3 weeks ago

2019 POWER & INFLUENCE 40: Numbers 21-30

Yellowhammer Multimedia on Wednesday released the second 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 and 1-10 finishing the week out.

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.

30. Ben Patterson

He’s “The Professor” in Montgomery.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more knowledgeable governmental affairs professional in Alabama than Ben Patterson. And there’s a good reason for this.

While most know him for his diligent work with his current firm, the powerful Fine Geddie & Associates, Patterson holds a doctorate and quite literally taught classes in state and local government, as well as American politics, at the University of Alabama.

His experience in both the public and private sectors lend to his library of knowledge, too.

Prior to joining Fine Geddie in 2004, he served as the state’s deputy finance director under two governors. Patterson also had a stint as the state’s chief information officer in the 1990s and worked in governmental affairs for both the BCA and the Alabama Bankers Association.

Already powerful and influential, Patterson is poised to soon play an even bigger role in the State House.

29. Paul Pinyan

The Alabama Farmers Federation made the first major move in Alabama’s 2020 U.S. Senate race by endorsing Tommy Tuberville over a handful of former and current elected officials last week.

Pinyan, as the organization’s executive director, finds himself right back in the thick of another heated statewide race. He was integral in the 2018 election cycle getting an incredible number of FarmPAC endorsed candidates over the finish line – and Tuberville will now hope that Pinyan’s hot streak continues.

With an impressive phone banking and polling operation, along with the best grassroots network in the state, Pinyan has the top tools at his disposal to continue increasing his power and influence.

With a team that includes the likes of rising star Matthew Durdin and former Secretary of State Beth Chapman, Pinyan is one of the most influential behind-the-scenes power players in Alabama.

28. Sommer Vaughn

Author Malcolm Gladwell asserts that the key to being successful at something is 10,000 hours of practice. We don’t know where Sommer Vaughn is on that timeline, but she must be close judging by the success she has enjoyed thus far.

Vaughn has hit her stride as a lobbyist who consistently delivers results for her clients. No issue is too big or too complex for her to handle. For some lobbyists, the House of Representatives can seem like a daunting body in which to work based on the outright numbers and the work it takes dealing with 105 members.

Not Vaughn. Her deep roots in the lower chamber have allowed her to flourish. She also works seamlessly across party lines and in multiple agencies and branches of government.

Vaughn is driven to be great. So the rest of Alabama’s political world is on notice as she continues to hone her craft hour by hour.

27. Dave Stewart

In the world of law firms, lobbying has long been thought of as merely a value-add in the service of existing clients. Heavy-lifting, it was thought, should be left to smaller firms dedicated solely to the practice.

Dave Stewart has laid out the blueprint for how a law firm’s lobbying practice can prosper and leverage influence in every corner of state government. In doing so, he has led his firm’s governmental affairs practice to entirely new heights.

Perhaps it is Stewart’s business background and his statewide contacts in the business community that have contributed significantly to the growth of the Bradley firm’s lobbying practice. Those things, combined with a relentless work ethic and his commitment to grow his business, matter.

It could also the product of someone who has a reputation for being trustworthy and possessing an uncanny grasp of the issues. Regardless, Stewart has earned his spot among Alabama’s most powerful and influential.

26. Mike Jones

The chairman of the House Rules Committee, Mike Jones carries a big stick in the State House.

His committee determines the order of bills taken up each legislative day, with the well-respected Jones having the ability to set legislative priorities. This enviable negotiating position puts Jones in a prime spot to best serve his constituents’ local priorities in south Alabama.

Firm but fair, Jones unquestionably has a strong hand on the lever of power as the House’s legislative gatekeeper.

If another ethics reform package is to come up in 2020, expect Jones to take a more proactive role this time around in what is sure to be one of the session’s most important debates.

However, there is a rumor going around that Jones could be in line for another gig soon. Right now, Jones clearly remains one of the House’s most influential members.

25. Ginger Avery-Buckner

Ginger Avery-Buckner possesses the traits one would expect from someone running one of the state’s largest legal organizations and representing it in front of state policy-makers. Her approach on behalf of the Alabama Association for Justice is highly organized and never strays from the best interest and mission of the group.

She has the strong support of her members which has allowed her to perfect the method of harnessing their grassroots support for the association’s agenda.

And then there are the times when she achieves results for her members through sheer will. Gifted with a friendly, engaging personality, she can flip to all-business mode in a hurry in front of someone whose issue contains the wrong color-code on her legislative spreadsheet.

This has resulted in the frequent practice of other legislators and other lobbyists – who don’t want to end up on the wrong side of her spreadsheet – proactively seeking Avery-Buckner out on issues that they think might affect her members.

That’s evidence of the type of power and influence that has landed Avery-Buckner on this list.

24. R.B. Walker

R.B. Walker’s ascension on Alabama’s ladder of power and influence has been an impressive watch for political observers – yet entirely predictable.

Walker’s profile could easily have been something drawn up in a lab. He is tenacious in pursuit of results, disciplined in his approach and never distracted by the noise that can often consume the energy of others in the world of state governmental affairs.

Walker does not just have relationships, he knows people well. And that is why he is a reservoir for everyone’s favorite political currency: information. All of which is a testament to his work ethic. It would not take much to convince us that Walker works 24 hours a day. He is seemingly “always-on,” while maintaining a fierce loyalty to his company and its objectives.

It is impossible in the business of politics to accurately measure what someone’s ceiling looks like until they actually hit it. But we’re pretty confident Walker’s ceiling is Sistine Chapel level stuff.

23. Steve Clouse

This veteran cat wrangler oversees one of state government’s biggest annual headaches – the general fund – for the House.

With all of that thankless responsibility comes overt power and influence.

This coming year, that responsibility will be even heavier – and his sway even greater – with funding of the state’s corrections system and CHIP as two of the biggest hurdles of the session.

Clouse will be in the spotlight – just as he was this spring when carrying Sen. Albritton’s clean lottery proposal.

Having served in the House since 1995, Clouse might need every ounce of his statesmanship to navigate the potential land mines of 2020.

He has been adept at doing so before and shows no sign of letting up.

22. Clay Ryan

The University of Alabama might soon need to make room for another star in its “Where Legends Are Made” lineup.

Clay Ryan, now the UA System’s vice chancellor for governmental affairs and economic/workforce development, has his finger on the pulse of Alabama politics like few others in recent memory, to go along with the exhaustive list of pressing policy issues that he covers.

From healthcare to workforce development to infrastructure, Ryan and the many unique strengths of the System’s three campuses have been integral recently in the major issues facing decision-makers in Montgomery.

Well-known for his relationship building, Ryan is near the very top of the list when candidates begin their fundraising calls.

He’s got the keys to the well-oiled juggernaut that is the System’s political operation, making him one of Alabama’s most sought after contacts. Ryan should be a fixture on this list for years to come.

21. Houston Smith

Every organization needs an individual who can maintain a full-view awareness of where it needs to go. In Houston Smith, Alabama Power Company has found that person.

Smith is equipped with a discerning vision for the direction his home state needs to go in order to become the best version of itself. A solver of big problems, he is skillful at utilizing contacts throughout the country to understand best practices that can be brought to Alabama on the major issues such as economic development, infrastructure and quality of life enhancement.

The Alabama legislature has taken on several large-scale initiatives in the past year, and Smith served as a field general for stakeholder involvement. On issues like Rebuild Alabama and rural broadband expansion, Smith managed the totality of the effort including public relations, lobbying and assessing the policy impact.

From his position on Yellowhammer’s Power and Influence 40, Smith can look up and see some of his predecessors. Given his ambition and rare intellect, he would be well-served to prepare for a similarly steep career trajectory.

Check back on Thursday for the next segment: 11-20.

24 mins ago

Sewell: Trump tweet comparing impeachment inquiry to ‘lynching’ is ‘despicable’

Along with Senator Doug Jones (D-AL), count Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07) as an ardent critic of President Donald Trump’s Tuesday tweet comparing the ongoing House impeachment inquiry to a “lynching” of him.

Trump tweeted, “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”

In a Facebook post sharing a screenshot of that tweet, Sewell outlined, “From Reconstruction to the Civil Rights Movement, 3,446 African Americans were murdered by lynching.”

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“The history of lynching in our nation is one of white supremacy, humiliation and dehumanization,” she continued.

Sewell, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, represents a district that includes Selma.

“For President Trump to liken the impeachment inquiry—a lawful investigation—to the racial terror millions of African Americans endured is despicable,” she concluded. “And for the people of Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, who marched, bled and died to end this type of terrorism, the sting of the President’s words is especially sharp.”

RELATED: Rep. Sewell: ‘You don’t need a quid pro quo’ for an impeachment inquiry

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

43 mins ago

Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce launches initiative to support local startups

The Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday launched a new  initiative to help boost the River Region’s entrepreneurial  ecosystem.

The new “Work Together” business studio and coworking space located at 600 S. Court Street in Montgomery will be more than just a physical space, according to a press release.

Starting in 2020, “it will also feature dynamic programming and events focused on creating a haven for makers, creatives, small businesses, entrepreneurs, freelancers and the community to connect, innovate, create and learn.”

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The Work Together location offers flexible space for working, training and community building that can accommodate up to 100 individuals and includes WIFI and audio-visual resources. Additional smaller spaces inside Work Together provide areas for small group or one-on-one meetings, and it also offers a conference room set-up that can accommodate up to 10 people.

The chamber announced the new initiative at InnovateMGM, a half-day event celebrating  those who are innovating within traditional and non-traditional businesses, start-ups and creative ventures.

The event served as a taste of the community building that Work Together aims to provide, which goes far beyond the limits of a physical gathering space and seeks to provide meaningful programming that empowers users to achieve their greatest potential.

In a statement, Montgomery Area Chamber Chairman Willie Durham said, “Supporting and strengthening our start up and entrepreneur community is one of our biggest priorities at the Chamber.”

“Our mission is to connect people to people and people to resources and this space allows us to do just that,” he continued. “By providing the training and the space for creatives and entrepreneurs to connect, we are enhancing our ability to build community, elevate the quality of life of the region and ensure the prosperity of our business community.”

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

1 hour ago

Clyde Chambliss named 2019’s ‘Outstanding Public Official’ by American Society of Civil Engineers

State Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) was recently named the 2019 Outstanding Public Official by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

ASCE’s Committee on Advancing the Profession selected Chambliss to receive the prestigious national honor for “impeccable service and dedication to the State of Alabama, as well as to the civil engineering profession and land surveying professionals.”

“Instituted in 1963, the award is made to those members of ASCE who have contributed substantially to the status of the engineering profession by meritorious public service in elective or appointive positions in civil government,” Lawren Pratt, the ASCE member who nominated Chambliss for the award, advised in a statement.

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During his tenure in the Alabama Senate, Chambliss has led the effort to reform and modernize government regulations on the engineering profession. He was first elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018.

In 2018, Chambliss helped write and pass Senate Bill 316, which required Qualification Based Selection (QBS) to be included in the State Administrative Code and added two public members to the Alabama Board of Licensure for Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors.

Brad Williams, P.E., president of the Alabama section of ASCE, praised Chambliss’ leadership.

“Senate Bill 316 led to one of the strongest QBS laws in the nation; it would not have passed without Senator Chambliss’s leadership,” Williams outlined.

Chambliss and his wife, Tara, also a civil engineer, own and operate a civil engineering firm that provides engineering services to small towns, water systems and developers in central Alabama.

“Senator Chambliss’ knowledge of our profession as a practicing Professional Engineer was instrumental in how he was able to lead meetings, mediate between parties of differing interests, and educate legislative members on the importance of QBS,” Williams added.

In accepting the award, Chambliss said that he appreciated the collaboration between legislators and professionals in the engineering field that led to the passage of SB316.

“It is such an honor to be recognized by my peers and colleagues with this award. Passage of SB316 was truly a group effort, and I appreciate the work of my engineer and surveyor peers in the development of such a great piece of legislation. I also want to thank my legislative colleagues for their support in voting for the bill, and Governor Ivey for signing it into law,” Chambliss said.

Chambliss was recently named as a member of the 2019 Yellowhammer Power & Influence 40.

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

Byrne: How do you solve a problem like Syria?

Recent developments in Syria highlight the need for the United States to revisit its broader Middle Eastern policy.

Early last week, I joined a small meeting of House Republicans for an update on Syria from Secretary of Defense Mark Esper where he discussed a phone call from President Erdogan of Turkey to President Trump.

During that call, Erdogan notified President Trump that after years of waiting at the Syrian border, Turkish troops would finally cross over. He assured that Turkey was not coming after our troops but targeting certain Kurdish factions they consider terrorists. He gave President Trump 48 hours to relocate the two dozen or so American troops stationed on the border.

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President Trump was faced with a difficult decision. Ultimately, he decided to remove American servicemembers from harm’s way to prevent a full-blown conflict with Turkey.

Turkey’s incursion into Syria is wrong and very troubling. Erdogan should never treat our president and our country the way he did on the phone call. There will be serious consequences for his behavior.

I support seeking methods of leverage with Turkey that do not endanger our troops.

After President Trump proposed harsh economic sanctions, the administration negotiated a cease-fire with Turkey. The cease-fire has been shaky at best, but it probably prevented many more deaths in the region.

This is happening in the context of a greater strategic problem in the Middle East. For at least a decade, we’ve lacked a well-defined mission. What are our interests in the Middle East? What do we do to pursue and protect those interests?

Since coming to Congress and serving on the House Armed Services Committee, I have not seen a strategic, conventional interest for the U.S. in Syria, other than destroying the ISIS caliphate.

To be sure, Kurdish forces were the largest part of the successful campaign against the caliphate, and we need to stand by them as best we can under these challenging circumstances.

But Syria is a failed state. It is bewildering the number of groups in some form of combat. With so many factions, it is often difficult to know who the good guys are. Problems between the Turks and Kurds will persist for generations, but this dispute is one of many combustible problems in the Middle East today. Just weeks ago, Iran attacked our Saudi Arabian ally.

We need to work with our allies to determine our strategic goals and how to reach them. We should continue providing assistance to our allies, including the Kurds, but progress requires buy-in from all of our allies in the region.

Turkey, as a NATO member, does currently play a role in supporting our alliance goals. Turkey is the home of an important U.S. airbase and many other critical NATO assets including U.S. nuclear weapons.

However, Turkey’s actions cast serious doubts on whether they will honor their NATO commitments going forward, and frank discussions between Trump, Erdogan and other NATO leaders are needed.

We must be tough with Turkey. I still believe strong sanctions to weaken and punish Turkey are needed, and I signed on as an original cosponsor to Liz Cheney’s resolution to impose very tough sanctions.

After the Turkish incursion, I was disappointed that the House hastily put forward a resolution condemning President Trump’s actions without knowing the full facts. The very next day, I received a classified briefing shedding more light on his tough decision. I think everyone in Congress should have access to these classified briefings to gain a fuller understanding of what happened.

Instead of attacking the president, we need to have sincere bipartisan conversations and propose concrete solutions for Syria and the Middle East. On critical national security issues, we must put America first.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne is a Republican from Fairhope. He is a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate.

4 hours ago

‘Shame on you’: Jones slams Trump for comparing impeachment probe to ‘lynching’

Senator Doug Jones (D-AL) is urging President Donald Trump to visit the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)’s Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery to see “what lynching actually looks like” after the president invoked the term when complaining about the ongoing House impeachment probe into him.

On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted, “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!”

In sharing the tweet directly, Jones commented, “No sir!”

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“No, @realdonaldtrump: this is NOT a lynching, and shame on you for invoking such a horrific act that was used as a weapon to terrorize and murder African Americans,” the senator continued.

“If you want to know what lynching actually looks like, go to [EJI] in Montgomery, Alabama,” Jones concluded.

RELATED: Jones on Trump: ‘Appears to be evidence of abuse of power’

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