Yellowhammer Multimedia on Friday released the fourth and final segment of the 2019 Power & Influence 40.
Our team has spent weeks talking with key operatives and analyzing recent developments in public policy and politics, and this list is meant to recognize the top individuals in government and politics who leverage their power and influence to better the Yellowhammer State.
Members of the Yellowhammer 15 and the Power & Influence 40 lists will be celebrated through the 5th annual Power of Service event, which will take place Thursday, October 17, in Montgomery.
Read more about the event here.
10. Arthur Orr
Is there a single penny spent in the state of Alabama on education that Arthur Orr does not know about? Short answer: no.
Orr is the chairman of the senate education budget committee. This means he is the point man for his chamber on the $7 billion pot of money which funds Alabama’s education system. The size of the budget brings with it a hefty responsibility – and tremendous power and influence.
Almost halfway through his second decade as a member of the state senate, Orr has now also clocked enough time as budget chair that he knows every corner of education funding and every mechanism available for appropriation. He has established near total control of his chamber’s spending and priorities.
If someone wanted to make a movie about the story of the deliberative upper chamber, Orr might be the best choice to go on the poster. He has an incredible tolerance for details and is methodical in all of his actions. He is representative of the chamber’s approach to governing.
With the clout of the education budget in his corner, he is also not afraid to take on tough budget reform fights from which others shy away, like ABC privatization and welfare reform.
Brick by brick, Orr has built a fortress of political power and influence.
9. Quentin Riggins
The work Quentin Riggins does outside of politics would probably land him on any list of influential Alabamians. He is a pillar of the community and has involved himself in a myriad of different causes aimed at improving his home state.
His service on the powerful Auburn University Board of Trustees is plenty for one person. However, Riggins also serves on the boards of Grandview Medical Center, the Business Council of Alabama’s ProgressPAC, the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center Authority, the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham and the Frank M. Johnson, Jr. Institute. He has previously served on the boards of Leadership Alabama and the Baptist Foundation.
Then there is the work he does as senior vice president of governmental and corporate affairs for Alabama Power Company. He heads up the company’s state and federal government affairs program, which is a vast and yet intricate undertaking. Riggins is able to pull from more than 25 years of service in the arena in representing the interests of one of the state’s largest employers.
Not to be forgotten, though, is his orchestration of one of the purest flexes of political muscle in several years.
Riggins oversaw the forceful changing of the guard at the Business Council of Alabama which set in motion a series of events resulting in the implementation of two monumental policy initiatives enacted to move Alabama forward: Rebuild Alabama and rural broadband expansion. Riggins’ plan for new leadership at BCA allowed the organization to establish the type of clout and cohesion necessary for success.
Riggins’ ability to look out over the horizon is a scarce commodity and produces uncommon power and influence.
8. Joe Perkins
Joe Perkins is unspeakably powerful and influential. So much so – and in such a way – that we probably should not even be speaking about it.
Perkins founded the robust, yet mysterious, Matrix firm. He and his firm occupy a unique space in the world of Alabama politics. The variety of clients he serves is remarkable. From some of the state’s biggest companies to some that could be construed as ‘mom and pop shops’ if not for their success. His work is not limited to industry, and he has a hand in the activities of trade and business associations from small, specialized groups to the very biggest.
And what he does is different.
He’s not a lobbyist. He’s not engaged in a governmental affairs practice. He consults on strategy and direction for different organizations. He provides public relations expertise carefully calculated to position his client in just the right space.
And it all goes back to the people, companies and campaigns at which he is directing his focus. He is the invisible guiding hand behind major initiatives, campaigns and state institutions of higher education. He is quiet counsel to high-ranking officials and regional decision-makers.
Trying to explain Perkins’ power and influence is far more difficult than his ability to exert it.
7. Bill Poole
Bill Poole might just be the most powerful non-Speaker member of the Alabama House of Representatives. Ever.
Talk about a guy who could do whatever his heart desired – Poole’s blend of intelligence, charisma, work ethic and integrity have led him to be a rising star in Alabama politics since his freshman year in the House.
Every year, that star has gotten brighter, and this past session just exacerbated that trend.
Poole’s stalwart leadership as sponsor of the Rebuild Alabama infrastructure package was one of the most impressive feats in recent legislative history.
However, his performance really came as little surprise to those who had observed the statehouse this decade.
Everyone in the chamber likes Bill Poole – and they respect him without exception.
His reputation inside and outside the membership has been well earned. He treats people right, leads by example and delivers results time after time.
His excellent chairmanship of the education budget committee in the House wields him power and influence already, but Poole exponentially has increased his stock over recent years well beyond a normal leader in the House.
What’s next for Poole? Well, the sky is the limit.
Could we soon have another statesman-like U.S. senator from Tuscaloosa?
Whatever he chooses to do, Poole will excel – and Alabamians will continue to reap the rewards.
6. Katie Boyd Britt
Talk about a baptism by fire.
Katie Boyd Britt and her newly assembled BCA governmental affairs team were thrown into a legislative battle for the ages to kick this year off.
Working together seamlessly – and tirelessly – the Britt-led BCA helped guide Rebuild Alabama to passage. The work was not easy. In fact, it was the stuff of lobbying lore, an accomplishment to be bragged about for decades to come. But they did it with a smile on, a gleam in their eye. The only acceptable result was going to be success, and the end result was the final vote exceeding all expectations.
It all starts with Britt. From the very first day on the job, this ex-chief of staff for Senator Richard Shelby effortlessly looked like the power and influence he wields rubbed right off on her.
Britt has brought an energy, an excitement and an optimism back to BCA through her buoyant leadership. Through vision, determination and an undefinable charisma, she is setting the organization and its member companies up for unparalleled successes.
However, her personal star also shines brightly.
People are mentioning Britt at the very top of the list of contenders to succeed Shelby, whenever the venerable senator does decide to call it quits.
Whether she is interested or not remains to be seen, but regardless she is going to be one of Alabama’s most powerful and influential people quite possibly for the next half-century.
And the people of our state will be better off because of it.
5. Jo Bonner
There are very few people who have served Alabama in a more exemplary way this century than Jo Bonner.
Congressman. Vice chancellor for the University of Alabama System. And now the immensely powerful and influential chief of staff to Governor Kay Ivey.
Bonner has been the epitome of a statesman throughout it all and now runs the day-to-day operations of state government. A third act that would beat the first of most in politics and government.
He not only has the governor’s ear but is, in effect, the governor’s ears and voice on many matters.
Everyone with dealings on Goat Hill knows that Bonner is the gatekeeper to Ivey, and he has put together a top-notch staff that runs the governor’s office like a well-oiled machine with him leading the charge.
Bonner’s contributions to the state’s current historic success might be behind the scenes, but they are well recognized by those in the know. Bonner is by far the most impactful non-elected official in state government right now and will continue to be as long as he serves.
4. Mac McCutcheon
You will find no kinder a person, no more of a gentleman in elected office than Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon.
McCutcheon has dedicated his life to the people of Alabama. From protecting and serving as a career law enforcement officer in Huntsville to leading the rambunctious lower chamber of the Alabama Legislature, McCutcheon has led with integrity and compassion every step of the way.
Honored with Yellowhammer’s Power of Service Award last year, McCutcheon has continued in 2019 to be an ideal role model for people young and old looking for the best of humanity in their public servants.
How he carries himself only adds to the considerable, inherent power and influence of his office.
The members of the House listen to McCutcheon not just because he has the gavel – but because they like him and respect him. This stems for the personal interest that he takes in all of the members. For McCutcheon, being speaker is a solemn duty – and the House membership is like a family.
McCutcheon will have another tough challenge ahead as the criminal justice and prison issue comes to a head in 2020 (with Medicaid still hovering). But if anyone can handle it, it’s him – with empathy and patience.
3. Zeke Smith
Zeke Smith has worked to establish the largest and most comprehensive external affairs effort in the state. Everything from lobbying to public relations to regulatory affairs to charitable giving falls under his purview as executive vice president of external affairs for Alabama Power Company.
An array of responsibilities that affect 1.4 million customers and 7,000 employees in Alabama require that Smith have an abundance of exceptional traits.
One of the most impressive and useful traits that Smith displays is an unmatched capacity. His knowledge of Alabama Power’s massive operation extends to every corner of its business. Layered on top of that is a continual awareness of Alabama’s political climate, its power players and what makes each tick.
As with most high-performing individuals, a function of his success has been his ability to extend beyond the discipline in which he trained. An Auburn University graduate with a degree in engineering, Smith has had a distinguished career and was inducted into the Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame earlier this year. Now, at this point in his career, he finds himself in a position where a mastery of politics and a firm grasp of people’s motivation are essential to the job.
Assembling a top-notch team to carry out the external affairs mission has been a key component to his success. To work for him means you have been vetted, and it has been verified that you can deliver. Smith carries with him a calm urgency to his actions, and he expects results.
All of this has contributed to the end result, which is that he, perhaps more than anyone else in Alabama, receives the first phone call from aspiring office-seekers. Nothing speaks more to power and influence than when people operate under the premise that they need your support to succeed.
For most of us, the names and numbers on our ‘Recents’ call screen are in black to designate outgoing calls. We imagine Smith has nothing but red on his.
He operates at a level of power and influence where the air is thin.
2. Del Marsh
It was 87 years ago this week when Babe Ruth called his shot during the third game of the World Series. In the top of the 5th inning, with two strikes on him, Ruth pointed to the centerfield wall then promptly hit the next pitch over the fence.
Del Marsh called his shot twice this year – and hit home runs each time.
In the months leading up to the 2019 legislative session, Marsh told anyone who would listen that he intended to pass a huge infrastructure package and a historic education reform proposal. Insiders viewed Marsh’s plans with skepticism, while many supportive stakeholders even continued to express pessimism.
If conventional wisdom was supposed to dictate action, someone forgot to tell Marsh.
The president pro tem of the Alabama Senate immediately powered through the Rebuild Alabama infrastructure legislation during a special session. In doing so, he left no doubt about his clout in what may prove to be a generational, game-changing boost to the Yellowhammer State’s roads, bridges and waterways.
During a conversation with Yellowhammer News following the passage of Rebuild Alabama, we asked Marsh if the collective temperament of the legislature would allow for any other major pieces of legislation. He reacted as if we were speaking in tongues.
Marsh was not finished. He next set out to pass legislation enabling a constitutional amendment reforming the state school board and abolishing Common Core. Once considered an issue no one would even attempt to take on, Marsh whipped the bills through the legislature and onto the next statewide ballot.
Two for two out of the park.
Like so many others on this list, Marsh never stops. So while his next power move may not be readily apparent, do not expect him to slow down. He is a reformer and a wildly successful businessman who has a genuine interest in seeing his state improve.
In the meantime, Del Marsh remains one of the most powerful and influential people within his generation of public servants.
1. Kay Ivey
Governor Kay Ellen Ivey will go down as one of the most consequential leaders in Alabama history.
And she’s not even close to being finished yet.
From the second she put her hand on the Bible and became the state’s 54th governor, Ivey has been laser focused on governing and nothing else.
She’s steered the ship through all of the noise – the politics, the gossip, the fluff – like a warm knife through butter, staying on course to a better future for our great state.
Ivey quickly became known as Alabama’s education governor through her Strong Start, Strong Finish initiative, adding onto this legacy through her historic push to add 500,000 more skilled workers by 2025.
However, the progress certainly does not end there. From landmark economic development wins to increasing foreign trade opportunities, Alabama is winning big under Ivey’s steady hand.
The Rebuild Alabama Act will go down as a crowning jewel of her administration – not just the merits of the forward-thinking infrastructure package itself, but how she got it done. The legislation passed in stunningly overwhelming fashion because of Ivey’s personal ownership of the issue. She bulldogged the package to passage – certainly with the tremendous help of organizations like BCA, ALFA, the Road Builders, etc., but it would not have happened without the governor.
She faces two more big issues this coming year and through the end of her term: the prison system and rural healthcare/Medicaid.
How will Ivey continue to utilize her position as one of the most powerful and influential governors ever?
Check back on Saturday for the entire list published in one article.