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.
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