Yellowhammer News presents the 2021 POWER & INFLUENCE 40
It would stand to reason that one of Alabama’s most influential media outlets would have a keen sense of which state political figures fit the same bill.
That’s why Yellowhammer Multimedia, once again, is publishing its Power and Influence 40.
Taking into account countless conversations with political insiders, as well as the most recent developments in politics and public policy, the list is meant to recognize the top individuals in government and politics who leverage their power and influence on behalf of those they represent and the Yellowhammer State.
Welcome to a peek behind the curtain.
40. Anthony Daniels
Anthony Daniels has seemingly done the impossible in the Alabama House of Representatives. As House Minority Leader, he has increased his power and influence in the lower chamber despite a reduction in numbers within his caucus.
Sometimes in the House, it is harder to lead that smaller number of people because personalities and agendas become magnified. But Daniels has deftly handled his current leadership position.
Possessing a natural intellect for legislative process and politics, Daniels has figured out how to best channel his caucus’ energy to leverage a permanent seat at the policymaking table.
The Rocket City can count Daniels among its growing list of powerful and influential politicians in state government.
39. Greg Butrus
What we said in 2019: 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.
The question is not “what does Greg Butrus know about legislation, ethics opinions and campaign finance laws?” Instead, the question usually asked by Alabama political insiders is “what doesn’t he know?”
This Balch & Bingham attorney has incomparable knowledge in the areas which matter most to lobbyists and principals trying to navigate the Alabama political waters.
His ability to be such a valuable resource among power players makes him one of their peers.
38. Greg Jones
Anyone who thinks bipartisanship is dead has never encountered the governmental affairs practice of Greg Jones.
Possessing an innate ability to connect with policymakers of both parties and all backgrounds, Jones has built one of the most durable practices in Montgomery. This experienced lobbyist and entrepreneur has set up a firm ready to engage on a wide range of issues at all levels of government.
A former Arkansas State defensive back, Jones’ ability to see the entire political field keeps his services in high demand.
37. Sommer Vaughn
What we said in 2019: 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.
Being a lobbyist comes naturally to Sommer Vaughn. An ingrained interest in public policy and an ebullient personality allow her to get locked into the decision-making process on any issue in state government.
Perhaps just as important for getting work done in politics is that hint of “don’t mess with me” that Vaughn possesses. Being able to evoke a tinge of fear in people behind an otherwise relatable personality is what delivers results for clients and amounts to longevity in the industry.
The ingredients are there for Vaughn to maintain her power and influence for decades to come.
36. Jeremy Walker
While his members have enjoyed a stellar year in the real estate market, Jeremy Walker has worked to position them well in the realm of Alabama politics.
Walker leads a thriving business association which now has more than $2.5 million in its political action committee. Coupling his ambitious leadership style with those resources will make Walker and his association one of the most impactful players during the upcoming 2022 election cycle.
An attorney and former football player for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Walker should continue to widen his trail of power and influence.
35. Bobby Singleton
Bobby Singleton could teach a master class in how to maximize the power and influence available to an Alabama state senator. He squeezes every ounce of available juice out of his position from start to finish each legislative session.
A commanding presence at the microphone in the well of the chamber, lobbyists and staffers – as well as many of his fellow senators – never quite know whether he is speaking from the heart or with the wink of an eye.
That ability to keep other stakeholders off balance, and a willingness to utilize his influence, necessitates their inclusion of Singleton throughout the policymaking process.
34. Josh Blades
What we said in 2019: 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.
When Josh Blades’ clients gain his representation, they get way more than just a guy who walks up and down the hallways of the Statehouse.
Blades has an ability to think about issues and their impact more globally than most, and he could just as easily be running a business or an organization as he could be doing his present job as one of Alabama’s top lobbyists.
It is fascinating to think of how much is left out there for a talent like Blades to accomplish even with how much he has done already. Yet, his work is just beginning.
33. Ben Patterson
What we said in 2019: 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…Patterson holds a doctorate and quite literally taught classes in state and local government, as well as American politics, at the University of Alabama.
Lobbyists come in varying forms. One type is the lobbyist who can open a door and get a meeting scheduled but has no idea what their client actually needs. Another, although somewhat rarer, is the lobbyist who understands the issues but not the personal and political nuances that must be taken into account.
Ben Patterson is the perfect mix of what is good from both of those scenarios.
Patterson is a scholar and able to easily grasp complicated issues. He is also a relationship-builder by nature and has connected with the state’s power players on a personal level.
Being able to leverage that combination of influential traits puts Patterson in a unique position in Montgomery.
32. Paul Pinyan
What we said in 2019: 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.
Paul Pinyan has drawn up the blueprint for becoming powerful and influential at a business association in Montgomery.
A native of Holly Pond, Pinyan was appointed in 2010 by former Alabama Farmers Federation president Jerry Newby to replace legendary executive director Mike Kilgore. Since that time, Pinyan has effectively consolidated power both within his own building and externally.
Pinyan is particularly proficient in the art of subtle influence in advancing his cause and that of current president Jimmy Parnell, who relies heavily upon Pinyan’s guidance and counsel.
Pinyan’s organization has a little more than $750,000 in its state political action committee. With that tidy sum, the trust of his members and a variety of campaign tools at his disposal, Pinyan has the opportunity for continued success.
31. David Cole
What we said in 2019: 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.
Few have seen their stock shoot up in recent legislative sessions the way David Cole has.
Cole transitioned from a single industry constituency to the diverse industry interests of the Business Council of Alabama a little more than two years ago. He has thrived under that change of scenery.
Cole came charging out of the gate as senior vice president of governmental affairs at BCA. He was the tip of the legislative spear on the business community’s support for the Rebuild Alabama infrastructure package.
There is no question he will be at the forefront of many legislative fights in the future. All Cole needs is a white board and a phone and he will relentlessly pursue votes on behalf of his group.
Meanwhile, his stock continues to climb.
30. Mike Cole
What we said in 2019: 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 many of the state’s tech leaders.
It feels as if every year we utilize this space to describe in some way the stealthy nature by which Mike Cole goes about his business of influencing the political process in Alabama. Then, throughout the subsequent 12 months, we discover more previously unknown issues or situations through which he is moving the needle on behalf of his clients.
This is one of the surest measures of determining someone is in the upper echelon of the industry. Very quietly being a serious mover and shaker keeps the competition off-guard and creates a clearer path for your clients to achieve success.
Look closely enough, and you will find that Cole delves into everything from health care to utility regulation to economic development to county and municipal issues.
With his vast experience, and the manner in which he goes about his work, Cole will remain one of Alabama’s power players for as long as he so desires.
29. Clay Scofield
Clay Scofield is becoming a regular on lists in Alabama politics.
He first appeared earlier this year on a list assessing the likelihood of potential U.S. Senate campaigns. At the time we wrote, “He is still young with plenty out ahead of him, but the man is a pure political animal.”
The reality is that the newly-installed Senate Majority Leader will see himself included in any sort of list judging stature among the Yellowhammer State’s political leaders.
Scofield has championed the cause of rural broadband expansion, one of the state’s most pressing public policy needs. He also relishes both the operational aspects of politics and the behind-the-scenes maneuvering required to gain traction in the legislature’s deliberative body.
Regardless of whether he maintains his track on the state level or diverts to the federal level, Scofield will have “plenty out ahead of him.”
28. Dave Stewart
What we said in 2019: 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.
One would think there is not a whole lot left for Dave Stewart to conquer.
He has been successful in business, on Capitol Hill, as chief of staff to the governor of Alabama and now heading up the governmental affairs practice for one of the Southeast’s largest law firms. And, still, Stewart has shown an unwavering focus on delivering for his clients and moving his home state of Alabama forward.
Tackling economic development, tax laws, education policy and more on behalf of international businesses and local initiatives, there is no issue or corner of state government out of Stewart’s reach.
At this point in his career, Stewart has the expertise to solve almost any problem a client brings through the door with his eyes closed. That’s how someone keeps a standing reservation on a list like this.
27. Steve Raby
North Alabama is riding a hot streak, and Steve Raby is emblematic of its rise in recent years.
The Huntsville-Madison area is home to the Speaker of the House, as well as his trusted confidante and savvy political operator – Raby.
Unsurprisingly, Raby represents some of the key entities in the area and has ensured their priority status in the policymaking process.
One of Raby’s strengths is his ability to convey to legislative leadership the electoral implications of each of their major moves. And his work on state-level House races puts him in an exceptional position relative to his peers in the industry.
Putting together that special combination of relationships and added value makes Raby an extraordinarily powerful and influential figure.
26. Steve Clouse
What we said in 2019: This veteran cat wrangler oversees one of state government’s biggest annual headaches – the general fund – for the House.
Serving as chairman of the General Fund Committee brings with it the requisite power and influence to receive the label of top-shelf power player. The general fund is a $2.4 billion state budget, and Clouse shepherded through his chamber the largest-ever version of it this session.
Clouse carries all the qualities of a statesman. He is patient, prudent and experienced.
However, he also knows when to draw the line and tell a stakeholder, agency head or fellow legislator to take it or leave it.
Those traits keep him among the state’s most powerful and influential year after year.
25. Ted Hosp
What we said in 2019: Hosp has probably written more pieces of legislation that are now Alabama law than anyone in the statehouse would like to admit.
Practicing lawyers generally do not have the best grasp of politics and the policymaking process.
Ted Hosp has been an exception throughout his career. He has an acute understanding of what it takes to protect or advance a client’s interest in what can be a complex web of personalities and methods.
And this is the reason why he has gone from serving as the lead partner for the Maynard, Cooper & Gale governmental affairs practice to vice president of governmental affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, a company that has 3 million members and employs 3,600 people.
As Hosp has gotten busy delivering wins for Blue Cross, his position in politics continues to strengthen.
24. Ginger Avery-Buckner
What we said in 2019: 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.
Maybe this has been stated before: “Practicing lawyers generally do not have the best grasp of politics and the policymaking process.”
In fairness to Avery-Buckner’s Alabama Association of Justice members, politics is not their business. They are litigators. Their expertise lies in their ability to operate within the civil justice system.
But, goodness, have they found the right person to represent them inside the political process.
Channeling her tenacity towards advocacy and awareness of anything which could affect her members, Avery-Buckner has exactly what it takes to run the state’s leading legal organization.
The impact of Avery-Buckner’s work continues to be felt throughout Alabama politics and its court system.
23. R.B. Walker
What we said in 2019: 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.
R.B. Walker is well on his way to indelibly stamping his name into Alabama political lore the way several others on this list already have.
Walker is driven to succeed. There are no days off for him. Frankly, there may not even be any hours off. The number of leaders and influencers with whom Walker has built a lasting relationship could fill Bryant-Denny to the brim.
And the quantity of information Walker absorbs in a day exceeds that which most governmental affairs professionals gather during an entire legislative session. It’s how he is essentially able to capture satellite imagery of the political landscape and properly equip Alabama Power to make policy decisions.
Subsequent generations of political players are going to talk about Walker and his power and influence.
22. Clay Ryan
What we said in 2019: The University of Alabama might soon need to make room for another star in its “Where Legends Are Made” lineup.
Clay Ryan’s inclusion on this list of the state’s most powerful and influential political figures was one of the easiest calls.
When any serious candidate decides to run for political office in the Yellowhammer State, it does not take long before they are attempting to gain an audience with Ryan.
And the text of his title as Senior Vice Chancellor for External Affairs does not even do his role proper justice. Ryan is the gatekeeper for one of the state’s largest employers when it comes to all things related to politics and economic development. Also charged with oversight of the System’s public relations effort, there are times when carefully crafted messages come directly from him.
Ryan will undoubtedly return to his position on this list on an annual basis.
21. Dax Swatek
What we said in 2019: 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.
Dax Swatek is committed to the process.
Whether earlier in his career when he was a sought-after campaign consultant, or in the succeeding years as he built an impressive lobbying practice, his strength has been found in a natural ability to chart a path for success on behalf of his clients.
Swatek’s experience has allowed him to occupy some rather exclusive territory when it comes to merging electoral politics and public policy.
He is skillful at interpreting complex polling data and using it to gain the upper hand in a policy fight. Through his campaign experience, he has developed a knack for sharp messaging which has proven vital to clients and sets him apart from many other lobbyists.
Armed with a high-profile client list and the smarts it takes to deliver, expect Swatek to continue being a major player.
20. Houston Smith
What we said in 2019: 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.
If there were ever a public servant in the private sector, it is Houston Smith.
Take his mindset toward service and blend it together with Alabama Power’s sustained strength in the governmental affairs realm, and you get one of the 20 most powerful and influential people in the state.
Smith has extraordinary vision and a genuine desire to see his home state of Alabama reach new heights.
Having worked to build relationships that matter like so many of his peers on this list, Smith’s ability to think big and apply that vision presents a differential trait. His persistent focus on concepts for growing the economy and enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians has become second nature. In examining Smith’s approach, one cannot help but recall Isaac Newton’s remark: “If I have done the public any service, it is due to my patient thought.”
The state of Alabama has benefitted from Smith’s role in politics and public policy in recent years, and in the process, he has become entrenched on this list.
19. Twinkle Cavanaugh
Twinkle Cavanaugh has built one of the most trusted brands in Alabama politics.
In 2020, she received 1.38 million votes, the most by a non-presidential candidate in Alabama history. Few things send a stronger signal of a formidable statewide presence than that kind of stout vote tally.
It is also evidence of how Yellowhammer State residents have gone from viewing her as the woman with the memorable name to one they can count on.
Never someone to back down from a fight, Cavanaugh believes that acting in the best interest of her beloved state and the people she serves will inevitably require making someone mad. Most often, she draws the ire of out-of-state lawyers and activists during their annual pilgrimage to the Alabama Public Service Commission.
This is a good lesson for aspiring elected officials: taking a hard stand only makes you stronger.
Farmers, miners, manufacturers and main street Alabama are among those who call on Cavanaugh’s leadership to help keep the state’s economy humming.
There will be no shortage of options for her to build upon her statewide electoral achievements.
18. Nathaniel Ledbetter
What we said in 2019: 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.
Yellowhammer began receiving some pretty strong returns on Nathaniel Ledbetter following the 2019 legislative session.
Statehouse insiders recited instances of the House Majority Leader flexing his muscle to ensure the success of some of the legislature’s biggest priorities in recent memory, including Rebuild Alabama and broadband expansion. Those who witnessed his work spoke with some amount of awe and a heavy dose of respect.
Maybe everyone should have seen Ledbetter’s ascent coming, but that’s not the way he would have wanted it. He goes about his work not looking for any fanfare, only endeavoring to take care of the people in his Tennessee Valley district and to leave behind a better state.
In the interim, he has bolstered the role of the majority leader within the House of Representatives. In recent years it had evolved into a largely ceremonial position. That is not the case under Ledbetter’s leadership.
He has taken a far more aggressive approach and results have followed. A shrewd operator and exceptional strategist, Ledbetter is driving in the fast lane of power and influence.
17. Greg Albritton
What we said in 2019: 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.
For students of statehouse politics, it’s always a treat to observe Greg Albritton’s wry smile at the microphone, a gesture that usually signals something is amiss.
He is proficient in the art of offering up the rhetorically shiny object, all the while going after what he wants like a boulder rolling downhill or digging in for a long night of trench warfare.
Parliamentary fun aside, Albritton stands out even more so because of his willingness to handle the general fund and the institutional baggage that a chairman has to deal with in the budget that keeps state government agencies in operation. Difficult decisions have to be made in order to efficiently administer the $2.4 billion budget. Those are decisions from which Albritton has not shied.
He’s tough and fair and a conservative reformer at heart. Alabama is in a better place with Albritton in charge of its general fund budget.
16. Steve Marshall
What we said in 2019: 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.
It may not be possible for Steve Marshall – or anyone, for that matter – to do a better job than he already is performing.
He is batting a thousand when it comes to decision-making, law enforcement and standing up for Alabama on the national level.
Marshall has challenged the constitutionality of court-packing, fought for religious liberty and against public corruption. He has taken President Joe Biden to task for killing energy jobs and creating a border crisis.
He has surrounded himself with a talented, highly qualified team inside the attorney general’s office, and he is predictably popular in the law enforcement community and among his conservative base. Yet, he is not the least bit scared to take a principled stand in the face of criticism.
The formula is there for Marshall to continue increasing his stature in state politics
15. Steve Windom
What we said in 2019: 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.
Former elected officials who enter the lobbying world have to overcome the unfamiliarity of being the one in pursuit. Unlike the glamorous (and false) depictions of lobbying activity, the practice involves a lot of standing in line and hanging around. That’s a tough adjustment for some who are used to being the ones who make the lobbyists wait.
That has never been a problem for Steve Windom.
Renown for his work ethic, Windom frequently sends emails and texts at all hours of the night and starts making calls as soon as the sun is up. He is usually one of the first to arrive at the statehouse in the morning and zips around the place like it is his first year on the job.
Then there are his relationships. There is seemingly no one Windom does not know.
Windom’s connections to elected officials are deep given his prodigious fundraising abilities. Go to an obscure office in any state agency, and you will probably find someone whom he knows and with whom he has banked a relationship — just in case.
The former lieutenant governor and state senator has found a worthy running mate in one-time House of Representatives Rules Committee Chairman Blaine Galliher. Together they have changed the narrative about former members and have made their firm, Windom Galliher & Associates, a heavyweight in the Alabama governmental affairs market.
A member of the business community who is not currently a principal recently remarked to us, “If I was going to hire a lobbyist, I would hire Steve Windom.”
Windom flies in some pretty thin air as one of Alabama’s most successful contract lobbyists.
14. Arthur Orr
What we said in 2019: 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.
Arthur Orr is one of the two people in charge of the largest pot of money in the state of Alabama.
Orr is the state senate’s chairman overseeing the nearly $7.7 billion education budget. Carrying the weight of that checkbook around in his suit pocket affords him an elite level of power and influence.
Every school district, all of the state’s public institutions of higher education and countless education-related programs depend upon Orr’s fiscal decisions on an annual basis. The steady stream of advocates from those entities marching into his office to state their case for funding is illustrative of why he maintains an elevated position on this list.
The Decatur native and Wake Forest graduate is one of four remaining state senators who served as Republicans in the minority. That experience is still visible in the way Orr conducts his business in the upper chamber.
A bit more circumspect than most, Orr works to avoid getting pinned down on any issue when dealing with his fellow senators and the building’s many lobbyists. He also frequently returns to his roots as one of the original conservative reformers as he chases ABC privatization and welfare reform during most sessions.
Chairing the education budget committee, and years of legislative experience, provide a potent combination resulting in power and influence for Orr.
13. Jabo Waggoner
What we said in 2019: 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.
The one-man institution that is Jabo Waggoner continues to function in a most impressive fashion.
The Senate Rules Committee chairman is the epicenter of pretty much everything in his chamber. He sets the calendar. If you are a lobbyist, your bill receives no consideration without the approval of Waggoner. That is an immensely powerful and influential place to be if you are him.
The reality is, though, that as much as everyone wants to be like him, none of us are. You can’t force cool. You can’t fake importance. As much as young legislators want to grow up and be like Jabo, it is just never going to happen.
Waggoner is simply one of one.
An Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Distinguished Sportsman, Waggoner’s popularity among his colleagues is matched only by that in his over-the-mountain district. One of his constituents contacted Yellowhammer recently and told us, “I’ve been begging Jabo to run again. We couldn’t ask for a better senator than him, and he’s an important asset for our state.”
Waggoner is an all-time great.
12. Robbie McGhee
What we said in 2019: 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.
Whether people want to admit it or not, gambling legislation in Alabama goes through the Poarch Band of Creek Indians – including the 2021 version so heavily debated.
And the person at the center of all that wrangling is Robbie McGhee.
As the elected vice chairman of the Tribal Council, McGhee represents the tribe in what he calls “government-to-government” at the local, state and federal levels.
He has done a stellar job at that.
Prior to becoming a heavy hitter in Alabama politics, 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.
Bringing that experience to bear in the state of Alabama has been critical to his effectiveness. And he has the full weight of the Tribe behind him as they have established a thriving international company headquartered right here in the Yellowhammer State. This success has sprung a healthy corporate citizenship through charitable endeavors, job creation and electioneering.
All of these things translate into an uninterrupted presence at the highest levels of state policymaking for McGhee.
11. Bob Geddie
What we said in 2019: 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. Bob Geddie’s uninterrupted run on the mountain top of the Alabama lobbying world is one for the history books.
Geddie has exhibited every element of a successful lobbying practice for decades.
His tactical lobbying skills are born out of a precise knowledge of the process and the players. He knows every member, every rule and every tactic necessary to pass legislation through the Alabama legislature, and he works just as easily throughout the executive branch.
When he gets a legislator one-on-one for a final pitch on an issue it invariably goes in the Fine Geddie win column.
Recounting such a persuasive encounter, one House member told us, “I’ve been on the receiving end of Bob Geddie’s pitch a bunch of times. He doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer unless that’s the way he actually wants you to vote. I’ve never had anybody quite like him lobby me on issues.”
Unlike many governmental affairs specialists, his clients are practically part of his firm. He is a trusted advisor to some of Alabama’s titans of industry, and they are his friends. Nearly all have empowered him to make campaign finance decisions for them through a network of Geddie-controlled political action committees.
His firm’s client list is the envy of the industry. He has a track record of supreme success.
Bob Geddie lands on the list as 2021’s most powerful and influential contract lobbyist.
10. Quentin Riggins
What we said in 2019: 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.
Quentin Riggins has charted a remarkable path for himself to reach the heights of Alabama’s corporate community.
He can now point to more than 25 years of experience which has led to his current position as senior vice president of Governmental and Corporate Affairs at Alabama Power.
Riggins has served as a member of a governor’s cabinet, a senior staffer for a Speaker of the House and a senior vice president of the Business Council of Alabama. Then he did what most would do with that impressive resume — he built a private governmental affairs practice.
But Riggins did not stop there.
He instead entered the corporate world where he now leads Alabama Power’s extensive state and federal government relations program. He also coordinates the company’s grassroots and corporate relations effort throughout the state and nation, a critical function for a company with 1.4 million customers.
One of the truest ways to gauge power and influence is to look at how many “so goes this, so goes the state” entities and issues with which someone is involved.
Riggins has many.
The reason is that when leaders want to add heft to their effort and ensure its success, they tap Riggins.
There is a palpable reverence shown toward Riggins by his peers and the next generation of governmental affairs professionals. The fact is that they know power and influence when they see it.
9. Will Ainsworth
What we said in 2019: 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 career is still just getting started, and Ainsworth will be elected to whatever job he wants in 2022.
We said it when he took Montgomery by storm after his election in 2018, and we’ll say it again: Will Ainsworth has completely transformed what a lieutenant governor can be — and accomplish — in a role that has largely been scoffed at by insiders over the past two decades.
Already a statesman at his young age, Ainsworth has quietly but rapidly become an out-front leader on some of the policy issues most important to the present and future of the Yellowhammer State. Whether it be chairing the Alabama Military Stability Commission and the package of pro-military bills he spearheaded to enactment this session, leading the charge to reopen the economy last spring, or heading up the 21st Century Workforce Commission, Ainsworth has made a name across Alabama as a pro-jobs conservative willing to tackle thorny, in-the-weeds policy challenges.
However, he has also started to grow a national profile, including as chair of the national Aerospace States Association and by bringing the National Lieutenant Governors Association annual meeting to Alabama for only the second time ever.
The world is his oyster, and it is only a matter of time before Ainsworth makes the leap to serve as governor or a United States senator. He has said that he will not run for the Senate this coming cycle, nor will he run against Gov. Kay Ivey, yet his endorsement will be at the top of the list for any candidate in 2022.
Ainsworth is well-positioned to be one of Alabama’s most powerful and influential people for decades to come.
8. Bill Poole
What we said in 2019: Bill Poole might just be the most powerful non-Speaker member of the Alabama House of Representatives. Ever.
Somehow, Bill Poole has outdone himself again.
As chair of the House Ways and Means Education committee, Poole has inherent power and influence. However, it is how he wields these responsibilities — and how he conducts himself on an interpersonal level — that makes him stand out above every other legislative chairperson, without exception.
We’re going to have more to say about him in the coming weeks, but know this: Bill Poole is in the type of rarified air that few before him have ever walked. Across party lines, by lobbyists and constituents alike, year after year, Poole earns the unquestioned respect and trust of everyone who watches him work for the people of Alabama. And he does it all without fanfare or fuss.
It’s time the University of Alabama, his alma mater, cuts a new “Where Legends are Made” commercial that shows a highlight reel of Poole’s legislative accomplishments — although that would be impossible in a 30-second spot.
This session alone, he has shepherded the largest-ever education budget in state history to passage, sponsored a bill signed into law reauthorizing and improving vital economic development incentivizes, and — through his chairmanship of the Alabama Innovation Commission — is one step away from passing two related bills to help grow the state’s tech and entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Any time a trade association or principal has a crucial bill that they need pass, their first thought is to see if Poole would carry the legislation. He’s simply the best at what he does.
The only question left about Poole is, “What’s next?”
7. Katie Boyd Britt
What we said in 2019: 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 U.S. Senator Richard Shelby, whenever the venerable senator does decide to call it quits.
Well, when you’re right, you’re right.
Britt was thrown into the fire in 2019 when she took the helm as president and CEO of the Business Council of Alabama. And, like the phoenix out of the ashes, her vibrant leadership has seen the BCA reborn anew, transformed for the betterment of its member businesses and hardworking families across the state of Alabama.
Very quietly, Britt has rebuilt BCA piece-by-piece into an organization that in mission and function is totally different from just three years ago. While still operating as the state’s foremost advocacy organization for businesses of all sizes and sectors, Britt’s BCA has also become more member-facing, now putting an overarching priority on ensuring Alabama businesses have the resources, tools and expertise at their fingerprints to thrive in a 21st-century economy.
Her tenure at BCA has coincided with record bests for Alabama in key economic measurables, including unemployment and businesses confidence.
However, while she has certainly helped make the good times even better when it comes to the state’s recent success, her legacy at BCA might boil down to the past 14 months, as Britt was the tip of the spear when it came to tirelessly advocating for businesses and employees during the historic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the list of initiatives, conversations and meetings Britt was an integral part of on behalf of Alabama jobs this past year or so could fill a chapter in a book, there is one example that cannot be passed up. Britt launched and championed the Keep Alabama Open campaign in November; as other states shut down, this effort led to our state staying open safely and responsibly, allowing hardworking Alabamians to safeguard their lives and livelihoods.
The results are clear. Alabama currently boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the Southeast and one of the best in the nation. Meanwhile, the state’s COVID numbers are also among the nation’s lowest. We’re open for business and poised to bounce back to reach greater heights than before the pandemic.
Britt is Alabama’s brightest rising star, and regardless of what comes next, her continued leadership is a reason for optimism that our state’s best days are ahead.
6. Greg Reed
What we said in 2019: 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.
What we said in 2019 no longer holds true for Greg Reed.
To clarify, the part about him having distinguishing traits of a power player is truer than ever. However, Reed has taken that last giant leap in his chamber and now serves as the president pro tempore of the Alabama Senate.
Having assumed the office earlier this year, Reed is now the most powerful member of the legislature’s upper chamber.
None of this is a surprise, either. He is a natural leader who has a discernible presence about him. And now he is running the show.
As pro tem, he oversees every aspect of the legislative process in the Senate. From committee assignments to legislative priorities to the time of adjournment. Reed is in control.
In 2011, a swell of new legislators flooded the halls of the statehouse after having been elected the previous fall. Reed is the first among them to rise to the top of the power structure in their respective chambers.
Hindsight makes it plausible to have pegged Reed as the first to do so. He entered the building confident in his abilities and his having earned the right to be there. But not too confident in the way that would create problems with his colleagues.
Reed understands the political process in a way that few others do. Furthermore, he is highly attuned to the public policy challenges which Alabama currently faces and has a knack for carefully weighing solutions to any problem. He is particularly adept at understanding the state’s economic and workforce needs.
Only a few months into the job, these things probably forecast his leadership style in the years to come. What is certain is that Reed now occupies elite status among Alabama’s most powerful and influential people.
5. Joe Perkins
What we said in 2019: 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.
One cannot help but marvel at the depth and breadth of Joe Perkins’ impact on Alabama politics.
It is especially remarkable considering his specialized approach. In practical terms, it is difficult to describe what he does because discretion is so fundamental to his business model.
Perkins is Alabama’s top political and corporate strategist. That much we do know.
While a visible client list exists only behind the tightly secured walls at Matrix, Perkins’ firm which he founded, he is known to represent a variety of interests. These run the gamut from some of the state’s largest companies to individuals who sought him out because they had a problem to solve.
With a reputation for having nearly unlimited intellectual capacity, he is constrained only by the number of hours in a day.
The tools he has at his disposal are both comprehensive and largely uncatalogued. There are entire collections of people, companies and interests which he quietly guides to the ultimate benefit of his clients.
A wide range of campaigns, initiatives and public and corporate policy have been shaped by Perkins’ involvement in recent years even as the man and his methods fall more into the realm of the mysterious.
Perhaps reputation truly is the cornerstone of power.
4. Mac McCutcheon
What we said in 2019: 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.
The 66th speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives has become a stalwart leader during some of the state’s most trying times in recent memory.
Mac McCutcheon’s ability to project stability and follow a common-sense approach to governing has led to gains for the Yellowhammer State and to his own strengthened position in the speaker’s chair.
McCutcheon is one of the all-time good guys who (oh, by the way) controls coveted committee assignments and the legislative process.
He hails from the technology-rich Tennessee Valley, and he has a healthy respect for the aerospace and defense industry, its benefit to the state and its importance to America.
This may partly explain why McCutcheon feels so strongly about responding to Alabama’s infrastructure needs to keep pace with the demands of a 21st-century economy.
He also listens to his members, though. As speaker of the House, he has been responsive to the needs of his members – a crucial aspect of holding down one of the single most powerful positions in Alabama. That’s why when there are roads and bridges across the state that need attention, or gaps in broadband access, McCutcheon thinks big to fix the problem.
His legacy is beginning to take shape as that of a public servant with a sincere desire to utilize his power and influence for the betterment of his entire state.
3. Jo Bonner
What we said in 2019: 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.
Jo Bonner is one of the most gifted power players the state has seen in a long time.
His versatility in the political world is virtually unmatched. He was a five-term congressman from the Gulf Coast and served as vice chancellor in the University of Alabama System.
He could easily be a candidate for a major statewide office. In our analysis of potential U.S. Senate candidates earlier this year, we wrote of Bonner, “He exudes statesman qualities.”
In the next sentence, we wrote, “He has been as active on Alabama’s pressing issues as possibly any chief of staff to the governor, ever.”
Therein lies the reason for his sky-high position on this list and maybe the reason why he would resist a return to electoral politics. Bonner is as powerful and influential as anyone who has been similarly situated inside of a governor’s office.
Governor Kay Ivey’s unwavering trust in Bonner is the foundation of his elevated status. Ivey counts on Bonner to implement her agenda on a daily basis.
Seldom does one person in politics have the skill set Bonner possesses. He has a mastery of political communications and a thorough understanding of public policy. Following years of exposure to national political figures, he is awed by very little.
Known as a stickler for always having a plan of action, Bonner assuredly has designs on his next power move.
2. Zeke Smith
What we said in 2019: 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.
In the governmental affairs domain, Alabama Power is at the top of its game.
Zeke Smith, as executive vice president of External Affairs, has overseen the company’s current run of success as the state’s leading corporate citizen in politics and public policy.
Smith is tasked with a vast array of responsibilities all of which have an appreciable impact on his company’s position with policymakers and elected officials. Everything from lobbying to public relations to regulatory affairs to charitable giving falls on Smith’s desk.
Each of those areas of the company’s activity are intertwined with the next which is why handling them requires the type of comprehensive approach that Smith has employed.
The Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame inductee has assembled a team of unrivaled talent and installed an aggressive but well-planned process befitting his background.
Smith has an innate ability to see over the horizon and understand the conditions which will impact his company’s mission to grow Alabama’s economy, create jobs and broaden its customer base. Always looking for avenues to improve the state’s competitive advantages, he was appointed by the governor to chair Alabama’s Workforce Council, and he serves on the College and Career Ready Task Force.
He fields a steady stream of calls from those wanting to enhance their own positions on the political ladder. Elected officials and other power players around the state have taken notice of Smith’s leadership on issues they know will help them.
To paraphrase a well-tested maxim, much is to be gained from the dependence of others on one’s power and influence.
1. Kay Ivey
What we said in 2019: 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.
It has been nearly four decades since Alabama has seen a brand as strong as Kay Ivey’s in state politics.
After 20 consecutive years holding statewide elected office, Ivey remains wildly popular and seemingly unsusceptible to attacks aimed at diminishing her standing. Her lofty approval ratings have given her the freedom and confidence to engage on some of the most precarious issues the state is facing.
Ivey kicked off her first full term in office by taking control of a long-awaited infrastructure initiative, tapping into her vast reserve of political capital to pass the Rebuild Alabama Act. She has tackled other thorny issues such as updating the state’s prison system and expanding broadband access. Her handling of the COVID-19 crisis has drawn praise from both ends of the political spectrum.
Ivey has now found her next major undertaking in the form of the comprehensive gambling legislation. Her elevated involvement has been pivotal to the movement of the package through the Alabama Legislature.
There is a long list of individuals who have thought they could get the upper hand on Ivey. It is difficult to even find one of them for whom it ended well. That’s one of the classic traits of a truly powerful and influential person.
With reelection in 2022 all but assured, the Ivey brand is poised to assume a place of high honor in the pantheon of Alabama politics.