6 months ago

2019 POWER & INFLUENCE 40: Numbers 11-20

Yellowhammer Multimedia on Thursday released the third 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.

The ranked list is being released in four segments, with 31-40 coming first followed by 21-30 on Wednesday.

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.

20. Greg Albritton

Greg Albritton is an old-school legislator trapped in a second-termer’s body. He is particularly clever in how he goes about working his issues and navigating the legislative process. And he is dogged in pursuit of passing his legislative priorities. Take for example his bill reforming the marriage license process in Alabama. Albritton ran into roadblocks to the passage of that bill in multiple legislative sessions, but he kept at it and now it is law.

Albritton often finds himself in the middle of some of the more controversial legislative fights while representing the interests of his district. There are at least a few times a session where he will dig in and not move – all with a smile on his face.

Those things make his power and influence notable. However, Albritton also chairs one of the two budget committees in the State Senate.

As the Senate’s lead appropriator for the general fund (the poor cousin to the education trust fund), Albritton is in a position where it is impossible to make everyone happy. Sometimes, though, power and influence rests in the ability to tell people “no.” He’s pretty good at that, and it’s necessary given the fact that requesting general fund appropriations is about like standing in a bread line in a former eastern bloc country.

Albritton is conservative and thoughtful in his budgeting practices and crafty with his deal-making. So it’s no surprise to see him land on this list.

19. Horace Horn

Horace Horn is an unsung hero of Alabama’s current economic boon.

His record of longtime dedicated service could fill up a book, and the brighter future he has helped pave the way for will be celebrated through Yellowhammer’s 2019 Power of Service Award.

However, make no mistake about it: Horn has not just accomplished a lot over time – he is still one of the state’s most powerful and influential people.

As PowerSouth’s vice president for external affairs, Horn continues to be a gladiator for rural Alabama. He played a major role behind the scenes in historic broadband legislation passing this session, and the PowerSouth Playbook continues to help deliver economic development wins – as evidenced by Site Selection’s recent praise of the company.

A legend still at the top of his game, there is no better advocate to have on your side than Horace Horn.

18. Dax Swatek

Dax Swatek is one of the smartest people in Alabama politics. Some people simply have a natural ability to see all the angles, exits and useable space when they enter a room. Swatek is like that when it comes to political issues and public policy initiatives.

He’s an elite strategist whom clients call and say, “Tell me what my plan needs to be to pass this bill.” In the same way Frank Stitt rolls up his sleeves when asked to plan a seven-course meal, Swatek is the guy people come to when they want to know all the ingredients to success and stay six steps ahead the whole time.

With more than two decades now in Montgomery power circles, he has assembled a strong team behind him at his firm Swatek, Vaughn & Bryan and has long-standing relationships with leadership in both chambers and the executive branch. His client list is chock full of blue-chippers, and his alliance with the downtown Birmingham business community is especially strong.

Add it all up and you get a lobbyist who has figured out the recipe for sustained power and influence.

17. Will Ainsworth

People jest about the lieutenant governor’s office in Alabama having essentially no real power; “light” governor, some quip.

Will Ainsworth has completely changed this narrative, just in his first year on the job.

Political observers and industry titans around the Yellowhammer State have marveled at how Ainsworth has carried himself since winning in 2018 – and how he continues to maneuver every day, increasing his power and influence, growing his network.

Ainsworth has displayed poise and wisdom well beyond his years, and the result is a lieutenant governor who has become a kingmaker rather than an afterthought. His endorsement is coveted in the 2020 U.S. Senate race.

Whether it was stepping in to give the Mobile I-10 Bridge toll project a death blow or his stalwart, forward-thinking leadership on workforce development, small business and veterans issues, Ainsworth has picked his battles – and policy endeavors – perfectly.

His career is still just getting started, and Ainsworth will be elected to whatever job he wants in 2022.

16. Greg Reed

When you get into the upper echelon of power players, distinguishing traits become even more important. Greg Reed has exhibited many on his way up the tower of influence and into the position of majority leader for the Alabama Senate.

Reed has a palpable, strong presence evident to anyone who spends more than a minute with him. He is poised under pressure and demonstrates a statesman-like demeanor whether in the company of few or of many. And the best thing about this is that, with Reed, it’s real.

Leading the majority caucus in the state senate can be the most challenging position in the statehouse. By virtue of being in the majority, each caucus member is in a position to influence the body in individual ways. That’s tough to manage. Reed has stepped in and not only helped maintain order but has guided some ambitious agenda items to passage.

One area where he excels and probably does not get enough credit is his grasp of policy. On issues affecting the coal industry, small business, economic development and agriculture, Reed could teach a semester class if he were afforded the time.

Reed’s star is bright and is set to get even brighter.

15. Steve Marshall

From the first second he stepped to the microphone after being appointed attorney general in 2017, Steve Marshall has dazzled.

Charisma. Intelligence. Compassion. Fortitude. Integrity.

Marshall has passed every test imaginable and made Alabama a safer, better place because of his service.

And for him, that’s the only thought.

This is a public servant who could do whatever he wanted – U.S. senator, governor, you name it and Steve Marshall would win that election in a heartbeat and serve with distinction.

However, Marshall has the only job he ever wanted right now. A career prosecutor with a true passion for serving as attorney general, he is one of the most real elected officials you will ever meet.

From that authenticity comes a level of power and influence that politics cannot manufacture.

An even better man, Marshall will go down as one of the best attorneys general in state history.

14. Jabo Waggoner

Jabo Waggoner is always the coolest guy in any room. He possesses a magnetism which has served him to near perfection throughout his political career. He’s the gentlemen senator and the smoothest of operators, but mainly people just want to be around him.

Of course, there’s also the fact that he holds the power of legislative process in the palm of his hand. Guess who determines what does and does not get debated on the floor of the Alabama Senate? Senate Rules Committee Chairman Jabo Waggoner. Every. Single. Bill.

In the most deliberative body, the place where it is hardest to pass a bill, that’s a monumental – and immeasurably powerful – responsibility.

Whether visiting the chairman as a constituent, a friend or someone looking to have a bill placed on the calendar, our advice would be to soak it up. Learn something. Allow yourself to get a civics lesson from someone who has served in the Alabama legislature for more than 50 years. Pay attention to how vital personal skills are to effectiveness.

There are a lot of things to learn from Jabo Waggoner. At the very least, know that he is a very powerful man.

13. Steve Windom

Steve Windom might just be the perfect case study for those looking to make it big in the world of governmental affairs and lobbying.

He is a tireless worker, but the real marvel is his deep, ever-growing network of connections on and around Goat Hill. From administrative support staff to lifelong civil servants all the way up the halls of power, Windom knows just about everybody by name – and works his Rolodex non-stop.

Windom is one of the go-to lobbyists if you want a bill passed. In addition to his relationship building, his first-hand knowledge of the process and status as a former legislator and lieutenant governor give him a special edge over many contract firms.

However, his expertise does not stop in the public policy arena.

Windom’s reputation as a fundraising machine continues to grow every election cycle – and for good reason. He can raise statewide candidates hundreds of thousands of dollars before lunch if he wants to, making him a political powerbroker unmatched in power and influence by all but a handful of colleagues.

12. Robbie McGhee

Robbie McGhee starts every day with the same mission: represent and protect the interests of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama.

What might seem to be a narrowly-focused approach can actually be an arduous task. McGhee and his tribe sit in a position of great strength in Alabama. They have established a thriving gaming and entertainment business across the state. From this success has sprung a healthy corporate citizenship through charitable endeavors, job creation and electioneering.

The challenge for McGhee comes when others set out to siphon off the strength of the tribe. This causes him to be on constant alert for people trying to harm their interests.

During those occurrences, McGhee brings a certain intensity to his representation not prevalent in the everyday machinations of the statehouse. It means something when he walks into the building, and other people know when he is there. That in itself is a sure sign of power and influence.

The experience he brings also counts for something. He 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.

The wins for McGhee continue to pile up year after year. And so does his power and influence.

11. Bob Geddie

It has been said that Joe Fine invented lobbying in Alabama.

That being well established, his longtime business partner Bob Geddie may have just perfected the craft.

Geddie, reverently known as the firm’s House of Representatives specialist, has lobbying down to a science.

Institutional knowledge, skill, charisma and relationships – it sounds like a formula. But Geddie makes it look like an artform.

Some of Alabama’s biggest businesses trust Geddie on policy advocacy issues, and for good reason. However, his power and influence does not stop at being one of the – if not the very — top contract lobbyists in the state.

Aided by Fine Geddie’s network of PACs and Geddie’s own chess master-like strategic vision, he is one of the best minds political candidates and elected officials could hope to have advising them.

Geddie has been a high-ranking fixture on this list since its inception, and his stature only looks to continue rising.

Check back on Friday for the final segment: 1-10.

4 hours ago

Tuberville on China, coronavirus: ‘We’ve got to worry about Alabama and this country’ right now

Former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville is taking a different stance on China than his Republican primary runoff competitor, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In an appearance on Talk 99.5’s “Matt and Aunie Show” Thursday morning, Tuberville was asked about what he thought was happening with China.

He responded, “Well, we can’t worry about China right now. We’ve gotta worry about Alabama and this country.”

Experts agree that the novel coronavirus originated somewhere around the city of Wuhan in China, and the country spent several weeks trying to obscure the extent of the outbreak. There have since been significant indications that the death toll in China is higher than the country is publicly reporting.

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Sessions has called for an extensive investigation into the communist government that runs China, and blasted the current leadership there, calling it an “evil regime.”

“You know, I hear about all these people hollering for investigations and we always investigate,” commented Tuberville on Thursday, before later adding, “[Congressional committees] investigate and nothing ever comes of it, so right now we’ve gotta worry about this country. ‘Cause right now we’re in trouble.”

In tweets responding to the Tuberville interview, Sessions said, “China’s where the virus is from, and their deliberate lies hid the danger & resulted in a pandemic that never should’ve happened! We must take on China NOW and WIN, not run scared like Tommy Tuberville!”

Later in the interview, Tuberville praised President Donald Trump’s efforts to shift the United States’ economic relationship to China.

“They’re gonna be knocked to their knees, and they should be,” the former coach said.

Paul Shashy, Tuberville’s campaign manager, said in a statement to Yellowhammer News, “If Jeff Sessions was too afraid to stand up to Robert Mueller, how can we ever expect him to stand up to China? Like President Trump, Coach Tuberville believes we should focus all of our resources on ending the Coronavirus pandemic, fixing our economy, and helping the Alabamians who need help now. Once that’s done, he’ll stand with the president to hold the Chinese fully accountable, unlike Jeff Sessions, who voted with Ted Kennedy and John Kerry to reward China with permanent trade status.”

Tuberville and Sessions will face each other at the ballot box on July 14 in the Republican primary runoff.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

5 hours ago

Ivey issues ‘stay-at-home’ order for the state of Alabama effective Saturday afternoon

MONTGOMERY – Governor Kay Ivey has issued a “stay-at-home” order for the state of Alabama as coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and deaths continue to rise.

The order is effective beginning Saturday, April 4, at 5:00 p.m. and will expire Thursday, April 30, 2020 at 5:00 p.m. CT.

Exceptions apply for essential activities and businesses.

The order can be read here.

An updated supplemental State of Emergency can be read here.

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Ivey made the announcement at a press conference Friday at 4:00 p.m. CT alongside State Health Officer Scott Harris, Attorney General Steve Marshall and the Reverend Cromwell A. Handy of Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. Reporters were able to attend and ask questions live afterwards while following social distancing guidelines.

In a statement, Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth said he supports the stay-at-home order.

“I agree with Gov. Ivey’s decision to issue a stay-at-home order throughout Alabama, and though many may find it inconvenient, her action is the best method of combatting and controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our cities, towns, and communities,” he said.

“Alabamians have always shown courage in a crisis, so at this critical time, the best way we can stand together is by staying apart,” Ainsworth concluded.

Ainsworth’s full statement can be read here.

Ivey said in her remarks that it became obvious to her Thursday afternoon that more must be done to flatten the curve.

The governor advised she was “convinced our previous efforts to reduce social interaction [had not been enough].”

“That’s why we are taking this more drastic step,” she added.

Ivey cited the jump in confirmed cases the state experienced Thursday, along with location data made available by news outlets, as sources of information she found relevant in making her decision.

“April stands to be very tough, and potentially very deadly,” warned Ivey.

The governor said that Alabama should expect a surge in hospitalizations that she estimates will peak in 2-3 weeks.

Harris noted the the models projecting caseload change every day.

Marshall said that intentionally violating the new order is a class-c misdemeanor.

Marshall urged law enforcement officers around the state to practice restraint in enforcing the order, only using criminal action if someone was endangering others.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

6 hours ago

Alabama’s budgets will face real issues post-coronavirus

Every American is fixated on the current coronavirus pandemic. It dominates local and national news, daily talk radio and Alabama’s major newspapers three days a week.

The Alabama political press is busy using this to accuse Governor Kay Ivey of wanting Alabamians to die because she hasn’t issued a “shelter-in-place” order. To their credit, usually, it’s Alabama’s budget cuts, low taxes, taxes on food, failure to expand Medicaid or abortion bans that are being used as an implement of murder by their target of the day, so give them credit for creativity.

If we as a state look past this healthcare issue and look at the damage it is already doing to the state’s economy, we will see a bunch of major issues on the horizon.

When State Senator Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) appeared on WVNN Friday morning, he talked about budgeting issues that will definitely be of major concern when the state is back open for business and the legislature resumes its budgeting process.

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Orr, who has chaired both the General Fund and Education Trust Fund committees, said that the next legislative session will be a hard one with hard fiscal choices.

Planned pay raises for teachers and other state employees are gone. Orr noted that the budgets that are passed will be “level-funding” — or close to it — and hard choices will have to be made.

But that “pain” may be short-term, not that the reverberation of the coronavirus pandemic won’t last for years. There could be long-term issues as well.

The Retirement System of Alabama has long been a hot-button in this state.

Orr sounded the alarm on the viability of the system, saying, “The RSA is among, if not the most, highly exposed defined benefit, public defined benefit plan in the country to equities or to the stock market.”

He noted, “When the stock market has tanked 30 plus percent, RSA feels a much larger hit than other retirement funds. It’s going to be a concern.”

My takeaway:

With a defined benefit payout and few opportunities to increase revenue. the actuarial tables will take a beating as the stock market slides.

Most expect the market to rebound eventually, but Orr has been talking about the RSA’s vulnerabilities for years. And this will not help.

Even if you aren’t a beneficiary of the Retirement System of Alabama, you will still feel the impact if its finances continue to head south. Orr warned of a stark reality where “taxpayers will be ending up having to pay more for retirement for all the government employees.”

Obviously, no one is thinking about this right now, but we will be revisiting this in the very near future and the impact of this could go on for a very long time.

Listen:

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

7 hours ago

Survey: 50% of small businesses cannot survive more than two months of coronavirus restrictions

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Research Center on Friday released its latest survey detailing the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on small businesses across the country.

The survey was conducted March 30 and utilized a random sampling of the organization’s 300,000 members. This garnered 1,172 usable responses, all small employers with 1-465 employees.

Unfortunately — but also unsurprisingly, the survey showed continued overall deterioration in the small business sector since the NFIB’s previous similar survey, which was conducted on March 20. A release from NFIB on Friday stated, “The severity of the outbreak and regulatory measures that cities and states are taking to control it are having a devastating impact on small businesses.”

In the latest survey, 92% of small employers said they are negatively impacted by the pandemic, up from 76% saying the same just 10 days prior.

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The latest survey also showed 3% of small employees answering that they are positively impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. NFIB explained that these select firms are likely experiencing stronger sales due to a sharp rise in demand for certain products, goods and services. That effect will likely wane in the coming weeks as consumers feel more secure about their personal supply levels, NFIB added.

State-specific survey data was unavailable, but NFIB Alabama State Director Rosemary Elebash said in a statement, “Without a doubt, the coronavirus has taken a tremendous toll on Alabama’s small businesses. Our members are determined to get through this, and they’re working to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans and other forms of financial relief so they can avoid layoffs and having to close the doors for good.”

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL) noted, “We have organized an Emergency Small Business Task Force to identify problems our businesses are facing during this difficult time. We need to bring clarity to issues and government orders that are often confusing and to effectively communicate solutions and direct business owners to resources that can help. NFIB is an indispensable member helping to guide this task force.”

RELATED: State Rep. Whitt on coronavirus restrictions: ‘Our small businesses are getting destroyed’

Among negatively impacted small employers in the NFIB survey, 80% reported slower sales, 31% reported experiencing supply chain disruptions and 23% reported concerns over sick employees.

One other major point in the survey pertained to how long can small businesses can continue to operate under current conditions.

With the pandemic projected to continue for weeks, it is especially concerning that approximately half of small employers said they can survive for no more than two months. About 15% of small employers responded that they cannot last even another month.

Mitigation is ongoing, however. Due to escalating financial stress on the sector, more small businesses are now talking with their bank about financing needs than was the case 10 days ago. Approximately 29% of small employers have talked with someone at their bank or with the Small Business Administration (SBA) about finance options, and another 23% are planning to do so soon. A total of 38% of small employers have not, and do not, intend to do so, per NFIB’s survey.

Read the full survey here.

RELATED: University of Alabama program helps connect small businesses with federal relief funds

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

7 hours ago

Alabama automakers lend a helping hand in COVID-19 battle

Alabama automakers are stepping in to aid their communities in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, including support of crucial testing services and production of protective face shields for healthcare workers.

Toyota’s Huntsville engine factory is producing 7,500 protective face shields for local hospitals.

In addition, the plant has donated 160 safety glasses to local hospitals, along with $25,000 to the United Way of Madison County to support COVID-19 relief efforts.

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“With our plant idled, Toyota Alabama is eager to contribute our expertise and know-how to help quickly bring to market the equipment needed to combat COVID-19,” the company said in a statement today.

Similar efforts are also happening at Toyota facilities nationwide.

Other Alabama automakers are offering community support as well.

Hyundai Motor America and its Hyundai Hope On Wheels program have donated $200,000 to the University of Alabama at Birmingham to help expand community testing efforts.

The grant will support the existing drive-through testing site in downtown Birmingham and help other sites in Jefferson County provide much-needed screening, said UAB Medicine CEO Will Ferniany.

“Support like this gift from Hyundai Hope On Wheels helps our frontline medical staff understand that they are not alone in this fight,” he said. “This grant will help further UAB’s commitment to providing access to communitywide testing.”

The grant will also be used to expand access for pediatric-specific testing services. About 20 percent of the downtown testing site’s patient population is age 25 and under, and officials from UAB Medicine, the UAB Department of Pediatrics and Children’s of Alabama hope to continue to expand testing for this group.

Nationwide, Hyundai is donating $2.2 million to support drive-thru testing centers at 11 children’s hospitals throughout the U.S.

Hyundai Hope on Wheels supports families facing pediatric cancer, and the company said the pandemic is a particular risk to children with cancer who have compromised immune systems.

Hyundai operates an auto assembly plant in Montgomery, which has been idled amid the outbreak, as have other auto assembly plants in the state.

Honda’s plants across the U.S. are also helping out during the crisis, including its factory in Talladega County.

Honda has pledged $1 million to food banks and meal programs across North America. Plants also are donating equipment, including N95 face masks, to healthcare providers, deploying 3-D printers to manufacture visors for face shields and investigating ways to partner with other companies in producing equipment.

In Tuscaloosa County, the Mercedes-Benz plant has donated N100 reusable filters,  protective suits and other supplies to local hospitals, as well as $5,000 to the DCH Foundation to help with the hospital’s curbside testing process.

Mercedes is also working with the Alabama Department of Commerce on ways the company or its supplier network can support making parts for the medical industry, and it is providing expertise to other manufacturers that are producing healthcare supplies.

The automaker also hosted a LifeSouth community blood drive that received about 95 donors.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)