2 weeks ago

2021 POWER & INFLUENCE 40: Numbers 11-20

It would stand to reason that the most powerful and influential media outlet in Alabama 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.

The ranked list is being released in four segments. Today we announce the individuals who comprise numbers 11 through 20. Numbers 31-40 and numbers 21-30 have already been published.

Welcome to a peek behind the curtain.

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.

Check back on Friday for the next segment: 1-10

See 31-40 here.
See 21-30 here.

6 hours ago

Tuberville celebrates public charter schools — ‘Look forward to their continued success’

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) this week co-sponsored a resolution honoring the 22nd annual National Charter Schools Week, which ends this Saturday.

The resolution was bipartisan and introduced by U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC).

“After spending 40 years recruiting students from high schools all over the country, I know the difference a quality education can make in a young person’s life. I’ve seen public charter schools give parents a valuable option for students in Alabama and across the country,” said Tuberville in a statement.

“Charter schools give educators more flexibility to teach in ways that best fit students’ unique needs, and studies show charter schools help close the achievement gap for our most at-risk students,” he concluded. “I’m grateful for the educators and administrators who have helped make charter schools available to students and parents, and look forward to their continued success in educating America’s next generation of leaders.”

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Nationally, 44 states — including Alabama — and the District of Columbia have public charter schools, with more than 7,500 schools serving approximately 3.3 million students.

Scott’s resolution congratulates “the students, parents, teachers, and leaders of charter schools across the United States for making ongoing contributions to education.”

The resolution notes that “high-performing public charter schools deliver a high-quality public education and challenge all students to reach their potential for academic success.”

“[P]ublic charter schools promote innovation and excellence in public education,” it continues. “[P]ublic charter schools throughout the United States provide millions of families with diverse and innovative educational options for the children of those families.”

The resolutions especially praises public charter schools for “making impressive strides in closing the academic achievement gap in schools in the United States, particularly in schools with some of the most disadvantaged students in both rural and urban communities.”

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

10 hours ago

State Rep. Stringer ousted from Mobile County Sheriff’s Office over ‘difference of opinion’ with sheriff; Blames pro-Second Amendment stance for removal

On Friday, the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office announced State Rep. Shane Stringer (R-Citronelle) was no longer serving as a captain for the department.

According to Mobile County Sheriff Office spokeswoman, Stringer was dismissed for his support of so-called constitutional carry, and Mobile County Sheriff Sam Cochran had a “difference of opinion” with the Mobile County Republican legislator.

Shortly after those reports surfaced, Stringer responded with his own press statement declaring himself “proud to stand in defense of the Second Amendment.”

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“The Second Amendment gun rights of Alabamians are under attack from a liberal federal government that is out of control and even from some factions right here at home,” Stringer said in a release. “After dedicating my life and career to law enforcement, losing a job because I stand in support of Alabama gun owners is certainly surprising, but nothing will discourage me from defending the constitutional guarantees promised to all of us as American citizens.”

Also, according to the release, Cochran notified Stringer, who served as the Satsuma Police Chief before winning his election in 2018 to serve in the State House, on Wednesday of his dismissal from the captain’s post in the department “because he is sponsoring ‘constitutional carry’ gun rights legislation.

HB618 would allow Alabamians to carry or conceal a pistol without first obtaining a permit from their local sheriff’s office, an effort that the state’s sheriffs have vociferously opposed in the past.

“The U.S. Constitution does not say you have a right to keep and bear arms as long as you pay what amounts to a gun tax in the form of permit fees,” Stringer said in the release. “It says you have the right to keep and carry firearms. . .period.”

“As a state legislator, I swore an oath to God that I would support the U.S. Constitution, and this legislation does just that,” he added. “And whether or not I am employed by the Mobile Sheriff’s Office, my heart and soul will always belong to the mission of enforcing the law and to my fellow officers who seek to protect the men, women, and children of Alabama.”

The bill has 11 other co-sponsors, including State Rep. Proncey Robertson (R-Mount Hope), who served as an officer in the Decatur Police Department.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

14 hours ago

Report: Environmental activists team up with socialists, sex workers in Birmingham

According to a report published Thursday, left-wing Birmingham environmental group GASP is moving to support socialism and sex work in the Magic City.

Alabama Today reported that a rally is being planned in Birmingham to support sex workers, including prostitutes.

The first speaker listed for the event is reportedly GASP’s Nina Morgan, and the organization itself is set to have a table at the event alongside the local “Party for Socialism and Liberation.”

“Stated in their latest Facebook post is, ‘Without the economic, political, military and diplomatic backing of U.S. imperialism, the state of Israel would not last long,'” Alabama Today noted.

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Morgan is listed as GASP’s “Climate & Environmental Justice Organizer.”

“She became radicalized first and foremost by her parents, who were divorced but often had conversations with her and her twin brother about the social ills of the world. Further, her political analysis emerged during her time serving on the youth council of a reproductive justice initiative called the Alabama Alliance for Healthy Youth,” GASP’s website advises.

The event, scheduled for June 6, is billed as an “International Sex Workers’ Day Rally.”

Per the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) website, the day is an annual event. One of the organization’s core values is, “Opposition to all forms of criminalization and other legal oppression of sex work.”

A flier promoting the event shows a police car in flames, smushed by a stiletto.

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

15 hours ago

7 Things: Biden says you have his permission to take off your mask, special session may be needed, Democratic state representatives want Huntsville’s police chief fired and more …

7. 150 Republicans emerge and embarrass themselves again 

  • Since the first day Donald Trump came down the escalator, the American media and their Democrats touted the “courageous Republicans” who would abandon the party over the former president. With U.S. Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) losing her leadership post, those same people are leaving the party again, for real this time.
  • The “Call for American Renewal” is an uncompelling list of the usually gripers and grifters, CNN and MSNBC contributors and Lincoln Project hacks. This includes independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, former Trump staffer Anthony Scaramucci, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Richard Painter, columnist Max Boot and a “Who’s who or who’s that?” of American politics.

6. White House: We have to teach about systematic racism

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  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to some who have said that teaching critical race theory is “liberal indoctrination,” saying that they don’t “think we believe that educating the youth, next leaders of the future, leaders of the country, on systemic racism is indoctrination.”
  • Psaki went on to say that teaching about systemic racism is “actually responsible.” This comes after U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) introduced the Ivory Tower Act to tax the endowments of colleges and universities to put more money toward training in trades. Cotton said that these establishments are making money while “indoctrinating our youth with un-American ideas.”

5. Ivey makes it clear that Alabama stands with Israel

  • Governor Kay Ivey clearly stated that Alabama is standing with Israel as they face attacks from the terrorist organization Hamas in Gaza. There has been some speculation from UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland that if conflict continues or gets worse, it could result in “a full-scale war.”
  • Alabama has a strong business relationship with Israel, with exports totaling $49 million in 2020, which was 27% higher than the state’s exports to Israel in 2019. Ivey spokesperson Gina Maiola said, “[I]it is appropriate with Alabama’s longstanding relationship with Israel that she reaffirmed our position as an ally and friend. As Governor Kay Ivey said this morning, Alabama stands with Israel.”

4. Group calling for Huntsville PD chief to be fired or forced to resign

  • Due to the comments made by Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray after officer William Ben Darby was convicted of murder, the Rosa Parks Day Committee in Huntsville is calling for Mayor Tommy Battle to fire McMurray.
  • State House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels (D-Huntsville) and State Representative Laura Hall (D-Huntsville) were present with the committee at a press conference where they made these requests. They claimed that McMurray should be removed due to his comments on Darby and the handling of the protests downtown in 2020.

 3. Special session likely needed for issues like prisons and gambling

  • State Senator Clyde Chambliss (R-Prattville) said it’s likely a special session will be necessary to deal with issues like prisons and gambling since there’s only one more day left in the regular session and it’s unlikely that these issues will be resolved in that short time.
  • Chambliss said that Governor Kay Ivey should at least call “a five-day short special session to make it work.” He added that a special session to deal with building more prisons in the state is even more necessary as there have been funding concerns and the state still faces an order from the U.S. Department of Justice to fix unconstitutional conditions. Chambliss went on to say that if the issue isn’t addressed, he thinks “the DOJ is going to be very serious about their next steps.”

2. Biden thinks he did something on masks

  • New guidelines have been released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on when vaccinated people should wear a mask by saying that they don’t need to wear a mask “in any setting” and you can “resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic.” The U.S. House, some cities (including Birmingham), states, and many businesses will keep the masks for now.
  • President Joe Biden hilariously tweeted some authoritarian nonsense, stating, “The rule is now simple: get vaccinated or wear a mask until you do.” Governor Kay Ivey praised the decision to lift masks, despite only lifting the statewide mask mandate in Alabama about a month ago. She said, “Finally, we are seeing some encouraging, common sense guidance from the CDC.”

1. Now schools should be open, too

  • After months of resistance to reopening schools, a teachers union is now deciding that schools must reopen in the fall. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers said, “There is no doubt: Schools must be open,” adding, “Given current circumstances, nothing should stand in the way of fully reopening our public schools this fall and keeping them open.” Weingarten also said, “The United States will not be fully back until we are fully back in school. And my union is all in.”
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci is calling for the schools to open up all the way, telling CNN, “I believe the schools should be open five days, full blast, just the way it was before,” and he wants it done “by the time we get to the fall.”

17 hours ago

Huntsville-based Torch Technologies awarded $722M U.S. Army contract

Huntsville-headquartered Torch Technologies this week announced a $722 million contract award from the federal government.

The task order comes via U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Aviation and Missile Center (AvMC) Systems Simulation Software and Integration Directorate (S3I) for Modeling and Simulation (M&S) Aviation and Missile Systems. The order has a five-year period of performance and will be executed primarily in the Rocket City.

According to a press release, the Torch team will develop and apply models and simulations to aviation and missile system analysis ensuring warfighter readiness and future capabilities are realized.

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Torch will reportedly supply cost-effective solutions that facilitate readiness and technological dominance of the Army’s current and future force.

“Torch is pleased to continue our long-standing relationship with the DEVCOM AvMC S3I M&S customers,” stated Torch president and CEO John Watson. “We are proud to be a part of their important mission to provide weapons development and modernization support to our warfighters.”

A 100% employee-owned business with more than 900 global employees dedicated to quality technical services, competitive costs and ethical business practices, Torch also has an Alabama presence at Fort Rucker in the Wiregrass. In 2019, Torch annual revenues were approximately $513 million.

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