Welcome back to Yellowhammer Multimedia’s 2023 list of Alabama’s most powerful and influential political leaders.
Today is installment number four. Drawn from myriad conversations with insiders, as well as recent policy developments, the list recognizes the top individuals in government and politics who leverage their power and influence for those they represent and the Yellowhammer State.
Houston Smith, Alabama Power
Houston Smith serves as Vice President of Governmental Affairs for Alabama Power.
This makes him responsible for all aspects of the company’s governmental affairs on the state level. For a company with more than 6,000 employees, 1.5 million customers and 45,000 square miles, Smith is tasked with a huge chore.
However, if anyone can think big, it’s Smith.
Much of what makes him so valuable in the governmental affairs space is his vision for Alabama’s potential in the next part of the 21st century.
Smith is a product of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the University of Alabama School of Law. Yet, in an alternate universe, he could shift smoothly into the role of an executive at a Silicon Valley startup.
Smith understands how his company needs to be positioned politically, and from a public policy standpoint, in order to maximize the opportunities available to his home state.
The Yellowhammer State is fortunate to have someone like Houston Smith in a position of power and influence.
Twinkle Cavanaugh, President of the Alabama Public Service Commission
Twinkle Cavanaugh is unapologetically a conservative fighter for the people of Alabama.
She catches a ton of criticism from those on the left and seems to relish every bit of it. For example, when she receives a letter from an atheist group threatening a lawsuit, she responds that she must be doing something right.
But the day-in and day-out battle for her is against the out-of-state environmentalists who incessantly petition the PSC to adopt Green New Deal measures.
An insider offered to us, “If people were more aware of the crazies who show up at the PSC from San Francisco, New York and other places trying to hijack Alabama’s energy policy, not only would Cavanaugh’s favorability take a huge jump, but they would also demand the governor send out the National Guard to prevent these socialists from getting into the state.”
Be that as it may, Cavanaugh refuses to give those people an inch. She has consistently sounded the alarm over the fact that unworkable environmental policies lead to higher energy costs and fewer jobs.
She was rewarded at the ballot box in her last election when Alabamians gave her the most votes for a non-presidential candidate in the history of Alabama.
Cavanaugh’s place in the pecking order of this group is proof positive that with popularity comes power and influence.
Greg Albritton, Alabama State Senate
Approaching 10 years of service in the higher chamber, we can’t help but to feel like Albritton has been there a lot longer than that. Doubling down on what we’ve said before: He’s an old-school legislator. And Alabama is better because of it.
Albritton knows the game and plays it well. His mastery of process, in combination with a wily personality, is quite the fit for a General Fund budget chairman in a time of revenue surplus and federal cash infusions. Imagine being in a position by which each and every state institution is waiting for the next opportunity to ask for an increase. Albritton’s clever wit and sense of humor makes light of the drudgery.
We’ve also said before he’s “tough and fair and a conservative reformer at heart.”
It is tough to say no. But his ownership of the process and talent as a negotiator has been a quiet savior to the larger task of keeping the state government’s lights on through FY2024 with a comparatively scrappy budget of $3 billion. This session alone has demonstrated his power and influence to that end.
Even with spare time to do some reforming.
Clay Ryan, University of Alabama System
Clay Ryan cruises at an altitude too thin for most others in the world of Alabama politics.
Ryan serves as Senior Vice Chancellor for External Affairs. This means that he oversees all federal, state and local governmental affairs activities for UA, UAH, UAB and the UAB Health System. The breadth and depth of these responsibilities are difficult to appraise for the political behemoth that is the UA System.
Just know this, though: Ryan is an elite operator who is able to focus the might of the UA System with great precision.
He has the trust and confidence of system donors and administrators and firm relationships with powerful people at the highest levels of state politics. He retains an unmatched ability to move in and out of influential circles to accomplish his objectives on behalf of the system.
Ryan is an example of how power and influence can flow in the other direction, too. He is accessible and the first phone call for high-ranking officials seeking system assistance for all manner of problems.
Ryan’s ascent in Alabama politics shows no sign of leveling off.
Danny Garrett, Alabama House of Representatives
Danny Garrett has $8 billion at his disposal. Enough said.
Well, maybe it’s a bit more complex than that. But as chairman of the House Ways and Means Education Committee, Garrett is charged with overseeing the mountain of money that is Alabama’s education budget.
For anyone else, it would be a daunting task. Not for Garrett. This has provided a deep foundation from which he has built a profile of power and influence.
He is a former chief financial officer who spent a career in the private sector specializing in guiding large corporations to positions of strength prior to sale. His experience has left him uniquely qualified to manage the Yellowhammer State’s largest pot of dollars.
Because of the enormous sums at stake in the appropriation process, this chairmanship requires the ability to balance the financial intricacies with the inherent politics. The education community and other stakeholders who depend on funding from the budget tend to be among the feistiest at the State House. That process is not for the faint of heart in the Alabama Legislature.
Garrett’s chairmanship continues to receive broad acclaim.
Ted Hosp, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama
A company which provides health insurance coverage to more than 2.8 million people and pays billions in benefits each year had better have its state politics game in high gear.
And that’s exactly the posture Ted Hosp has adopted for BCBS as its Vice President of Governmental Affairs.
Hosp is a public policy savant and zealous advocate for his company. In a world where unintended consequences of official actions can be problematic, Hosp has the rare gift of being able to recognize the full impact of any proposal well before complications occur. He simply stays several steps ahead of everyone else on issues that affect his industry.
This has allowed him to become one of the Alabama business community’s more reliable voices dating all the way back to his time leading the governmental affairs practice at the law firm now known as Maynard Nexsen.
Hosp has advised on, analyzed and even ghostwritten more pieces of legislation in the past decade than most political players handle in a lifetime.
That activity is how Hosp has climbed so high on this list.
Steve Marshall, Attorney General
Attorney General Steve Marshall continues to showcase a commitment to Alabama’s values. While he’s laying into the Biden administration on strong topics such as the border crisis, energy crisis, and opioid crisis, Alabamians might be safer than ever at home with Marshall as their top cop.
For that reason and others, he elevates a notch on this year’s list. Marshall’s capacity as AG to challenge the federal government while receiving extremely high marks from the law enforcement community across the state is impressive.
An important factor to note about Marshall is that he’s a true believer in the legal pursuits he takes on. At the end of the day, a career prosecutor who has grown seamlessly into his political pulpit is exactly who the Republican Attorney Generals Association elected as chairman.
Someone like Marshall can wage hard-line stances in support of conservative causes while retaining his authenticity. Yet, he carries a charisma you wouldn’t expect, allowing him to register on a personal level with voters. Striking that balance can be valuable political currency in Alabama.
He is increasingly courting attention, and fully supported by a strong team in the AG’s office. As he extends his impact, Steve Marshall will continue to be someone who wins through his actions, as well as his arguments.
Bob Geddie, Fine Geddie
Displayed on the Mount Rushmore of Alabama lobbyists is the impeccably tailored image of Bob Geddie.
Geddie is co-founder of the legendary firm Fine Geddie. He is an institution in Alabama politics – one of the all-time greats still working in his prime.
Just like the enormous American flag he hangs from his house at Lake Martin, Geddie’s presence at the State House takes on an oversized importance during critical legislative battles.
Through smarts and tireless effort, he has built up a distinct industry advantage over many years. Geddie relies on his superior knowledge of the lawmaking process, with all of its obscure rules and procedures, at every critical juncture. His relationships are second-to-none, and no one should ever discount his salesmanship. In addition, the firm’s political action committees are fully stocked with contributions from its A-list clients.
The client list for Geddie’s firm is equal parts impressive and voluminous. Simply put, Geddie has carved out a level of power and influence which leaves one in awe.
Paul Pinyan, Alabama Farmers Federation
The rug outside Paul Pinyan’s office at the Alabama Farmers Federation headquarters is well-worn from all of the elected officials trekking to his office in search of the group’s stamp of approval.
Pinyan serves as Executive Director of the Federation where he oversees the staff, programs and finances for the group and its affiliates. Included in that array of responsibilities is running the political operation for the most active and prominent business association in Alabama.
The Federation advocates on behalf of the Yellowhammer State’s biggest industry – agriculture. Farming is in Pinyan’s blood. A native of Holly Pond, he grew up on his family’s cattle and poultry farm while showing 4-H Club calves starting at age 9.
Furthermore, Alfa Insurance is one of the state’s leading, homegrown businesses.
The combination of these two interests – farming and insurance – make Pinyan’s job one of the most pressure-packed in the state.
Under Pinyan’s leadership, ALFA’s political plan of action has equipped the organization with storm force power across Alabama’s political landscape. An endorsement from ALFA is essential to any successful campaign. Its grassroots effort is a model for business organizations and political parties, alike.
And thanks to Pinyan and his team, the group’s legislative agenda is the closest thing to an inevitability as one can expect in the volatile environment of the State House.
Joe Perkins, Matrix
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