercial sector and applying it to the Air Force and building upon the foundation set by our peers at Kessel Run. What previously worked just isn’t cutting it anymore – we’ve got to be faster and more efficient,” Richard Aldridge, BES program executive officer, said in a statement.

He outlined, “Launching BESPIN has reimagined our view on software acquisition and the way we solve problems. We’re confident that the brightest minds in the creation of business software and mobile solutions will be attracted to serving our country by solving some of the most pressing issues that the Air Force faces today.”

Not only will BESPIN have significant implications for the Air Force, the connection with TechMGM and Fearless will strengthen the community in several ways.

“Montgomery prioritizes military missions, so we are honored to host this important project for the Air Force to advance their efforts in creating solutions for our nation,” Willie Durham, chairman of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, advised.

Through partnerships with TechMGM and other key area resources within Montgomery’s unique tech ecosystem, BESPIN will aim to support the city’s infrastructure to eventually lead to lasting change in the region.

“The chamber supports any type of partnership that advances the military because it is not only good for our country, but also for our community,” Durham added. “Initiatives like BESPIN allow our region to attract and retain talent, spark new businesses and create a cycle of economic development that will have lasting effects in Montgomery for years to come.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

10 hours ago

With the lottery dead, what about the illegal gambling in Alabama?

When the session started it almost seemed certain that there would be some form of lottery passed through the Alabama legislature, signed by the governor and voted on by the people in March 2020.

But in Alabama politics the only certain thing is uncertainty and now, by all accounts, the lottery is more dead than Doug Jones’ 2020 reelection.

The questions that doomed this lottery are the same as always, “Who gets the money?” Schools or the general fund? Prisons or college scholarships?

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It is hard to believe it has been 20 years since Alabama narrowly rejected a lottery, a gambit that sent a corrupt former Governor Don Siegelman to the clink.

In those 20 years, it appears we are no closer to forcing Alabama residents who play the lottery to drive across state lines and send their money to other states.

Regardless, this chapter in the saga appears to be over.

But, there was also a bonus question: “Will Alabama grant legal status to illegal electronic bingo in the state?”

The answer was “no.” The answer to that question seemed to be decided early on. There were multiple attempts by legislators to protect various illegal gambling entities. And oddly, in Jefferson County, the sheriff’s brother even tried to start up new gambling entities, however, that was shut down.

So, what now?

A short synopsis would be “The attorney general is coming!” But Steve Marshall himself rejected that premise in an interview on WVNN’s “The Dale Jackson Show” Thursday morning.

Marshall explained that he was already working on this form of gambling.

Leaving nothing to chance, when asked if these electronic bingo machines were illegal, he responded, “Absolutely.“

He also believes he and his office are already working on these issues.

“We are going to pursue the remedies that we have right now,” Marshall revealed.

If that course does not produce the desired result, the attorney general is prepared to move.

“We will investigate just like we would the situation in Birmingham, prepare search warrants as they come and then be able to take action from there,” he stated.

So whether Marshall likes the framing or not, he’s is preparing to shut down illegal gambling in this state.

This could take the form of a court action or a new version of the bingo raids we saw during former Governor Bob Riley’s time in office. Either way, the attorney general is coming.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 am weekdays on WVNN