10 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.

7 hours ago

Alabama Democratic Party chair: Trump and ‘a lot of folks’ in Alabama are ‘racist’ — ‘I guess we all are to a little extent’

On Friday’s broadcast of Alabama Public Television’s “Capitol Journal,” Alabama Democratic Party chairwoman Nancy Worley reacted to tweets from President Donald Trump attacking “The Squad,” made up of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

Some deemed the attack “racist,” to which Worley concurred. Worley argued such rhetoric was part of Trump’s appeal in the South.

“Well, Don, you know he is very strong in the South,” Worley said. “Southerners like big talkers, little doers. That’s a quote from Benjamin Franklin. And Trump’s good at talking. I don’t think he’s been a particularly good president at all, but he’s good at talking.”

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“And he can go out and say outrageous things, and it captures the attention of a lot of southerners, and others in the country – not just in the South. But I think when he says things to these four women, all who have been elected by their constituents to Congress, and he tells them if they don’t like something, just go home – well, their home is here,” she continued. “Their home is right here in the country. Maybe their families immigrated here, but we’re all the products of immigrants – I mean, every single one of us unless you can trace your lines back to some very long ago Native Americans, we’re all immigrants. So, if you start telling everybody in America to go home, you’ll clean out the country because there won’t be many Native Americans. It will be an empty country. I think it was wrong for him to say that to women who were elected by their constituents. He probably wouldn’t have said that to four men.”

“And that’s just interesting that people will say things to females who are elected that they won’t say to males,” Worley added. “I do think it is deplorable of the President to criticize four women who were elected by their constituents. You may not agree with them. You may not like how they dress. You may not like what they say. But you should respect their office. As much as I don’t like the President of the United States, I respect that office.”

Worley went on to call Trump “a racist” but said that was not unlike “a lot of folks” in Alabama, and she caveated that by saying “we all” are racist to an extent.

“There’s no doubt – he benefits when he race-baits, you know?” Worley added. “And he’s racist. But there are a lot of folks right here in Alabama who are racist. I guess we all are to a little extent because we see things from our perspective – whatever race we are, we see it from our perspective. But in his case, I think he does it knowingly because he simply gathers more support in the South and in Rust Belt areas and other parts of the country. I think it’s economic in many cases because they say, ‘Oh, those immigrants are coming in and getting my job.’ They base it on their pocketbooks. But they really just don’t like someone who looks differently from them. And I think it is most unfortunate that the President of the United States would stoop to those kinds of tactics. But it works for him in the South. He’s obviously trying to shore up his base here.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

7 hours ago

Ashley Chestnut getting students up to speed with history in ‘Down in the Ham’ series

For Ashley Chestnut, her home state of Georgia runs deep in her bones. She moved to Alabama to attend ministerial school and after completing classes was hired by the Church at Brook Hills.

Birmingham has “grown on her.” Several years ago, Chestnut decided to really get involved in her new community.

From the scenery to its food scene, the Magic City checked all the boxes for Chestnut’s home away from home. But there was one particular area where she wanted to have an impact.

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Ashley wanted to inspire children from Birmingham’s neighboring communities to visit Alabama’s largest city. The result two years ago was a documented list of history lessons in “Down in the Ham – A Child’s Guide to Downtown Birmingham.”

Local author sheds light on events and history ‘Down in the Ham’ from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Inspiration in unusual places

The notion to write a book about Birmingham, combined with a coloring book, didn’t come the way one might think.

She was hours away, more than four hours in fact, visiting friends in Greenville, South Carolina. While there, her friends’ children were boiled over with excitement about visiting downtown Greenville to find, of all things, mice sculptures.

They’d read a book and couldn’t wait to find these animals that had been brought to life in the pages of literature.

In her downtime driving back home, Chestnut fondly remembered the excitement of the kids – and then it hit. Why not recreate a book about Birmingham’s downtown with hopes of fueling excitement among young readers?

Chestnut wasted no time putting her idea into action – to inspire children to love and explore their city.

It’s in the art

The words came fairly quickly for her book, but Chestnut knew it was not done until she secured an illustrator to make it come to life.

She saw the artist’s work before they even met. While at an auction, she noticed one particular piece. It not only caught her eye, but she wanted to reach out with the idea that this artist would be the perfect “fit” for her book project. And that’s what she did.

Artist Abby Little Jessup had a full plate, but after hearing from Chestnut, she knew “Down in the Ham”was a project she should illustrate.

Their collaboration is not only making history, but led to a fast friendship.

Birmingham’s Vulcan gives a tour in the book, but it packs other family-friendly activities for adults and children.

More fruitful works

The original “Down in the Ham” series not only includes the children’s book, but also “Color the Ham: A Down in the Ham Coloring Book.” Children can read about and then color sites in the Magic City.

Other communities haven’t been left out of the fun, either, with their latest project. “Around the Ham: A Down in the Ham Coloring Book” reaches beyond Birmingham to highlight communities from Homewood to East Lake and everywhere in between.

It was released in June – two years after her first book.

Chestnut’s books can be found in the gift store at Vulcan Park and Museum atop Red Mountain or can be ordered online at downintheham.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

9 hours ago

Roy Moore on 2020 US Senate race: ‘A different race,’ ‘I don’t think it will be as notable, vicious’

One of the concerns of many regarding the 2020 U.S. Senate race is with the presence of former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore as a candidate, the competition will draw media scrutiny from all over the country.

On the eve of Moore’s announcement, national outlets sent reporters to be in Montgomery for his rollout.

However, in an appearance on Huntsville radio’s WVNN on Saturday, Moore said to host Shannon Moore that he did not think 2020 would be a repeat of the “vicious” 2017 contest given all of the other election campaigns that will be underway at the same time.

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“I think it’s a different race,” Moore said on the “Politics and Moore” show. “I think it’s different because that was a special election. There weren’t other races going on across the country. There are hundreds of races going on across the country. Of course, you’ve got your presidents. You’ve got how many contenders for the Democratic [nomination]. There’s a lot going on that wasn’t going on then. I don’t think it will be as notable, as vicious. I mention Project Birmingham — things like that probably won’t occur because there are so many other races. Project Birmingham was a disinformation campaign, as you know, by some Democratic gurus and billionaire Reid Hoffman and George Soros, to stop my candidacy. And it was 80-something Republicans. So, I don’t think that will go on.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

9 hours ago

Alabama-based Apprenticeship Readiness Program graduates first students

Hard work pays off. That was a lesson learned by participants of the Central Alabama Building Trades’ Apprenticeship Readiness Program (ARP) hosted by Jefferson State Community College. The first Alabama-based ARP program had a 92% graduation rate, surpassing national benchmarks and preparing the students for the workforce of the future.

Over an eight-week period, students received hands-on training and educational services, introducing them to union crafts and the construction industry before they select a specific career trade.

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North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) sponsors ARPs, which are designed to prepare residents, particularly those from underrepresented communities and transitioning veterans, for registered Building Trade apprenticeship programs. These programs develop plumbers, electricians, ironworkers and other skilled professionals who propel growth in the state.

In celebration of the students’ accomplishment, a graduation ceremony was held in June at Alabama Power corporate headquarters in Birmingham. Participants and their families were in attendance, along with leaders of the local business community and higher education and national union leadership.

NABTU Secretary-Treasurer Brent Booker praised the graduates for their drive and completion of the program.

“What you’ve put into this is what you’ll get out of it. Through the Apprenticeship Readiness Program, you’ve changed your life. You’ve changed the next generation of your family and you’ve changed the economic trajectory of where you’re going. Stay on that track,” Booker said, challenging the graduates.

“We are pleased to have our first graduating class of Birmingham and plan to offer future ARPs in Alabama,” said Brandon Bishop, NABTU Southern representative.

Potential students interested in the next class starting in July should contact Terry Davis, ARP coordinator, at trdavis@centurytel.net by July 15.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

10 hours ago

Auburn professor pens new book on Neil Armstrong, travels globe to discuss ‘First Man’

AUBURN — James Hansen vividly recalls how the landing of Apollo 11 on the moon brought Americans and the world together. Five decades later, the author of “First Man”—the only authorized biography of Neil Armstrong—is continuing to tell the story of that unifying moment in history by giving talks around the globe and through a new book that’s set to launch in October.

“I’m putting the finishing touches on a book that is going to be published with selected letters to Neil Armstrong,” said Hansen, professor emeritus at Auburn University, of the upcoming book titled “Dear Neil Armstrong: Letters to the First Man from All Mankind.”

Through letters written by people all over the world to Armstrong, Hansen said readers can learn more about the astronaut who was the first to step foot on the moon.

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“What’s interesting about this book is what we can learn from reading the types of letters that were written to Armstrong not just immediately after Apollo 11 but for the rest of his life,” Hansen said

Hansen said nostalgia for the moon landing is high, especially with this weekend’s 50-year anniversary of Armstrong taking his “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” And this week, that excitement can even be seen in Langholm, Scotland—where Hansen was invited to attend celebratory events surrounding the big moment in history. The location has a unique connection to Armstrong as it’s his ancestral town.

“Neil went there in 1972 to great fanfare and enjoyed himself a lot, so I thought that would maybe be the most unique and interesting place to actually be on the day of the anniversary itself,” Hansen said.

After Hansen wraps up his stay in Scotland, he will then focus not only on his new book, but also in exploring a documentary on moon rocks, many of which have gone missing over the years.

“From six [moon] landings, something like 850 pounds of moon rocks were brought back and deposited in what was known as the Lunar Receiving Laboratory at the Johnson Space Center in Houston,” he said.

Many of the rocks are still there, while a number of them were parceled out to researchers and lunar scientists around the world.

NASA recently announced that it would be unsealing some of the samples that have been preserved since the Apollo missions. Hansen said in the early 1970s, when the rocks were being brought back, NASA chose to seal some of the rocks so that future generations, with access to better technology and instrumentation than was available then, could study the rocks.

Hansen said he believes the rocks will continue to be parceled out over time as better technology comes available or another mission to the moon brings back more rocks.

“Until that happens, these are pretty precious commodities,” he said. “You need to save some of them for future scientific generations.”

Each story surrounding Apollo 11 has always held a fascination for Hansen, who remembers the day history was made.

It was on a summer Sunday between James Hansen’s junior and senior years of high school when Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. Hansen was gathered in the living room of his family’s home watching it on one of only two televisions in the house.

“The landing took place itself in the mid-to-late afternoon, depending on your time zone,” he said. “I was watching a baseball game, and actually the baseball games were recognizing it and everyone stood up at one point and prayed for the Apollo astronauts and then when it was announced that they landed, it was on the scoreboard and they stopped the game and everyone applauded.”

As the landing neared, he and his family turned to CBS, where Walter Cronkite was covering the event. It was well before the days of VCRs and DVRs, so the only way Hansen could capture what was happening on the screen was to take a picture of it with his Polaroid camera.

“That was important memorabilia and a lot of people did that. The moon walk itself took place about three hours after they landed. That was in the early evening and lasted until late in the evening. I was old enough that I didn’t have to have special permission from my parents to stay up and watch it all but a lot of smaller children did and I’ve heard a lot of stories from people over the years about where they were and how their parents let them stay up or they woke them up in time to hear Neil Armstrong say, ‘One small step,’” he recalled.

And while nostalgia is high today about the moon landing and how it unified the world in a shared monumental accomplishment, the historian in Hansen also recalls how the lead up to the landing wasn’t always met with full public support.

“They look back at nostalgia to this era when the moon landings happened and just sort of assumed that the American public, which was footing the bill because this was a U.S. federal government project, that the public was overwhelming in support of the moon landing program,” he said.

Hansen said that while the American public supported space programs on the whole, they weren’t demanding that moon landings take place.

“It was really the politicians within the context of the Cold War and the race with the Soviets in space that drove the project, and then the American people just kind of went along with it and didn’t oppose it too actively,” he said. “But, when they were polled, they didn’t seem too supportive.”

Even today, Hansen said there still are those who ask him if the landing really happened.

“We just can’t get past that,” Hansen said. “For some reason, there are people who just question it. I think everybody likes a good conspiracy theory but the evidence for the moon landing having been real is so tremendously overweighing anything that’s questionable. It’s a little upsetting but as a historian I find it interesting that people continue to believe or disbelieve things that are clearly believable or unbelievable.”

He said many people think we only went to the moon one time.

“There were actually six missions, Apollo 11-17,” he said. “There would have been seven landings if Apollo 13 had not had its emergency.”

When a malfunction in an oxygen tank on the service module exploded, Apollo 13’s crew was fortunate to make it back to Earth, but the lunar landing did not happen on that mission.

“If you’re questioning, ‘Did the moon landings actually happen?’ it’s not just questioning one, it’s questioning six of them,” he said.

Hansen is on his own mission to tell the story of what did happen and through his books and talks he is doing all he can to keep that moment in history alive.

“I feel a responsibility to the story and to Armstrong and to historical accuracy,” he said.

(Courtesy Auburn University)