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2019 POWER & INFLUENCE 40

Yellowhammer Multimedia on Saturday introduced 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 was released in four segments throughout the week, with 31-40 coming first and 1-10 being published on Friday.

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.

The 2019 Power of Service Award will be presented to Horace Horn.

Read more about the event here.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 art form.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

31. Ted Hosp

Normally, you don’t want to be the guy who replaces the guy who replaced the legend. However, Ted Hosp is someone who has never backed down from a challenge.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama named Hosp its new vice president of Governmental Affairs earlier this year. Hosp replaced the retiring Robin Stone, a longtime fixture among Alabama’s political power players.

Hosp had previously worked for a governor and was the lead partner for the Maynard, Cooper & Gale governmental affairs practice. During his time as a lawyer/lobbyist for Maynard, Hosp had a reputation for taking on some of the biggest issues and toughest issues on behalf of his clients looking to affect public policy. Not to mention Hosp has probably written more pieces of legislation that are now Alabama law than anyone in the statehouse would like to admit.

Hosp is now the governmental affairs point person for a company that has 3 million members in Alabama and employs 3,600 people. With the weight of that presence behind him, his power and influence will only increase.

32. Josh Blades

Josh Blades has been ahead of the curve at every point in his life. The Sylacauga native was recognized as the city’s youngest entrepreneur at age 15 after opening a full-service archery shop, and he has never looked back.

One of the most visibly focused lobbyists in the statehouse, Blades is a member of the Bradley firm’s Governmental Affairs and Economic Development practice group. He has worked for a governor, a speaker of the House, a successful statewide campaign and established a thriving lobbying practice at an age before most people accomplish one of those things.

An avid bow hunter, Blades possesses the type of background and personality that relates to almost everyone, which is one of the most overlooked traits to successful lobbying. The depth of his work in the executive and legislative branches of government provides him the institutional knowledge to service his clients, but his influence comes from having the relationships to bring about results.

33. Derek Trotter

Spoiler alert: The president pro tem of the Alabama Senate is a powerful man. And so it’s no surprise that his chief of staff also wields significant power and influence.

Derek Trotter has served as Del Marsh’s chief of staff for nearly a year and maximized his influence quickly.

Trotter brought with him a useful blend of experience. He has served as a communications director for a statewide campaign and for Marsh in an earlier term. His background as a legislative liaison for the executive branch as well as a governmental affairs consultant in the private sector allowed him to hit the ground running as the pro tem’s chief of staff.

More than anything, though, Trotter is an operator in the statehouse on behalf of his boss. He knows Marsh’s priorities, he knows the bills that will be on the calendar and he is tasked with being Marsh’s point person in communicating with other senators.

This activity gives Trotter the two most valuable commodities in the statehouse: relationships and information. The person who knows the secrets – however mundane they may seem – automatically owns influence.

And that is where Trotter finds himself.

34. Nathaniel Ledbetter

Following its conclusion, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter wrote that the 2019 legislative session may go down as “the most important and influential of its time.”

It is fitting then that political observers around the State House are widely taking notice of the integral role Ledbetter had in its success. To put it succinctly, Ledbetter may go down as one of “the most powerful and influential” majority leaders of his time.

His rise to power has been almost meteoric. Elected to the House in 2014, he became the Republican leader in the chamber almost two full years before the end of his first term.

A former mayor of Rainsville, this DeKalb Countian has carved out his role as a staunch conservative and tireless champion for rural Alabama.

With the leadership duo of him and State Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper) at the helm, the House GOP Caucus has real pull in Montgomery.

35. Mark Tuggle

After choosing not to seek reelection to the State House in 2018, Mark Tuggle has found an even better gig in the chamber – chief of staff to Speaker Mac McCutcheon.

Tuggle seems right at home on the dais. Whether it be his ingrained knowledge of the body’s rules and procedures or his built-in working relationships with many of the current members, Tuggle’s status as a former member helped him slide right in to a role of tangible power and influence to kick of this quadrennium.

This Alexander City Republican is now the lead gatekeeper to one of the most powerful people in the state. With contentious issues like criminal justice and prison reform coming up, along with the constant specter of lottery and gambling issues, Tuggle plays a crucial part behind the scenes in the legislative process.

36. Mike Cole

Mike Cole has been omnipresent in the halls of the legislature and the buildings around Montgomery for decades. Cole belongs in the category of powerful and influential people who quietly go about their business with a steady approach to lobbying within a wide swath of state government offices.

Few can match the breadth of subject matter in Cole’s governmental affairs practice. From healthcare to utility regulation to economic development to county and municipal issues, his experience and versatility put him in a position to pull levers inaccessible to others in the industry.

And he’s a big-game hunter when it comes to clients. Cole counts some of the state’s largest employers among his client base. His roots in Huntsville have allowed him to serve as a go-to connection in Montgomery for the many of the state’s tech leaders.

37. Cam Ward

Cam Ward, a perennial member of this annual Power & Influence list, is poised to have his biggest day in the spotlight yet.

When the Alabama legislature takes on a monumental criminal justice and prison reform package in the spring, Ward will be at the forefront – and at his most powerful and influential moment of his career thus far.

Serving in the Alabama Senate since 2010, Ward is known throughout Montgomery as a legislator eager to cross the aisle on issues of importance. Look for him to be one of the driving forces trying to get Republicans and Democrats on the same page in 2020 amidst the presidential election cycle doing quite the opposite.

While Ward as the Senate Judiciary chairman is known for his bipartisanship, his district includes a very red chunk of the areas just south of Birmingham where he remains incredibly popular. As evidenced by his social media posts (and his accessibility across these platforms), much of this is a result of his diligent work back at home.

38. Greg Butrus

Most lawyers are like the highway patrol: You only want to see them when you need them.

Greg Butrus is the exception.

It’s impossible not to learn something during a conversation with Butrus. Once a Senate staffer for legendary Alabama political figure Howell Heflin, Butrus displays the type of personality rare among the silk stocking law firms in downtown Birmingham.

He holds extensive knowledge in the areas of state and federal legislation, public policy, government relations, campaign finance law, state and federal energy policy, regulatory affairs and economic development. By no means is that an exhaustive list of Butrus’ areas of expertise, which leads him into the middle of countless pieces of legislation and agency actions.

Astute business leaders pursue Butrus’ counsel rather than wait until they really need it.

39. David Cole

David Cole must have been born to lobby.

While this was already evident during his time at the Alabama Farmers Federation, Cole has seized the opportunity of working for the better-than-ever Business Council of Alabama with both hands.

Cole is a natural people’s person, someone adept at building genuine relationships and making real connections. In the governmental affairs world, these traits are hard to find.

However, BCA President and CEO Katie Boyd Britt struck gold when she hired both Cole and Molly Cagle to lead the organization’s governmental & political affairs shop.

These two are no longer rising stars. They have made it, and Britt has built a tenacious powerhouse for years to come.

40. Clyde Chambliss

Through thick and thin, State Senator Clyde Chambliss was at the center of seemingly every major legislative battle this spring.

The Autauga County legislator carried the Rebuild Alabama infrastructure package in his chamber, also taking a leading role on the crucial accountability and transparency portions of the legislation.

His session certainly did not end there.

Chambliss’ real 15 minutes came as the Senate point person on HB 314, the abortion ban legislation.

A meticulous, detail-oriented public servant, Chambliss has steadily become one of the most powerful and influential members of the upper chamber to start the quadrennium – including serving as the GOP floor leader.

He is expected to play a major part in the upcoming criminal justice and prison reform debate, so do not anticipate this status changing this upcoming session.

59 mins ago

Dick, Liz Cheney to headline Bradley Byrne Senate fundraiser

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) will be the “special guests” at a U.S. Senate campaign fundraiser for Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-01) on November 21 in Birmingham.

The fundraiser invitation obtained by Yellowhammer News outlines that there will be a VIP reception and a general reception. The VIP reception calls for a sponsor contribution level of $5,600 per couple, while the general reception allows for either a $2,800 host level or $1,000 attend level — both amounts also per couple.

The event is being held at The Club.

Rep. Cheney is currently the chair of the House Republican Conference — the GOP caucus within the lower chamber. As such, she holds the third-highest position in Republican House leadership.

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Like her father, Liz Cheney has been critical recently of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Northern Syria. The Cheneys generally have found themselves at odds with Trump on foreign policy issues for years, carrying through his time in office.

Back in 2011, Trump in a since-deleted YouTube video said of former VP Cheney, “He’s very, very angry and nasty.”

“I didn’t like Cheney when he was a vice president. I don’t like him now. … Here’s a guy that did a rotten job as vice president. Nobody liked him,” Trump added.

His criticism of the George W. Bush administration has continued in recent days and weeks. Trump in one tweet emphasized, “GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!”

Similarly to her split with Trump on foreign policy, Rep. Cheney has found herself in a heated spat as of late with Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). The two have fundamentally different worldviews when it comes to intervention abroad and the United States’ national security strategy.

Byrne has found himself somewhat split between the Cheneys and the Trump/Paul side of things recently when it comes to foreign policy. While Byrne signed on as an original cosponsor to Rep. Cheney’s resolution to impose “very tough sanctions” on Turkey over the Syria/Kurdish conflict, the coastal Alabama congressman also voted against a resolution opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw. As Byrne outlined in a column published on Tuesday, his public stance on the issue does not fit neatly on one side of the debate or the other.

Yellowhammer News sent a request for comment to the Byrne campaign on the upcoming Cheney fundraiser, as well as posing a few specific questions.

Yellowhammer asked whether Byrne more aligns with Trump or the Cheneys on foreign policy, as well as whether Byrne would be more like a Senator Paul or Rep. Cheney on foreign policy if elected to the Senate. Rep. Cheney herself is heavily rumored to be weighing a U.S. Senate bid in Wyoming, and the three could even find themselves to be colleagues. Yellowhammer further asked the Byrne campaign if he would support a Cheney Senate bid.

Additionally, given Rep. Cheney’s high leadership perch in Congress, Yellowhammer asked, “Does this signal leadership in D.C. getting involved on behalf of the Byrne campaign?”

The request for comment and questions were met with a brief response from Byrne’s campaign press secretary.

“Think you’re making something out of nothing. See below— we’re excited about the event!” Lenze Morris wrote in an email.

Morris pointed to a Monday tweet from Trump thanking Rep. Cheney for backing him against House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, as well as an article from August detailing that both Cheneys are helping the RNC and the Trump 2020 reelection campaign with their joint fundraising efforts.

While the Byrne campaign is “excited about the event,” so too are the other leading Republican 2020 Senate campaigns.

A spokesperson for former Auburn University head football coach Tommy Tuberville’s campaign told Yellowhammer News, “Politicians are supporting a politician while the Alabama Farmers Federation is supporting Coach. He’ll take Alabama farmers over the swamp any day.”

In a statement, Secretary of State John Merrill told Yellowhammer News, “My campaign is focused on traveling around the state to all 67 counties meeting with Alabamians from all walks of life and listening to their concerns. When I am in the United States Senate, my only concern will be representing Alabama thinking and Alabama values and not the thinking and values of the Washington, D.C. elites.”

State Rep. Arnold Mooney’s (R-Indian Springs) campaign declined to comment.

Read about the latest fundraising numbers from these GOP Senate candidates, as well as former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, here.

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

1 hour 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

2 hours 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

2 hours 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.