The peek behind the curtain continues. Welcome to the next installment of Yellowhammer Multimedia’s list of Alabama’s most powerful and influential political leaders.
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.
The ranked list is being released in five segments. Numbers 41-50 published Monday. Below is a ranking of numbers 40-31.
Tom Saunders, Alabama Forestry Association
A pronounced development over the last ten years in state politics has been the heightened intensity of the Alabama Forestry Association both in Montgomery and at the grassroots level.
Tom Saunders has been the tip of the spear for AFA as it has sought to increase its influence and become an even more powerful player in the political arena.
Saunders serves as General Counsel and Director of Governmental Affairs at AFA, and he is a fixture in the halls of the State House.
When he delivers a message on behalf of his membership it carries tremendous weight. This is the result of a deliberate mix of political activity which includes polling, candidate recruitment and meaningful relationship building. In addition, AFA’s political action committee is one of the most sought-after contributions.
Alabama’s forestry industry has a $28.9 billion economic impact on the state which means Saunders has a lot with which to work as he moves about political circles. And one gets the sense he is nowhere close to finished.
Anthony Daniels, Minority Leader, Alabama House of Representatives
Because his influence continues to extend far beyond the House, Anthony Daniels has become an institutional force.
Amid the whirlwind inherent to his role, Daniels keeps his members focused on mission while maintaining his own equipoise. He picks his battles wisely and increasingly fights them better.
Daniels’ school of thought and effectiveness as a political commander offers a rare prospect of state Democrats making gains in the next election cycle.
And yet, it’s perhaps his trademark pragmatism that serves as his greatest multiplier of clout – as evidenced in his leadership on the Game Plan this session. His track record of working with a wide circle shows that Daniels’ stock is increasing year over year.
Greg Jones, The Jones Group
The best-dressed man in the Alabama State House is also one of its biggest movers and shakers.
Greg Jones has made his mark in the Yellowhammer State – and nationally – as a premier lobbyist. If there is any big issue moving through state government, you want him on the team.
He is solidly connected to heavyweights on both sides of the aisle, and Jones’ likability factor with the political elite is off the charts.
He recently strengthened his position on the state government affairs through a merger with Miller Development Group. As founder and chairman of the National Black Lobbyists Association, his influence extends far beyond Alabama, as well.
Now in his third decade of experience in political and governmental affairs, Jones stands to affect the movement of public policy in Alabama for as long as he so desires.
Ben Patterson, Fine Geddie
Ben Patterson has become ubiquitous in the halls of the Alabama Legislature’s upper chamber. Few people in the state of Alabama have as good a grasp of the goings-on in the Alabama Senate as Patterson does.
That’s incredibly advantageous for his firm’s list of blue-chip clients.
The deliberative body of the Legislature is where issues can easily become bogged down for policy reasons, personal reasons or no reason at all. Understanding the senate’s machinations and personal dynamics are critical to the success of one’s clients.
For that, Patterson continues to deliver results on some of the state’s most important policy decisions in recent years.
Patterson holds a doctorate from the University of Alabama where he taught seminars on state and local government and American politics. Fitting for a lobbyist who so often has the answers when put to the test of the Alabama Legislature.
Jeremy Walker, Alabama Association of Realtors
In his days playing football for the Crimson Tide, Jeremy Walker was instilled with discipline, resilience and a hunger for victory. As an attorney, like the 19,000-plus Realtors he represents – he knows a good offer when he sees one. As CEO of one of the pre-eminent business associations in Alabama, he brings it all together as a political powerhouse.
As expected, their political action committee was an immense force in the 2022 election cycle. They raised $1 million, distributed $1.5 million – and still have nearly $2 million to spare.
Atop their war chest sits Walker, whose good political judgment and innovation has seen the organization emerge as a new leader in legal issues as well. Nationally, the group’s successful challenge of the CDC’s overreach of power ended with a resounding SCOTUS victory. At the state level, the race to elect Judge Greg Cook is another example of Walker’s astute discernment on when to step into battle.
All told, Walker is seen as a team player who just gets the bigger picture. If his third straight year making our list is any indication of the speed at which he’s moving forward – try not to get in the way.
Derek Trotter, Office of the Senate President Pro Tem
Derek Trotter has viewed the political process in Alabama from just about every angle possible. He’s been a campaign pro, Senate staffer, lobbyist, member of the governor’s staff and now he runs the office of the president pro tem.
This enhanced perspective is invaluable. There is virtually nothing he has not seen or does not know how to get done.
In his current position as chief of staff, he is involved in every aspect of the legislative process in the Senate. While his boss charts the course, much of the execution falls on Trotter’s shoulders. And he has received near universal praise for his efforts from members, staff and stakeholders.
Members trust Trotter’s judgment and lobbyists can rely on his fairness. You can’t ask for much more in an atmosphere where everyone is scrambling to gain as much ground as possible in the 30 days which constitute a legislative session.
Trotter has established for himself the potential to remain on this list for years to come.
Rex Reynolds, State Representative
Rex Reynolds exemplifies leadership.
As a former Huntsville police chief, he’s familiar to dealing with frontline demands on tight turnarounds. What he might not be used to is how many new friends he’s made through his role as chairman of the House General Fund Committee during a time of surplus.
His commitment to details is rivaled only by his talent for building consensus among colleagues. Reynolds’ 40-plus years of public service has led him to a unique qualification for the powerful and esteemed position he currently holds.
Those who know him can attest – no matter how much time he spends working in Montgomery, he always looks forward to returning to the town-and-country district he calls home.
That grounded attitude, along with his budget stewardship and the ease with which he communicates, will make Reynolds a mainstay on this list for years to come.
Philip Bryan, Swatek Vaughn & Bryan
Make no mistake, Philip Bryan has spent years putting in the work which has resulted in becoming a pillar of power and influence in Alabama politics.
And, yet, maybe never has a lobbying career come easier for anyone.
Bryan brings a ton of energy into any situation and gravitates to wherever there are people and activity. He can be the life of the party and the smartest guy in the room. He has all the natural ability.
Having spent several years as chief of staff in the senate president pro tem’s office, there are no moves in the Alabama Legislature that he hasn’t seen or employed himself. Then there is the breadth and depth of relationships that he has built.
Bringing this extensive skill set to bear is incredibly valuable for his firm’s substantial client list. Bryan is a true force.
Dave Stewart, Bradley
Dave Stewart has established the model for how to build a successful state government lobbying business.
Under the umbrella of the powerhouse law firm Bradley, Stewart has grown roots deep within Alabama’s business community. This has made him the first phone call for so many leaders of industry in need of advocacy in front of the state’s legislative and executive branches.
Stewart is a product of the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Business where he earned undergraduate and master’s degrees. He has worked for tech companies and the energy group for a large bank.
This background allows Stewart to connect effortlessly with members of the business community for whom the political process can seem foreign.
Layer in his experience on Capitol Hill and his service as chief of staff to former Governor Bob Riley, and you get maybe the most complete resume of any governmental affairs professional in the Yellowhammer State.
Taylor Williams, PowerSouth
Taylor Williams is one of the most powerful and influential people in the entire state. He is the Director of External Affairs with one of Alabama’s preeminent energy providers and most active economic developers. Williams has clocked the hours and has been integral to success in some of the biggest legislative battles of the last five years.
And, yet, it feels as if he is only getting started.
Williams’ network extends throughout the state. He is president of the Economic Development Association of Alabama. He is active in the Business Council of Alabama and numerous other business organizations.
Everyone from the governor and lieutenant governor down to county commissioners and mayors know Williams, answer his calls and listen intently to whatever it is he has to say.
The way to power and influence takes many forms. Williams is proof that relationship building remains one of the surest means.
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