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3 months ago

2018 POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential lobbyists, consultants and economic developers

Today, we introduce the third 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 leadersgovernment officials and today’s segment, lobbyists, consultants and economic developers.

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.

 

Ginger Avery-Buckner, executive director, Alabama Association for Justice

With quiet efficiency, the Alabama Association for Justice is close to scoring one of its biggest political coups in recent history. With trial lawyer-backed Associate Justice Tom Parker on the cusp of being the state’s Chief Justice, Ginger Avery-Buckner has not only masterfully handled the legislature’s flip from blue to red, but she has reset the table on the traditional “Republican business” vs. “Democrat trial lawyers” judicial battle in the state.

To fully understand how remarkable that is, one must remember that the trial lawyers association not too long ago donated over 90 percent of its campaign contributions to Democrats.

While long-time Democrat groups like AEA were left on the outside looking in after 2010, Avery-Buckner’s stalwart leadership has kept the Association for Justice on the front lines of electoral and statehouse battles alike. They have not just survived, but as Parker’s imminent victory portends, they have thrived in the new Montgomery climate.

Josh Blades, lobbyist, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings

Alabama through-and-through, Sylacauga-born Josh Blades was named the city’s youngest entrepreneur after starting a full-service archery shop at the age of 15. Ever since then, his political star has been on the rise. After running for city council at age 19, being elected student body president in college and earning his political science degree, Blades began to leave his indelible mark on the Yellowhammer State’s political world.

Having served as communications director for a successful Alabama gubernatorial campaign, campaign manager for a successful race for Alabama Republican Party chairman, deputy chief of staff to the governor and chief of staff to the state’s speaker of the house, Blades has already built a resume at his young age that most would envy over a lifetime.

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 formidable lobbying team. Whether it’s in the executive or legislative branches or a campaign, Blades has the know-how to get the job done right. His place on the power and influence list could easily become permanent for decades to come.

Philip Bryan, partner, Swatek Howe & Ross

Philip Bryan has anchored himself to any list of the most powerful and influential people in Alabama politics. This is a result of the strength of the relationships he has built with those at the summit of power in Alabama, as well as his extraordinary political savviness and boundless energy.

Bryan has now moved into private practice where he is set to become an elite lobbyist. The transition should be seamless for him. Few can match wits with Bryan when it comes to navigating the critical Alabama State Senate. He knows the senators, staff and process possibly better than anyone else in Alabama politics.

Every lobbyist does their best to forge relationships with members of the legislature. However, Bryan’s are next level. In his former position as chief of staff to the Senate president pro tem, Bryan communicated with members in a way and with a frequency that sets him apart from others in his new world.

Based on his pure political talent and meaningful experience, Philip Bryan is among the most powerful and influential.

Brent Buchanan, president, Cygnal

In any industry or profession, you know someone has reached elevated status when references are made to them using only their first name. For pollster Brent Buchanan, that is now the case.

Alabama politicos and insiders can often be heard saying, “Brent has the polling.” Or, upon receiving some polling information, asking, “Is this a Brent poll?”

Buchanan saw an opening in the market for homegrown Alabama polling and took it. He has an impressive client list of candidates, trade associations and corporations, and his company has now expanded beyond Alabama. By the end of 2017, Cygnal had done work in more than 36 states for 170 clients.

In addition, Buchanan has developed a strong relationship with Governor Ivey and her team.

Some have called him Alabama’s Nate Silver, a reference to the renowned statistician. However, Buchanan’s place on this list is a result of all of the data and information he holds. Because, in politics, those in possession of information wield power and influence.

Greg Butrus, partner, Balch & Bingham

Greg Butrus and his place on this list are also a testament to the fundamental principle that information translates to value in politics. For insiders and corporate clients there is tremendous value in being able to consult with Butrus on a myriad of subjects they encounter in the political, regulatory or legislative process.

Butrus has vast knowledge in the areas of campaign finance laws, energy policy, ethics laws, executive branch rulemaking and regulatory affairs. His ability to file away information, opinions, events and random occurrences for later counsel and application is remarkable.

His experience in the Alabama political arena goes all the way back to his days as a staffer for Senator Howell Heflin in Washington, D.C. A conversation with Butrus is as enjoyable as it is edifying.

Butrus may not maintain the type of visibility for which others in Alabama politics work, but his power and influence is understood by those in the know.

Greg Canfield, secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce

As President Trump – and before him, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh – loves to say, jobs, jobs, jobs. In Alabama, where the economy is booming like never before, it has been Canfield working day in, day out for the last seven years to make this success possible. Now, with Governor Kay Ivey’s pro-growth leadership, Canfield and the Department of Commerce are churning out jobs left and right.

Now, as evidence of his profound success, the biggest challenge for the state’s economy is producing more skilled and qualified workers. Alabama has gone from having a severe jobs shortage to not being able to nearly fill all of the quality jobs currently available. This is a good problem to have, and the governor, supported by trade associations and economic development partners across the state, has a plan to boost the state’s skilled workforce by 500,000 by 2025.

While more cabinet shakeups are expected in the coming months, people around the state will hope that Canfield remains in the position that has become synonymous with his name and his “Made in Alabama” branding campaign. If not, expect Canfield to continue to flex his power and influence in a new arena.

 

Mike Cole, principal, P. Michael Cole, LLC

Mike Cole is the type of behind-the-scenes power player about whom we enjoy informing our readers through the publication of this list. Cole has a client list that includes several of the largest employers in the state of Alabama. Their trust in him to get the job done speaks volumes about his influence and effectiveness in the realm of politics and policy-making.

A lawyer by trade, Cole has an uncommonly diverse governmental affairs practice. He moves about with ease in executive agency matters, regulatory affairs and legislative lobbying. To have the relationships and knowledge in those areas to the extent Cole does makes him a legitimate power player.

Cole has also capitalized on the growth and increased activity of the politically surging north Alabama region. As the area has seen its native sons rise to prominence in offices such as speaker of the house, lieutenant governor and attorney general, Cole’s influence has increased accordingly. And this is why he counts some of north Alabama’s most important entities as his clients and why Mike Cole remains powerful and influential in Alabama politics.

 

Joe Fine, partner, Fine Geddie & Associates

Joe Fine is a perfect exemplar of his alma mater’s “Where Legends Are Made” advertising campaign. A graduate of the University of Alabama both in undergraduate studies and law, the iconic, would-be “Lobbyist Hall of Fame” member perhaps perfected the modern governmental affairs profession in Montgomery.

Since Fine was elected to the first of his two terms in the state senate 48 years ago, governors have come and gone. Powerful associations and alliances have grown and crumbled. The state completely flipped from Democrat-controlled to Republican. However, Fine was through it all, and still is, at the forefront of policy making and political battles that shape the state’s success.

Along with his longtime lobbying partner Bob Geddie (see below), the gentlemanly Fine will be the state’s who’s who of lobbyists until the second he decides he is ready to pass the baton.

 

Bob Geddie, partner, Fine Geddie & Associates

Geddie is not only a top-tier lobbyist and the state House of Representatives specialist for his firm, but he is also a trusted adviser to some of Alabama’s titans of industry and other political power brokers as well.

Corporate executives from across the state have empowered Fine Geddie to doll out their political money through a network of Geddie-controlled political action committees. This includes some of the state’s largest, most successful businesses, in addition to individuals like prominent Power and Influence member Jimmy Rane. Geddie has just this past year added another powerful PAC to his arsenal, with the Auburn Board of Trustees’ Tiger PAW PAC under his chairmanship.

When it comes to the lobbying side of things, legislators of both parties will tell you, “It’s hard to say no to Bob Geddie.” That power of persuasion is a useful tool in the statehouse, which is only aided by Geddie’s meticulous knowledge of the process and the players. 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. Many have tried to emulate Geddie’s tried-and-true formula, but few even compare.

C.J. Hincy, executive director of governmental affairs, Auburn University

A newcomer to the Power and Influence list after being a Who’s Next member previously, Hincy has Auburn’s governmental affairs and political operation humming like perhaps never before. Along with Geddie, Hincy’s counsel has been integral to Tiger PAW PAC’s emergence as a political kingmaker, and the university’s sway in Montgomery is closing in on a peak level, with Governor Kay Ivey as an alumna along with soon-to-be Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth.

Hincy, while relatively young for a lobbyist of such power, carries himself like a seasoned veteran. He has been working hard throughout this campaign cycle to make friends and stockpile influence, with his status in the capitol poised to reach an unquestioned top-tier level in 2019. Look for this star to keep rising as Hincy and Auburn plays a major political role in the years ahead.

 

Robbie McGhee, vice chairman, Poarch Band of Creek Indians

The rise of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama politics has reached new heights in recent years, and much of that is because of the work done by Robbie McGhee.

McGhee has built sustainable relationships across the political and ideological spectrum. He has shown a knack for staying above the fray, but also a willingness to engage more forcefully when absolutely necessary.

McGhee has also been instrumental in highlighting the tribe’s commitment to good corporate citizenship with key influential leaders at all levels of state and local government.

His background and experience provide him with the type of authority that catches the attention of policy-makers. McGhee worked 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.

Robbie McGhee has left no doubt that he is among the most powerful and influential people in Alabama politics.

 

Paul Pinyan, executive director, Alabama Farmers Federation

ALFA, ALFA, ALFA. Need we say more?

While Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell steers the ship, Pinyan, a newcomer to the Power and Influence ranks, is the individual making this political juggernaut fire on all cylinders day-to-day. Coming off of an uber-successful campaign season for ALFA, many are murmuring of the increased role Pinyan took in the organization’s endorsement process and, later, the campaign season.

With a stacked governmental affairs and political team around him – highlighted by former Secretary of State Beth Chapman – Pinyan holds the keys to Alabama’s premier trade association and grassroots network. If you want to win a contested elected in Alabama, whether it is a statewide race or a legislative seat, you need ALFA’s support. And, to get this, you very well might first need Pinyan’s covert backing.

With all of their success this cycle, ALFA’s role in Montgomery, if possible, will be growing even more. At the forefront of this immensely powerful apparatus is Pinyan, and he does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

 

Steve Raby, lobbyist and political consultant

The king of north Alabama, Raby wields power and influence beyond his fiefdom now, serving as his friend and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon’s political guru and chief advisor.

Like Avery-Buckner on this list, Raby’s guile and vision are affording him a resounding second act in Alabama politics. As a longtime Democratic activist and consultant, he was the Democratic nominee for Congress against Mo Brooks in 2010. A decent first act for sure, but after the GOP sweep, many pronounced Raby’s rise as dead on arrival.

Fast forward six years to when McCutcheon gets elected to serve as speaker. Seemingly out of nowhere, Raby was back on the scene playing a crucial role as a close confidant to one of the most powerful people in the state. Raby is a political animal and, as much as anything, an extra set of eyes that watches the speaker’s back.

Raby also runs the mighty political operation for the House Republican Caucus. This role sees him play a key part in incumbent Republican House members’ campaigns, which just grows Raby’s influence every year.

Clay Ryan, vice president for governmental affairs and special counsel, University of Alabama System

There are some people who walk into a room and you can tell they are in a position of power and influence by sheer presence alone. Clay Ryan is one of those people.

Ryan is a deft communicator who operates among elected officials and corporate executives with equal amounts of ease. And Ryan has put in the requisite work to become a select power player.

He is known for keeping a laser-sharp focus on the issues impacting the University of Alabama System. In representing a large entity like the UA System, a significant amount of time and effort goes into coordinating the work of staff, lobbyists and others protecting his employer’s interests.

When it is time to engage with decision-makers, Ryan has proven to be a determined advocate. His relationships extend to the highest levels of state government. When Ryan calls, they answer the phone, and they listen.

The increased political activity of the UA System in recent years has served to increase successful outcomes and only enhanced Ryan’s power and influence.

Houston Smith, vice president for governmental affairs, Alabama Power Company

Running point on governmental affairs in Montgomery for Alabama Power can be an overwhelming task. That person must be responsible for every piece of the company’s political and public policy agenda at the state level.

Houston Smith has met the challenge.

His ability to call on his years of experience dealing with a wide range of issues inside the company has been key. After several years practicing law, Smith joined the company as director of public relations. Soon, he was promoted to director of corporate affairs with responsibility over federal affairs, corporate relations and other public policy issues.

A difficult hurdle for many corporate lobbyists is being able to effectively communicate the more detailed aspects of their company’s business and how those aspects are affected by public policy decisions. Smith’s knowledge base and uncanny grasp of larger public policy issues, such as trade and economic development, serve him well in this role. As the company’s primary contact with state elected officials and cabinet members, communicating on these types of issues is essential to success.

Houston Smith has firmly secured a place among Alabama’s powerful and influential.

Dave Stewart, senior adviser for government affairs and economic development, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings

Another wunderkind working for Bradley Arant, Dave Stewart has an impeccable resume of his own. After an eye-catching performance as policy director for then-Governor Bob Riley, he was called up to serve as the administration’s Chief of Staff.  This key experience in the state’s executive branch left him with rarified perspective and knowledge, which Stewart has parlayed into his influential role in the private sector.

Stewart has one of the heaviest hitting client lists in the state, built off of not only his first-hand, in-the-trenches experience, but also expansive knowledge of policy and his lasting relationships within the legislature and state agencies big and small.

Stewart is also in the select club of lobbyists who understand both policy and politics. Far too many understand one but scoff at the other. Not Stewart – his elite ability to blend wonkish policy arguments and effective political messaging builds the best strategic approach possible for his clients.

Look for Bradley Arant’s dynamic duo of Blades and Stewart to continue appearing on this list for the foreseeable future.

Sommer Vaughn, partner, Swatek Howe & Ross

Sommer Vaughn is a person with the talent and drive which would have allowed her to choose any profession. Lawyer, doctor, engineer and banker are all well within her capabilities. Instead, she chose to be a lobbyist.

She chose wisely.

If you were forced to pick one person to shepherd your issue or piece of legislation through the Alabama House of Representatives – and you could only pick one – Vaughn would be an astute choice.

The depth and breadth of her relationships in the Alabama House are difficult to match. From the speaker of the house to incoming members who have yet to get sworn in, Vaughn knows the people and the strategies required for success. There are no partisan obstacles for her, either. Vaughn is able to leverage her relationships into influence on both sides of the aisle.

Vaughn is able to bring to bear years of experience working in the legislature and the governor’s office. There is not much that goes on in state government of which she is not aware.

Look for Sommer Vaughn to expand her power and influence in the years to come.

R.B. Walker, director of legislative affairs, Alabama Power Company

Rochester Butler Walker has the kind of name that was custom-made for the Alabama political arena. And, ever since he was a child, he has displayed the type of ambition, confidence and craft that it takes to get to the top.

A former SGA President at the University of Alabama, Walker has already thrived working for two of the state’s most powerful institutions: the Alabama Power Company and the University of Alabama System. Now in his second stint at the Company after leaving his beloved university this past year, at a young age he is not close to reaching the zenith of his political ascent.

With an infectious personality and the cunning intellect to grasp the nuances of any issue, it is really Walker’s unceasing drive that separates him from the pack. He has worked hard his entire life, essentially, to reach the top of the political ladder, and this lobbying machine is still climbing.

Look for Walker to keep building power and influence year-by-year. Who knows? It could land him in the governor’s seat one day.

Steve Windom, partner, Windom Galliher & Associates

If you’re running for high-office in Alabama, there is no better lobbyist to have on your team than former Lieutenant Governor Steve Windom. A fundraising savant, Windom knows which buttons to press and when. His unique, preeminent status as a Montgomery powerbroker stems from the fact that he has done it all himself – whether it is campaign work or being in the legislative trenches, Windom has the first-hand experience that you cannot replicate.

There is also not a craftier operator in Alabama politics than Windom. He is shrewd, charismatic and owns a room when he walks in. But what keeps Windom at the very highest level of power and influence is his unrivaled work ethic. Whether on a weekend, a family vacation or a holiday, Windom never rests.

He is always working, always on. Windom has taken the time to cultivate relationships in every nook and cranny 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. Steve Windom forgot more Alabama political secrets this morning than everyone else in the whole state knew to begin with. And he’s not showing any signs of letting up anytime soon.

5 hours ago

Aderholt named ranking member of appropriations subcommittee critical to north Alabama’s economy

On Tuesday, Congressman Robert Aderholt (AL-4) was named ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, which funds NASA and the FBI, amongst other important economic engines.

In a statement, Aderholt said, “It is a great honor to be named the ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science. This subcommittee is certainly important to America, but even more so for North Alabama.”

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“This subcommittee is directly responsible for funding NASA and the FBI, along with the Department of Commerce,” Aderholt explained. “The FBI and NASA are two very important agencies to the economy of not only Huntsville, but also the northern portion of our state. NASA, of course, has a long history in this region and gave rise to Huntsville’s name as the Rocket City. And in just the past few years, the FBI has built a presence on Redstone Arsenal and is in the process of growing to a level of approximately 4,000 jobs.”

The congressman concluded, “With my leadership on this subcommittee, I will work to ensure that North Alabama continues to lead as we return to the moon, put boots on Mars and travel into deep space. And with the FBI’s Hazardous Devices School, and growing footprint in North Alabama, I will also be a voice to let my colleagues know that North Alabama is in a prime position to be a hub for matters concerning our national security.”

Aderholt also serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

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

6 hours ago

Is Doug Jones a foot soldier in the Democrat Civil War for taking a shot at liberal darling Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?

If you are Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) right now, you probably know you have almost no chance of being elected to a full term as a United State senator.

This obviously could change. Roy Moore could continue to crave the spotlight and enter a Republican primary field in 2020, but this is obviously a long-shot for him.

Complicating Jones’ life right now is a number of new Democratic members of the House of Representatives. They are outspoken, silly and contrary to the carefully crafted image Jones wants to sell to Alabama. Jones wants to be Mr. Moderate, a conservative-ish Democrat in the mold of former Congressman Bud Cramer (D-Huntsville), but he can’t do that if he is constantly dealing with a 24-hour news cycle where his fellow Democrats are acting nuts.

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Jones seems to know this, and the clearest way to distinguish himself from members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is to directly scold her to The Hill.

He said, “I think it skews what’s really there for the Democratic Party.”

Jones seems to want to differentiate himself from Ocasio-Cortez’s brand of non-stop Twitter trolling will endear her to the same media that can’t let a Trump tweet go without an analysis of its impact. But Jones didn’t stop there. He also thinks this style of bomb-throwing is ineffective politics.

“When it gets time to get things done, that’s what people are going to be looking at — they’re going to be looking at the middle-of-the-roaders because it’s the only way to get anything done,” Jones stated.

If recent history is any judge, Ocasio-Cortez will not let these comments slide without a response. The fight for the soul of the Democratic Party is on and Jones will likely find himself out-gunned and without many powerful allies.

In response to similar criticism from former Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Ocasio-Cortez responded with the following tweet:

Will Jones double-down or will he slink back to his backbench for fear of his party’s base if she hits back?

For now, Jones sounds like he thinks his voters want him to get stuff done, but considering that Jones’ main accomplishment at this point in his Senate career is his vote against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation it is likely most Alabama voters would prefer he enjoys his time in Washington D.C. as a spectator before being sent home in 2020.

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

7 hours ago

Trump AG nominee: Sessions ‘probably did the right thing’ in recusing himself from Russia probe

Attorney General-nominee William Barr on Tuesday said Jeff Sessions “probably did the right thing” in recusing himself from the investigation into alleged collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign, according to The Washington Post.

Barr previously served as attorney general from 1991-1993. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr was asked by committee chair Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) about Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the probe because he was involved in the Trump campaign.

“I am not sure of all of the facts, but I think he probably did the right thing recusing himself,” Barr said.

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This came the day after Sessions attended Alabama’s Inaugural Day festivities, including the swearing-in ceremony for all statewide elected officials and reception for state Attorney General Steve Marshall.

During Marshall’s event in the attorney general’s office building, Sessions said, “Do the right thing every day and usually things will work out… [well,] not always.”

After the laughter of the room started to subside, he added, “At least in the United States, when they fire you, they don’t shoot you like they do in some countries.”

Sessions’ relationship with President Donald Trump was eroded by the recusal and the president’s public attacks on both that decision and Sessions personally. He resigned at the request of the president in November.

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

7 hours ago

State Sen. Gerald Allen responds to judge striking down Alabama Memorial Preservation Act — ‘Judges are not kings’

On Tuesday afternoon, State Senator Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa), the sponsor of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, criticized Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

Graffeo made the ruling Monday.

“Under the Constitution, judges are to be neutral umpires who apply the rule of law fairly,” Allen said in a statement. “A judge’s personal beliefs, whether about politics, sociology, or history, have no bearing on how he is to apply the law.”

He continued, “Judge Graffeo has taken it upon himself to know and declare that it is ‘undisputed’ that the majority of residents of Birmingham are ‘repulsed’ by the Linn Park monument, and has thus ruled the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act void. But judges are not kings, and judicial activism is no substitute for the democratic process.”

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“The Memorial Preservation Act is meant to thoughtfully preserve the entire story of Alabama’s history for future generations. The law was vigorously debated for months by the people of Alabama’s duly-elected representatives in the State Legislature, and passed with overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate,” Allen advised.

He concluded, “The Attorney General’s Office is confident that the Memorial Preservation Act is constitutional, and I look forward to the Attorney General’s appeal of Judge Graffeo’s ruling.”

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

8 hours ago

Judge voids Alabama law protecting Confederate monuments

A judge has overturned an Alabama law meant to prevent the removal of Confederate monuments from public property, ruling the act infringed on the rights of citizens in a mostly black city who are “repulsed” by the memorial.

The 10-page ruling issued late Monday by Jefferson County Circuit Judge Michael Graffeo said a 2017 state law barring the removal or alteration of historical monuments wrongly violated the free speech rights of local communities.

The law cannot be enforced, Graffeo ruled, but the state could still appeal.

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The attorney general’s comment had no immediate response to an email seeking comment Tuesday.

The state sued the city of Birmingham after officials tried to remove a 52-foot-tall (16-meter)-tall obelisk that was erected to honor Confederate veterans in a downtown park in 1905.

Rather than toppling the stone marker, the city built a 12-foot (3.6-meter)-tall wooden box around it.

Birmingham’s population of 210,000 is more than 70 percent black, and the judge said it was indisputable that most citizens are “repulsed” by the memorial.

He rejected the state’s claims that lawmakers had the power to protect historical monuments statewide.

The law includes a $25,000 penalty for removing or altering a historical monument, but the judge said the penalty was unconstitutional.

The city has not had to pay while the lawsuit worked its way through court.

The ruling came hours after the inauguration of Republican Gov. Kay Ivey, who signed the law and opened her campaign last year with a commercial that prominently showed Confederate monuments.

“We can’t change or erase our history, but here in Alabama we know something that Washington doesn’t. To get where we are going means understanding where we have been,” Ivey said in the ad.

Supporters of the law contend it protects not just Confederate memorials but historical markers of any kind, but rebel memorials have been an issue nationwide since a white supremacist gunman killed nine worshippers in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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