The Wire

  • New tunnel, premium RV section at Talladega Superspeedway on schedule despite weather

    Excerpt:

    Construction of a new oversized vehicle tunnel and premium RV infield parking section at Talladega Superspeedway is still on schedule to be completed in time for the April NASCAR race, despite large amounts of rainfall and unusual groundwater conditions underneath the track.

    Track Chairman Grant Lynch, during a news conference Wednesday at the track, said he’s amazed the general contractor, Taylor Corporation of Oxford, has been able to keep the project on schedule.

    “The amount of water they have pumped out of that and the extra engineering they did from the original design, basically to keep that tunnel from floating up out of the earth, was remarkable,” Lynch said.

  • Alabama workers built 1.6M engines in 2018 to add auto horsepower

    Excerpt:

    Alabama’s auto workers built nearly 1.6 million engines last year, as the state industry continues to carve out a place in global markets with innovative, high-performance parts, systems and finished vehicles.

    Last year also saw major new developments in engine manufacturing among the state’s key players, and more advanced infrastructure is on the way in the coming year.

    Hyundai expects to complete a key addition to its engine operations in Montgomery during the first half of 2019, while Honda continues to reap the benefits of a cutting-edge Alabama engine line installed several years ago.

  • Groundbreaking on Alabama’s newest aerospace plant made possible through key partnerships

    Excerpt:

    Political and business leaders gathered for a groundbreaking at Alabama’s newest aerospace plant gave credit to the formation of the many key partnerships that made it possible.

    Governor Kay Ivey and several other federal, state and local officials attended the event which celebrated the construction of rocket engine builder Blue Origin’s facility in Huntsville.

Red Land Cotton works from field to fabric to produce an Alabama farm-to-home luxury brand

(Alabama NewsCenter/Contributed)

After growing up the daughter of a cotton farmer, Anna Yeager Brakefield’s plans involved anything but returning to the family farm. Upon graduation from Auburn University with a degree in graphic design, she got a job with an advertising agency in New York City, where she put her love of art and design to work.

A few years later, in 2014, her soon-to-be-husband’s career path brought her back South. She began a new job, still as a designer, but she wasn’t particularly happy with it. When her dad approached her with a business idea, it seemed like a good time to change her own path.

“Let’s build a direct-to-consumer retail business using our cotton,” he told her. “So, I told him, ‘Sure!’”

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Farming frustration

Mark Yeager, Brakefield’s father, had been farming cotton on his farm in Moulton since the 1980s, but in recent years, he’d become frustrated.

“He was working so hard and selling his cotton for so little,” Brakefield said. “He knew there had to be another way.”

The father-daughter duo combined their talents and began brainstorming what they could produce with their cotton. They landed on bedding and spent the next few months building a supply chain.

“It was really important for us to have 100% American-made products. The South has a rich textile tradition, and we felt strongly about telling the story from the seed in the ground to the final product,” Brakefield explained.

By October 2016, they had their first set of sheets ready to sell, and they named their company after its roots in the rich, red soil of North Alabama – Red Land Cotton. Brakefield created an online store and they began selling, packing and shipping out of her dad’s cotton gin office.

Timing was right, with the holiday shopping season ramping up, and in their first three months of business, Red Land Cotton had more than $100,000 in sales.

“That was some great affirmation for us that we had something good, and that we should continue,” Brakefield said.

Growing and sewing a worldwide following

Today, Red Land Cotton sells its farm-to-home luxury linens to customers worldwide through its online store and locally in a retail shop in downtown Moulton. Since the family launched their first sheet set, they have expanded their offerings to include five different design styles. They also partner with a mill in Georgia to create bath towels and, last year, created a new line of quilts, made with batting from their cotton.

The whole family is involved in the business, not just Brakefield and Yeager. Brakefield’s two brothers farm with her father. Her sister-in-law works in the store and so does her mom, “when she’s not watching my daughter,” Brakefield laughed.

While Brakefield lives in Nashville, she spends several days a week in Moulton working on the retail side of the business, and she spends a large portion of her time telling the Red Land Cotton story.

“Almost every week, I am in a different city around Alabama sharing about our business and our products. We have shipped to every state in the United States, including Hawaii, and as far away as France, Norway and Canada, but I still find that there are people in Alabama who don’t know about us,” Brakefield said.

Even so, Red Land Cotton has made its mark. Southern Living came to Moulton to write about the family business and ABC’s World News Tonight featured Red Land Cotton in its “Made in America” series last Christmas.

The pinnacle of exposure, however, was an invitation from the White House. Last July, Red Land Cotton was asked to represent Alabama in the “Made in America” showcase.

“That was such an honor to set up in the White House and show our products to the president, members of the press and Congress,” Brakefield said.

While Brakefield, Yeager and the rest of the family have plans to continue growing, their heart remains in Moulton. What makes them most proud, they say, is bringing awareness to their hometown as well as the important work of farming.

“We love showing how agriculture can be made into something profitable and consumer-facing. That has been a really cool story to tell as well,” Brakefield said.

This story originally appeared in the Alabama Retailer published by the Alabama Retail Association.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 months ago

Alabama’s newest ‘Smart Neighborhood’ to be finished in 2020

(Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Holland Homes, builder of the state’s next “Smart Neighborhood,” says construction of the subdivision’s 51 homes will be complete by the end of 2020.

The builder hosted media outlets Monday at the model home in the Northwoods subdivision in Auburn. Owner Daniel Holland says seven of the 51 lots have been sold and plans to have the other 44 complete by the end of next year.

“Things are going good and going quick,” Holland said.

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Holland Homes is partnering with Alabama Power to develop Northwoods as a Smart Neighborhood community. All homes will be designed to make customers’ lives more comfortable, convenient and connected through features that can be managed by smart devices and voice activation. Energy-efficiency will be a key part of the neighborhood, and each home will be built with advanced energy products.

“One of the big benefits is the financial factor — the savings each month on your energy bill,” Holland said. “A 65 HERS score rating is going to equate to a huge savings in your pocket every month from a power bill perspective.” HERS stands for “home energy rating system” and is a recognized way to measure a home’s energy efficiency.

Progress visible on Alabama’s next Smart Neighborhood from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Jim Goolsby, a senior market specialist for Alabama Power, said the 65 HERS rating in the Northwoods homes puts them far ahead of typical Alabama home as far as energy efficiency.

“The average home is 130 on the HERS score, so these homes are going to be an average of 50 percent more efficient than an average home in Alabama,” Goolsby said. “In order to do that, we have to protect the house thermally with things like spray-foam insulation on the roof deck, advanced air ceiling to eliminate air infiltration of the home and double-pane Low-E windows.”

Goolsby said these materials make it easier to cool your house in the summer and warm your house in the winter.

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of materials that thermally protect the house so that we don’t have to run those mechanical systems as often,” Goolsby said. “We’re ahead of the game because we’ve built a better box.”

The Northwoods subdivision is the state’s second Smart Neighborhood and the first to be built under Alabama Power’s new Smart Neighborhood Builder Program. Each smart home in the neighborhood will feature:

  • Google Home smart speakers for voice control of the home.
  • Nest Learning thermostats to help save energy and provide more control over the home’s temperature when the owner is at home or away.
  • Advanced energy-efficient building features, including improved insulation, high-efficiency heat pump and water heater and Energy Star appliances.

In addition to Holland Homes, two additional builders are planning Smart Neighborhood developments this year. Harris Doyle Homes will build another community in Auburn and Curtis White Companies has one planned for Leeds. To learn more about those projects and Alabama Power’s Smart Neighborhood Builder Program, visit www.apcsmartneighborhood.com.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Talladega is known for speed, but slow down and take in what the Alabama city offers

(Jay Parker/Powergrams)

To most of the world, Talladega is the big racetrack that opened half a century ago.

The 2.66-mile NASCAR tri-oval 14 miles from downtown Talladega is familiar even to people who care nothing about vehicles racing 200 mph as 175,000 fans scream while nursing their favorite beverages in the bleachers and infield.

Talladega Superspeedway is quickly becoming the “world’s most sophisticated fan experience” as its $50 million redevelopment will be partially complete by the running of the Geico 500 April 28 and fully finished by the big races in October. Billed as the “Transformation,” the rebirth of the famous facility has nothing on its namesake town founded 135 years earlier.

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Talladega the city is super in ways millions of followers of Petty, Earnhardt, Gordon and the “Alabama Gang” might never imagine if they haven’t traveled south along Highway 77. The town of about 15,000 residents easily qualifies for the Transformation label, perhaps outdoing the track efforts through reviving the old Courthouse Square, restoring stately mansions and attracting impressive new industries and distinctive  businesses.

Talladega’s blend of building new and improving old may be unsurpassed among small towns in Alabama. The manifold instances are too many to mention, but the downtown is a good starting point. The oldest courthouse in continuous use in the state is surrounded by buildings either restored to their glory of the 1800s or under renovations moving in that direction. Even businesses that have failed have fresh facades awaiting new investment.

On one corner is Boswell’s Wings, named after a local doctor who patented airplane components and some claim flew a plane off a barn in 1902, prompting the legend Boswell beat the Wright Brothers in flight by a year. The restaurant was opened last year by local boy-done-good Kevin Smith, who is founder and owner of several companies and lives in Fort Myers, Florida, but frequently visits Talladega. His Artisan’s Alley awaits occupants on another corner downtown. The Purefoy Hotel just behind Courthouse Square is being prepped for a new life. It seems like every direction is undergoing major reconstruction, renovations or set to open doors on new businesses.

Across the street from Boswell’s is the opulent former Talladega Post Office, built in 1913 for $63,395.34 and used for mail until the local Water & Sewer Board moved in 16 years ago. People paying their bill in person today enjoy entering through the six-columned front, walking across the marble floors cut from the Sylacauga quarry, beneath the original brass lighting fixtures and handing their credit card to employees behind old-fashioned barred cashier windows. There are still horse hitching posts in back of the building.

A monument on the courthouse lawn recognizes “The Tremblin’ T,” another unique aspect of the town, dedicated to the USS Talladega that earned seven battle stars in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The ship is noted for transporting Marines to Iwo Jima, where they raised the flag for perhaps the most famous WWII photograph. The ship was featured in the classic war movie “Battle Cry.”

A block south of the square stands the 1906 L&N Railroad Station that was restored to house the Chamber of Commerce. Visitors traverse the floors of tile imported from Italy, along 8-inch-tall white marble baseboards, lighted by brass fixtures converted from gas to electricity. Beneath the original red tile roof, guests are often alerted to “April in Talladega,” the 45th annual pilgrimage – April 12-13 this year – showing off antebellum homes, churches and Oak Hill Cemetery. The tour changes each year but frequently features Boxwood (1854) and the Plowman-Heacock Home, generally regarded as the town’s most beautiful tall-columned home.

Not far east of the square is Heritage Hall, built in 1906 by Andrew Carnegie on land given by Louisa Jemison for the local library, which in 1979 moved to a bigger building behind the original. Designed by Frank Lockwood, as are many of Talladega’s most admired homes and structures, the old library with 18-foot-tall ceilings is now the city’s art center. Director Valarie White hosts about 10 exhibits annually, with the state bicentennial celebration of quilts set for April 11-May 31.

Just behind the square next to city hall is the Talladega Walk of Fame and Davey Allison Memorial Park, a full city block with more than 50 bronze plaques describing and dedicated to the greatest NASCAR drivers.

Across the street in front of Piggly Wiggly is the Talladega Battle Monument built in 1968 over the town’s still-bubbling spring. Beneath the four-winged concrete dome are bronze maps and plaques commemorating the players in the 1813 fight led by future President Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett and U.S. military forces against the local Creek Indians, who were vastly outnumbered and quickly defeated.

Talladega’s Veterans Park – the city’s biggest of nine recreational areas – has a long walking track with bridges that twice traverse a creek. The park has bathrooms, benches, playgrounds, two pavilions with picnic tables, a Little Free Library and WWII tank for visitors to admire. Not far away is the city’s nine-hole public golf course, which is near the Talladega Bowling Center, where children and adults are entertained at night and on weekends. Spring Street Community Center has a 25-meter indoor heated pool and swimming programs for all ages.

Today, Talladega natives often head to Tina’s Home Cookin’ for breakfast, to Café Royale or Custom Pizza for lunch and to the Stampede Steakhouse or Matehuala Mexican for supper. Every day around noon, the parking lot of Fincher’s Delite is packed at the longtime little roadside eatery. Guys go to Michael’s Men’s Wear for clothing and shoes, in big or small sizes. Visitors often opt to spend the night at the pristine Somerset Bed & Breakfast, which Bon Voyage magazine named “Best in the South.” And there’s nearly every fast-food place or national chain retail store and hotel outside the old business area and historic Silk Stocking District.

Shocco Springs on the northwest edge of town has welcomed Baptists and others from around the world since 1910. The current 40-acre conference and recreation center has a lake and more than two dozen housing, service and presentation facilities. Alabama Power linemen often use Shocco Springs as a staging area during major storm restoration efforts.

Talladega has standout medical facilities, including Talladega Health and Rehab and Citizens Baptist Medical Center, which employ nearly 700 combined.

Years ago, Georgia-Pacific pulled up roots, dropping Talladega’s economic and employment numbers. That changed early this year when the company opened a $100 million, 300,000-square-foot lumber production plant employing 130 people. That total is but a tenth of the local employment by the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB), but it marks the latest transformation in Talladega. The Presbyterian Home for Children next to AIDB is not a major employer but is a primary influence on youths coming there from difficult circumstances.

“Talladega is probably one of the most diverse communities in the nation, because of its acceptance of people with sensory deprivation,” says AIDB President John Mascia. “They’re just regular people here. This city and county is very special and different.”

Talladega College

Straight out of bondage, two freedmen sought to educate theirs and the children of other former slaves “as vital to the preservation of our liberties.” The efforts of William Savery and Thomas Tarrant remain vital 150 years after they founded Talladega College.

The two Talladega African-Americans started with a one-room schoolhouse built with scraps from an abandoned carpenter’s shop. When that structure overflowed with students, Savery and Tarrant bought a recently bankrupt Baptist Academy headquarters and 20 adjoining acres, naming the building after a Freemen’s Bureau official who helped negotiate the deal.

“I could go on and on about our wonderful history,” says Director of Public Relations Mary Sood, standing in front of slave-built, three-story brick Swayne Hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Placesand noted for its four huge white columns and classic architecture. Classes still meet in the 1867 structure.

Across scattered and soaring oaks on the main campus concourse stands Savery Library, with its 40-foot-tall marble chiming clock tower. Students have gathered in the 120-foot-wide first-floor reading room for 80 years, but many failed to appreciate the national treasures hanging in the entrance lobby. A decade ago, college President Billy Hawkins learned that the Amistad Murals by Hale Woodruff were worth $40 million but in danger of disintegrating. With the help of the High Museum of Art, the six huge panels were restored and placed in climate-controlled storage in Atlanta.

The William R. Harvey Museum of Art will open in October behind Savery Library as the permanent home of the murals, now valued at more than $50 million. Harvey, president of Hampton University and a Tuskegee alumnus, contributed $1 million and the state another $1.5 million for the world-class museum that will house the historic art by former Talladega College teacher Woodruff.

“I think the state, nation, really the world, should be excited about this museum,” Sood says. “The Amistad Murals are a huge part of Alabama history, of African-American history, that can literally be a boon to tourism in Alabama.”

The Harvey Museum is one of three major new buildings at Talladega College. In January, a three-story, 45,000-square-foot residence hall opened with 103 rooms, each with LED lighting, low-flow toilets, keyless entry and other energy-efficient features. It joins eight other student residence halls, dating to 1869.

Across from DeForest Chapel, with its 65 stained-glass windows by former art teacher David Driskell, the college’s first-ever student center is rising. The 47,000-square-foot, two-story building will open in August with a 2,000-seat gymnasium, dining hall, kitchen, concessions stand, coffee lounge, convenience store, fitness area, health clinic and convocation hall.

The first in Alabama to offer higher education to blacks, Talladega College has launched its inaugural graduate program, a Master of Science in Computer Information Systems. The private school has record-breaking enrollment this year and is listed by the Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report among the best colleges in the Southeast.

“We are thrilled about all of the growth on campus and the positive impact Talladega College has in our local community and throughout our state and our nation,” Hawkins says.

Red Door Kitchen

To the passerby, it might appear the Smokehouse Barbecue Restaurant never went out of business 25 years ago, as cars and trucks still fill the parking lot, and the dining room doors constantly open and close with local folks dropping in for lunch.

But the restaurant management today isn’t out to make a buck: The Red Door Kitchen is open for shut-ins and the down on their luck. What began in 1985 as a soup kitchen at the old bus depot has become a full-service café providing free meals Monday through Friday to walk-in customers and for more than 100 daily deliveries.

Early each weekday morning the past 16 years, Willie Pearl Cochran has arrived at Red Door Kitchen to direct activities, from selecting the meal components to cooking, packaging and storing lunches in big coolers for delivery. The past five years she’s been assisted by her daughter, Gloria Ford. They try to choose a different daily meat, vegetables and other sides to cook for their customers. On this day the individual Styrofoam containers include roast beef, mixed vegetables, pinto beans and graham crackers.

“We serve anyone who walks in, no questions asked. No one’s complaining,” Cochran says, smiling.

The Red Door Kitchen crew and volunteer drivers distribute 30,000 or more meals annually to homebound seniors, blind, deaf and disabled residents, as well as to sick people who request help and are approved by an independent organization. Forty-five drivers use their own vehicles and time, though businesses like First Bank of Alabama let employees deliver while on the company clock.

“The fun thing is our drivers get attached to the folks on their routes,” says Billy Sparkman, chairman of the board of the nonprofit. “The drivers may be the only person that the people getting that meal talk to that whole day.”

Working with a $60,000 annual budget, Red Door Kitchen is a United Way agency that depends on donations of food and money. The Community Food Bank of Central Alabama and canned food drives by schools provide much of the food. The city contributes funding, as do many businesses, churches and individuals. The annual “Afternoon of Praise” bringing together about 100 singers and a 20-piece orchestra at the Ritz is “a huge fundraiser for us,” Sparkman says.

Recent renovations have produced a 95 health rating in the kitchen, which sports freshly painted floors and walls, and a new industrial stove, commercial venting and walk-in cooler. The storage area where bulk food was previously stacked on wood pallets now has stainless steel sorting tables and racks lining the walls. Sparkman says the next targets are replacing the sliding glass customer-service windows and the buildings’ exterior siding.

And while finding more funding and quality, inexpensive food is always the priority, Sparkman says the impending crisis is getting younger volunteers to deliver the meals on routes currently manned mostly by retirees.

“It could be as big a threat to our program as anything else,” says Sparkman, who is an AIDB retiree. “The mission of Red Door Kitchen is a great one: You don’t think about people in America being hungry in this day and time, but there are a lot of them out there.”

Hall of Heroes

Curator Jimmy Williams walks through the Hall of Heroes intent on quickly sharing the museum’s highlights, as just one veteran spotlighting many others’ achievements. He moves from one section to the next sandwiched between more than 1,000 shots of soldiers’ faces. Williams stands beneath overhanging uniforms of every branch of the military spanning every conflict since World War I.

“There’s a lot of things here – not bragging – that you can’t find in a bigger museum anywhere,” Williams says.

The year-old museum inside a longtime shoe store building that’s on the National Register of Historic Places is stocked again to the rafters, only now with rare military memorabilia rather than Red Goose footwear. The red neon shoe logo in the front display windows is all that remains from the store that former owner Robert Weaver’s family gave to the city four years ago. Weaver was a key supporter and fundraiser for veterans and AIDB.

Manager Amie Gable says the free museum has had more than 900 visitors from 25 states, thanks “almost completely” to the unpaid efforts of area veterans. Mayor Jimmy Cooper helped restore the heart pine flooring, while other local vets made electric and plumbing improvements for the 1870 building that is now all-electric, with a heat pump, high-efficiency water heater and LED lighting. An 800-square-foot deck and stage was added to the back of the building for special events.

James Wellman is working on wiring along the baseboards as Williams talks. Wellman is a South Africa native who worked for the U.S. Department of State, among others, before settling down in Talladega and joining the museum board of directors. He, too, wants to ensure that U.S. veterans are not forgotten, noting that at least 300 men from Talladega County have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country since World War I began.

The museum’s origin goes back 15 years to when the local library collection of veterans’ photos outgrew the hallway where they hung. Fundraising started for something bigger, and after a concerted community effort, the Hall of Heroes opened April 13, 2018. Veterans and their families continue donating items such as vintage flags, photos, medals, newspapers and more uniforms.

“We have quite a collection, one of the most extensive anywhere,” Williams, who was an Army medic, says of the uniforms.

Framed discharge papers signed on Sept. 12, 1945, show that Marine Private 1st Class Jesse Brown Jr. somehow survived two years of battle at Wake Island, Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, Truk, Saipan, Tinian, Marianas Islands, Palau, Yap, Caroline Islands, New Guinea, Guam, Angaur, Ngesebus, Peleliu, Palau Islands, Leyte Island, Luzon, Southwest Mindoro, Corregidor, the Philippines, Okinawa and Ryukyu islands. His monthly pay was $54. He was paid $58.44 to travel by bus from Key West, Florida, to Birmingham in returning to civilian life.

“There are some unique things in here,” Williams says. “For a little town to have this, we’re really proud.”

The Hall of Heroes already has been honored in the Congressional Record, by the Alabama House of Representatives and Gov. Kay Ivey, and named the Nonprofit of the Year by the local Chamber of Commerce before the doors first opened.

“We think we’re kind of a special surprise,” Williams says as he shows off an Army field telephone from WWII. “It’s Veterans Day here every day.”

Puttin’ on the Ritz

Still flush from the Black Jacket Symphony’s sold-out two-night performance of Queen’s “A Night at the Opera,” George Culver notes that the rock performance is another impressive highlight for the Ritz Theatre since it was saved from demolition two decades ago.

The restored and recently renovated Ritz includes the adjacent revived Otts building, where the long hallway outside the green room and management offices is lined with signed photos and posters from prestigious productions and famous singers. There’s Diahann Carroll, Don McLean, Martha Reeves, Judy Collins, Mickey Rooney, Ricky Skaggs, Ronnie Millsap, Hal Holbrook and scores of other artists amidst 14 posters from prior Black Jacket concerts.

“We’ve pulled some coups over the years,” says Culver, the executive director since 1996, except three years when he directed the Birmingham Children’s Theatre.

The 1936 Ritz is considered one of the nation’s best examples of art deco theaters, with its façade of opaque structural glass of the kind in New York’s Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. The building front had fallen into ruin in the 1990s, with a third of the panels missing, but those were matched perfectly with antique vitrolite glass collected by a St. Louis artisan. The huge marquee was brought back to life with red and green neon lighting crafted by a Birmingham specialist.

Culver presided over the fundraising campaign that led to the Feb. 16, 1998, reopening concert by the National Symphony String Quintet. “They said the acoustics were as good as anywhere they’d ever played,” he says.

A renovation last year replaced the cushions in all 550 seats and removed six coats of paint from the steel frames, as the side designs were repainted by hand. The tall walls were sanded and given a fresh coat of paint with an art deco-inspired design. Eight large lamp sconces were placed along the walls, based on the design of the lone original light. Houselights, surround sound and other modern infrastructure was added.

“The Black Panther” was on the big screen the weekend of Jan. 11-13. Some performances make big money, some don’t bring in a dime and others lose money. But the shows for all third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in Talladega County presented without charge since 1998 may provide the biggest benefit of anything ever shown at the Ritz.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is our arts education,” says Culver, who recalls coming to the standalone cinema as a child growing up in nearby Munford. “This year we will pass 100,000 students in this theater the past 20 years to see professional arts entertainment. Very few towns, not only in Alabama but across America, can say that.”

Dega Brewhouse surprise

On Talladega nights, Lindsey Moses welcomes a diverse crowd to Dega Brewhouse, where the music swings from hip-hop to country to heavy metal, and none of the old, young, black, white, blind or deaf patrons blink an eye. In the mornings, Moses teaches classes at Lmo & Co., the art studio she opened in 2011; at night she serves beer and banter at her bar; when she’s not eating or sleeping, she paints.

Moses goes down the smooth curving concrete bar she built four years ago, reciting the name of each person who slides up on the black wood stools. Local hero Lt. Tommy Perry is welcomed this night with hugs and kisses from many in the crowd, just two months after being shot in the face by a killer’s .357 Magnum while on patrol. “I’m just proud to be here,” the 32-year Talladega Police veteran says.

One of those shaking Perry’s hand is Johnny Williams, who decades ago was among the world’s elite athletes. An introduction to an out-of-towner leads to small talk, which turns to amazement at the bits and pieces of Williams’ life he reveals. Could this mild-mannered man have beaten an Olympic gold medalist in a footrace, played professional baseball, spent time with the Dallas Cowboys and set Ohio Valley Conference records that still stand?

“He was Bo Jackson before Bo Jackson,” says Talladega High School Assistant Principal Chuckie Miller, whose father coached Williams as an All-State basketball player. “He was a world-class sprinter, and Talladega High School didn’t even have a track.”

“He was the real deal,” says Wayne Williams, who was head track and field coach at Austin Peay Universitybefore becoming the University of Alabama’s top track assistant from 1978 until 1997 and then taking the top track job at Southern Miss until 2007. His star at Austin Peay performed so well that, in recent years, Johnny became the second AP athlete ever selected for the OVC Hall of Fame, but he declined the honor offered by the 13-member, 71-year-old conference.

“He’s as low-key a guy as you’ll ever meet,” Miller says. “He’s just never been interested in tooting his own horn.”

Williams still holds the OVC indoor track and field 60-yard dash record at 6 seconds flat, set in 1976. He was the 60-yard conference champion in 1976 and 1977. He anchored the OVC record-setting 440-yard relay champions (40.44 seconds) those same years. Williams was OVC outdoor champ in 1976 in the 100-yard dash (9.4 seconds) and 200-yard dash (21 seconds) and in 1978 in the 100 meters (10.4). In 1976, Williams helped Austin Peay break Western Kentucky’s 12-year streak as outdoor champions, as he won Athlete of the Year and Wayne Williams Coach of the Year honors.

Muhammad Ali got wind of Williams, who had outrun Auburn University’s champion sprinter Harvey Glance in the Senior Bowl Classic, and invited Williams to the celebrated boxer’s track meet in California, where the athlete and coach met “The Greatest of All Time.”

Williams would go on to be drafted by the Cowboys, despite playing football only in his sophomore year of high school. He played professional baseball in the Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals organizations. Today he smiles and backs away when a reporter pulls out a notebook and pen. “No, no, that’s all in the past,” Williams says, shaking his head.

Moses says special people are common customers at Dega Brewhouse, Talladega’s only public bar setting. Hers and nearby businesses complement Courthouse Square.

“This is why I love to live in Talladega,” she says. “There’s more than the racetrack, though we appreciate the racetrack, there’s just so much more.”

Alabama Power office

Customer Service Representative Sue Patterson has been with Alabama Power for 29 years, previously working in the old Childersburg Office, Goodwater Office, Gardendale Office, Birmingham Call Center and Pelham Office. A graduate of Winterboro High School and Central Alabama Community College, she has two grown daughters, Lindsey and Kristy, and three grandchildren: Ethan (16), Hadyn (14) and Harper (3).

Customer Service Representative Linda Sims has worked at the Talladega Office since 2003 and been with the company for 20 years. The Talladega High and Alabama Community College graduate has lived in Talladega all her life. She has two grown children, two stepchildren, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Customer Service Representative Sharlea Taylor has been with Alabama Power for 3½ years, starting out at the Metro Central Office before moving to the Talladega Office to be closer to her 19-year-old son, Travon McClellan, who attends AIDB and makes wood stakes for Alabama Power at the E.H. Gentry Center wood shop. She and her 10-year-old daughter, Aleah, live in Odenville.

“Talladega is small but it has big things,” Taylor says. “I am very grateful for AIDB developing programs for all impaired people. It was a blessing for me to get transferred to this location.”

This story originally appeared in Alabama Power’s Powergrams.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 months ago

Neeysa Biddle is a 2019 Woman of Impact

(UAB/Contributed)

Neeysa Biddle is uniquely familiar with the level of sacrifice and dedication required to leave a substantial legacy. She has spent her career focused on advancing the care of the chronically ill and compromised. At an early age, she fell in love with healthcare as a radiology report transcriber and worked hard to finance her education to progress in the field.

Biddle spent the first 25 years of her career in health information management. She received her B.S. degree in Health Administration from the University of Alabama, a decision she says left a definable impact on her family.

“Sacrifices were made so that I could go back to school full-time and the jobs that followed were miles away from the home base.  But the sacrifices were evidence to our sons of the value of and appropriate timing of one’s college education,” Biddle shared with Yellowhammer News.

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Following graduation from graduate school and completion of the required residency, Biddle’s career skyrocketed, as she was named the vice-president of operations at Medical Center East in 1992 and later progressed to chief operating officer of St. Vincent’s Healthcare System in 2005.

In 2011, Biddle attempted to retire by working from home for Ascension – St. Vincent’s Health System’s parent. During that time, she helped create the National Ascension Leadership Academy, a highlight of her career as she had always wanted to be a teacher.

“This period was just so much fun!  I enjoyed interacting with national thought leaders on healthcare reform to shape the curriculum of the Academy and interacting with young executives from across the nation as they completed that course of study,” Biddle shared.

In 2014, she received an unexpected phone call from Ascension asking if she would return to St. Vincent’s in the CEO position, due to an unanticipated vacancy. She served as CEO for three years working to stabilize the leadership team and recruit a new leader. After orienting the new CEO, Biddle went to the 13-hospital system in Austin, TX, where she provided interim leadership during a period of transition and change.

As an advocate for others, Biddle is familiar with battling limitations in the corporate world. She promises not to give up her fight to ensure a brighter tomorrow for career women in our state and beyond.

“Being an encourager and supporter of women is extremely important to me, and I feel I have the responsibility to continue in the role of advocate.  I survived in a male-dominated field and did see some growing acceptance of women and the gifts they bring to leadership.  But, there is still much to do to bring about equality both personally and professionally, and it is my responsibility to make that happen,” Biddle shared.

Mrs. Biddle has been married to her high school classmate, Tommy Biddle, for 53 years. They share two sons and are overjoyed with their expanding family. It is one of her greatest joys to watch her four grandchildren grow up. Aside from spending time with her family, Biddle enjoys gardening – calling it her passion – especially in the beautiful Spring weather.

Biddle spends a great deal of time using her talents to inspire others. The American Heart Association, the March of Dimes, American Cancer Society and the Komen Foundation are a few of the organizations very dear to her heart.

“The gift of being able to impact the lives of others in a positive way is, in my opinion, is the most meaningful of all contributions,” she told Yellowhammer News.

She loves volunteering at her church by teaching Sunday School, chairing the Administrative Council and leading the Discipleship Team. She also sings on the church’s music team and in Snead State Junior College’s Community Choir. She serves on the District Operations Team for the Mountain-Lakes District of the United Methodist Church and was a member of the inaugural class of Momentum, a women’s leadership group that continues to promote growth in leadership of the women across the state.

When reflecting on what she wishes to leave as a legacy for future generations, Biddle shared the following inspirational words: “Go for it!  Many of the limitations I experienced were self-imposed and resulted, to a large degree, from my lack of self-confidence.  My advice would be to stay open to possibilities.  Do not assume that you ‘can’t do something.’  One can do more than ever imagined if only willing to step through the door of possibility.  Be bold and prepare.  Become your very best self and the world will come to you!”

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Neeysa Biddle a 2019 Woman of Impact.

The 2nd Annual Women of Impact Awards will celebrate the honorees on April 29, 2019, in Birmingham. Event details can be found here.

9 months ago

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10 months ago

Are our highways less safe?

(YHN/Pixabay)

Highway fatalities have increased from under 33,000 in 2014 to 37,461 in 2016, before declining slightly in 2017. Many have speculated whether drivers distracted by smartphones have caused this increase. Before further restricting driving, we should examine the problem.

The recent increase in fatalities is unsettling because driving has become safer over time. Fifty years ago, over 50,000 Americans died annually on the highways; the worst year was 1972 with 54,589 deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Vehicle miles driven have increased dramatically as the death toll has fallen. Indeed, fatalities per mile driven have fallen by 80 percent since 1966. If we still had 1966’s fatality rate with today’s 3.2 trillion miles driven, we would have had 176,000 highway deaths in 2017.

Has driving truly become more deadly since 2014? The increase in fatalities might seem to answer this in the affirmative, but real world data never lies exactly on a smooth curve. Could the recent increases in fatalities just be random variation?

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The two largest year-to-year percentage increases in highway fatalities were in 2015 and 2016, a total 14 percent increase. And yet multi-year fatality increases have occurred since 1966, including four consecutive years in the late 1970s and five consecutive years in the 1990s. The 1970’s fatalities increase was 15 percent. The recent increase in fatalities is not entirely unprecedented.

Thankfully, a very small percentage of accidents produce fatalities. If roads are more dangerous, we should also see increases in injuries and accidents. NHTSA injury totals go back only to 1988 and are much less accurate than fatalities data. Still, reported injuries increased 34 percent, or 800,000, between 2014 and 2016, including a 28 percent increase in 2016. The largest previous one-year increase in injuries was only 6.5 percent. Reliable nationwide totals on accidents are not available.

Not all states have seen fatality increases. In Alabama fatalities rose 26 percent between 2014 and 2016. Rhode Island had a 63 percent increase in fatalities, and eight other states saw increases of 30 percent or more. Yet fatalities declined in three states and increased less than 5 percent in four more. Are cell phones more distracting in some states than others?

Substantial differences in fatality rates exist across states. Between 2014 and 2017, South Carolina’s rate was more than two and a half times higher than Massachusetts’. Factors like rural vs. urban driving, highway type, and speed limits explain much of this variation, but making driving in all states as safe as in the safest states could save thousands of lives annually.

The NHTSA also reports fatalities by vehicle type, which have increased by 12 and 13 percent for cars and light trucks. Motorcyclists and bicyclists (15 percent each) and pedestrians (22 percent) saw larger increases, even though drivers of cars and trucks seem more likely to be distracted by cell phones. The fatality increases for cyclists and pedestrians suggest another cause, or may combine drivers’ distractions and these individuals’ vulnerability.

Cell phone use and texting have been around longer than we perhaps remember; Washington state banned texting and driving in 2007. According to NHTSA statistics, drivers’ cell phone use has fallen over the past decade, and fatalities fell 20 percent nationally between 2007 and 2014. New phones provide more ways to distract drivers, but why did cell phones start increasing fatalities only in 2015?

Many scholars from different disciplines study highway safety, including yours truly. To date, published research has not really addressed the recent jump in fatalities. World events drive academic research, so research should soon start offering concrete insights.

Highway fatalities continue to impose a heavy toll on the U.S. Even though the fatality rate has fallen 80 percent since 1966, the modest increase in fatalities since 2014 should concern citizens and experts. Fortunately, fatalities fell three percent during the first half of 2018. Perhaps the increase from 2014 to 2016 was only a pause in the long-term improvement in highway safety.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

11 months ago

The battle against inflation

(YHN/Pixabay)

Inflation fears rose briefly during 2018, as the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) approached three percent. In 1980, three percent annual inflation would have set off celebrations. Our success in reducing inflation provides a lesson about policy-making by elected officials.

To avoid confusion we should be clear about the meaning of inflation. Americans often mean the cost of living when they say inflation. Economists, by contrast, specifically mean an increase in the overall price level.

A pure five percent inflation would be exactly a five percent increase in every price. Salaries and wages are prices and would be included. Inflation should not reduce the ability of households to buy goods and services, as income and expenses both increase equally. Economists call an increase in the price of gasoline or housing a change in relative prices, not inflation, even though either raises living costs.

Housing costs more in New York or San Francisco than in Alabama. That the cost of living in Manhattan is more than double that in Montgomery matters for weighing job offers. Differences in living costs, however, are also not inflation.

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The CPI does not include wages and rises even for relative price increases, yet still measures inflation pretty well. The annual change in the CPI exceeded 10 percent in 1974 and 1979-1981, hitting 13.5 percent in 1980. By 1983, inflation was below 5 percent and has only topped this level once since.

The U.S. has not been the only nation to bring inflation under control. U.S. inflation fell from 8.5 to 1.7 percent over 1974-83 and 2008-17. Yet over these decades, inflation fell from 11.3 to 1.1 percent in France and from 16.7 to 1.1 percent in Italy and Spain. Even Latin America has experienced progress; inflation fell from 33 to four percent in Mexico and from 112 to 6 percent in Brazil.

International success argues against a uniquely American explanation for our decline in inflation. For instance, I might wish to credit Ronald Reagan for defeating inflation. While President Reagan undoubtedly deserves some credit, a “great person” story would require great leaders in many nations, which seems less likely.

During the 1970s, many blamed inflation on rising world oil prices. A decline in oil supply would raise oil prices and hike the CPI, but would be a relative price change, not inflation as defined by economists. And significant oil price increase last decade did not produce double-digit inflation.

One economist who never wavered about the cause of inflation during the 1970s was Milton Friedman, who insisted that “inflation is everywhere and always a monetary phenomenon.” Governments and their central banks, like our Federal Reserve, inflate the money supply, driving up prices. Behind the focus on oil, the Federal Reserve did indeed fuel the 1970s inflation with money supply growth. With Paul Volcker as Federal Reserve chair and Ronald Reagan in the White House, the brakes were put on the money creation and inflation fell accordingly. The economics profession now largely accepts that Professor Friedman was right on inflation.

Why then did so many nations cause themselves the pain of inflation? And what has changed? Monetary economists have identified central bank independence as a key. A central bank is like a bank for the nation’s banking system, and generally controls the money supply. Politicians find easy money and credit irresistible, particularly when running for reelection. If politicians have too much control, they will inevitably inflate the money supply.

The Federal Reserve has always had some political independence. When the Fed chair and governors want monetary stability, as Mr. Volcker and his successor Alan Greenspan did, they can often prevail over the president and Congress. Other nations increased their central banks’ independence, based on economists’ advice. The European Central Bank was modeled on Germany’s independent Bundesbank.

People are imperfect and face problems of self-control. Our elected officials are human, and the potential to shift blame in politics exacerbates self-control problems. The world’s success battling inflation shows that elections alone do not always ensure wise economic policy.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

Should the progressive movement become pro-life?

(YHN/Pixabay)

Blind spots. We’ve all got them. Some, for example, believe their singing voice to be a divine blessing although it might more accurately be described as a curse. Others assume their Facebook friends want to see their every meal. Still others ignore that they do, in reality, need deodorant.

Not all blind spots are this trite, however. History makes that much clear.

Alabama is, unfortunately, host to one of the most obvious and horrid of blind spots: the slavery of the Antebellum South. The fact that many slave-owners were faithful church-goers, Sunday school teachers, and reputable members of the community ought to remind us of how even the most evident evils can be hidden from our moral view.

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Historical blind spots aren’t limited to Alabama, of course. Worldwide aversion to women’s right to vote, German justification for the Holocaust, and even the Pharisaical rejection of Jesus are examples of blind spots in both recent and distant past.

The common thread of a moral blind spot, it seems, is this: generally decent people, earnestly desiring to know and act on what is right, completely missing it.

That’s the thing about blind spots. We miss them. By their nature we are ignorant of their existence. That means that, without someone pointing them out, I won’t know mine and you won’t know yours.

Illuminating these blind spots is a compassionate and worthwhile goal––as long as we are open to confronting our own blurs in vision.

Knowing this, we are obligated to point out a major blind spot in the progressive movement: the endorsement of abortion.

The progressive movement has prided itself on its support for the historically marginalized and voiceless: women, immigrants, African Americans, etc. There is a real care, a genuine passion, within their ranks to right wrongs that should be encouraging to us all. They desire justice and fairness and, although we may not agree when it comes to the raw policy, that desire should be applauded.

When it comes to the most voiceless population, the unborn, the progressive movement fails. Strangely enough, the very rhetoric they decry when levied against minorities is used to justify the killing of yet-to-be-born human beings.

In some ways, it makes sense that this blind spot exists within the progressive movement. The battle to ensure women’s voting rights was hard-fought and one that progressives have not forgotten. There is, unfortunately, a lingering suspicion that this battle continues––that men want to control women in whatever ways possible. This suspicion, it seems, has led to an overcorrection in which attempts to eliminate abortion are perceived as anti-women instead of pro-child.

Progressives, let’s be clear, this is not a rerun of the right for women to vote. This is about the lives of innumerable unborn children who cannot speak for themselves. This is, in many ways, right in your wheelhouse.

Fortunately enough, recent scientific progress makes it easier than ever for progressives to join the pro-life movement. New technologies and scientific studies are consistently showing how early on in development a fetus appears and acts as it is: human.

Colleen Malloy, a neonatologist at Northwestern University, stresses this in a recent Atlantic article. She argues that years of study made it “so obvious that these were just developing humans.” Dr. Farr Curlin, a professor of medicine and medical humanities at Duke University, likewise described science’s recent contribution to the debate by saying “ I don’t see any way it’s not an ally to the pro-life cause.”

It’s time for the progressive movement to become pro-life. For consistency’s sake, for the sake of unborn children, and for their own viability as a movement, this blind spot needs to be confronted. With compassion, we invite progressives to be true to their stated ideals and support those least able to speak for themselves.

Nikki Richardson is Executive Vice President of the Alabama Policy Institute and Parker Snider is Director of Policy Analysis. API is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and educational organization dedicated to strengthening free enterprise, defending limited government, and championing strong families.

1 year ago

A lesson from the school pickup line

(Pxhere)

Our school district does not provide school bus service, so parents must take their children to and from school each day. Waiting in line to pick up our children provides a first-hand lesson about an important category of economic contests.

Troy Elementary School dismisses students at 3pm. I always want to be one of the first parents in line when I pick up my son. Chuck then gets perhaps an extra ten minutes at home. And I show him that he is important enough to me that I will make time to be first in line.

Only try as I might, I have not yet this year gotten close to the front of the line. Even arriving 30 minutes early is not enough. The people of Troy love their children very much, which makes Troy a great place to live. We also seem to have very flexible schedules.

As a group, we parents face a reality: only one person will be first in the pickup line. The line is an example of what economist Robert Frank labeled positional goods – where we care about our position relative to others. The pursuit of positional goods can be wasteful.

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Life features many positional goods. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year. Some people line up well in advance of the store openings to show that they are the most serious shoppers. At the college I went to, students had a tradition of camping out in advance of hockey season tickets going on sale. The first students in line were the most serious supporters of the team.

Positional goods can involve other forms of competition. Neighbors sometimes engage in positional contests to put up the most amazing Christmas light and decoration displays. The costs include the decorations and higher electricity bills. Having the newest, latest, and shiniest computer, big screen TV, or car is a positional contest as well.

Competition in positional contests uses scarce resources just trying to move ahead of others when in the aggregate this isn’t possible. Even if parents waited all day in line after dropping off our children, only one would be at the front of the pickup line. Everyone engaged in a positional contest might agree that we would be better off spending less time and money.

And yet our incentives work against us here. If all other Troy Elementary School parents arrived at 2:55pm, I would show up at 2:50pm. Economist Thomas Schelling explained how sometimes people might choose to have someone limit our freedom to compete. Government can perform this role, or associations which can enforce rules on their members.

Two factors complicate limiting competition. First, competition may also improve contest quality. Consider high school football. Winning has a positional element – only one team can win the state title in each class each year. Extra practices, voluntary off-season workouts, and attending college camps may be seen as providing only a relative advantage. Yet this might also increase the quality of play, benefitting fans, coaches, and the players. A pure positional contest has no element of quality.

Beyond this, working hard in pursuit of our goals is an important part of life. The players may enjoy working hard together during the offseason and may be building life-long friendships. The freedom to outwork others is integral to America’s opportunity society.

To see this, imagine if students were not allowed to prepare for the SAT exam. An SAT score affects college admissions and scholarships; it matters for life. Aptitude tests do have a positional element. All students spending $1,000 on prep classes may not change their percentile rankings. Yet being denied the freedom to study hard and improve one’s performance seems profoundly unfair.

We need to be aware of positional contests, of the times in life where we simply are trying to get ahead of others. We may want to accept limits on such contests to curb wasteful competition. But we also need to remember that the freedom to work and create opportunities for ourselves is a crucial part of life.

Daniel Sutter is the Charles G. Koch Professor of Economics with the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University.

1 year ago

7 Things: Alabama Senator Doug Jones still doesn’t get it, Trump tours areas ravaged by Hurricane Michael, and more …

(CNN, CBS Boston /YouTube)

7. Trump and the Cherokee nation respond to Senator Elizabeth Warren’s ancestry test

— The strange move involved Warren releasing a video that declared “the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor” from six to ten generations ago which means she is between 1/64th to 1/1024th native American.

— Any fair-minded observer would view this a rebuke of Sen. Warren’s claims to be a “woman of color” not a response to President Trump’s “attacks”.

6. Alabama Republicans may be softening on Medicaid expansion

— Republicans in Alabama have been steadfastly against the Medicaid expansion proposal because it will require an additional outlay of up to $200 million dollars. This is a wildly unpopular idea amongst Republican legislators but lame-duck Republica State Senator Gerald Dial is stepping out and advocating for it.

— While this is one of Democratic candidate for Governor Walt Maddox’s issues, support from legislators switching positions after an election wouldn’t be much of a surprise. They did something similar in 2007 with a pay raise, and in 2015 Governor Robert Bentley advocated for additional revenue after running a campaign saying that very thing would not be necessary.

5. Three percent of U.S. taxpayers pay a majority of taxes in the United States

— A trope from the media and their Democrats is that tax cuts only help the top 1 percent, this is patently false, in fact, the top few percents of the American citizens pay a majority of taxes collected in this country.

— Amazingly, the top 1,409 taxpayers pay more income tax than the bottom 70 million, with expectations in the fiscal year 2018 to be close to $1.7 trillion dollars which surpasses 2017’s collection of $1.5 trillion dollars.

4. The Saudis are ready to admit they had something to do with a journalist’s death

— Saudi Arabia will reportedly admit that they accidentally killed Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi during an interrogation that went south. The alleged claim will be that they were just trying to abduct the journalist from Turkey.

— This all comes less than 24 hours after the President seemed to accept the denial of the leader of the oil-rich kingdom that has made a threat to retaliate against any nation that sanctions them.

3. Governor Kay Ivey has assigned a new chairman of the Alabama Board of Pardon and Paroles and froze paroles for 75 days

— Governor Ivey has issued an executive order that freezes all early paroles for 75 days, which requires the board implement a plan of which Ivey and Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall approve.

— Ivey and Marshall acted yesterday, and for good reason. 100 more violent inmates were set for possible early release before the end of October.

2. President Donald Trump tours areas devastated by Hurricane Michael 

— The President spent the day on the Gulf Coast, taking a helicopter tour of and visiting damaged Panama City and Lynn Haven on the ground where he spoke to survivors and handed out water bottles before heading to Georgia.

— The President praised Alabama’s Governor saying, “She’s in there fighting” as he praised the farmers damaged by the storm, “[T]hinking about our GREAT Alabama farmers…We are with you!”

1. Alabama Senator Doug Jones doesn’t get why people are upset with him over his vote against Justice Brett Kavanaugh

— Speaking to Alabama Public Televsion’s “Capitol Journal”, Jones lashed out at the Alabama Republican Party. Jones said: “This is the same Republican Party who voted for a guy last year – who continued to support someone who ran against me who there were very, very serious and credible allegations. This is a Republican Party that puts party over state, party over country. So, I’m not surprised they put this in political tones. The very thing that I avoided from the beginning, from my standpoint and my standpoint was what mattered to me and my staff – we were not looking at this in political terms.”

— The problem with Jones’ analysis here is that he doesn’t seem to grasp that the state views him as turning their back on them. He supported the wishes of Senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren as opposed to those in the state of Alabama.

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1 year ago

VIDEO: Kavanaugh dooms Senate Democrats, Trump and Ivey’s popularity in Alabama is sky-high, Tay Tay/Yeezy and more on Guerrilla Politics…

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and Dr. Waymon Burke take you through this week’s biggest political stories, including:

— Did the Kavanaugh vote doom Sen. Doug Jones and other red state Democrats?

— Do Governor Kay Ivey and President Donald Trump’s popularity kill any chance for Alabama Democrats?

— Why are Taylor Swift’s and Kanye West’s politics being treated so differently?

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Jackson and Burke are joined by former State Senator Tom Butler to talk about his campaign to reclaim his old seat in November.

Jackson closes the show with a “parting shot” directed at those who can’t call an obvious mob a “mob”.

https://www.facebook.com/YHN/videos/1546555135444844/

1 year ago

2018 POWER & INFLUENCE: 14 powerful and influential leaders in their regions

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politicsbusiness and state government – the men and women who shape the state.

There are also many others who drive politics and policy in their parts of the state. Today, we take a look at 14 people of power and influence in their respective regions.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 4th Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who have utilized their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, October 25 at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the House, pro tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists.

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For more information on the event and to purchase tickets please click here.

North Alabama

David Reed, president, Whitaker Contracting

David Reed has a network of relationships throughout north Alabama that would be the envy of anyone in business and politics. Reed knows all the power players in the region. Or, put more appropriately, all the power players know Reed. An innovator in his industry, Reed has also demonstrated a sincere desire to see the state maximize its potential in education and workforce development. Alabama needs more local leaders like David Reed.

Dale Strong, chairman, Madison County Commission

Dale Strong is one of the most influential people in a part of the state that is growing more powerful year after year. As chairman of the Madison County Commission, Strong has helped set the region up for success by championing infrastructure improvements and streamlining government. Strong is a first-rate operator who continues to build his power base.

Daniel Wilson, shareholder, Maynard Cooper & Gale

One of the behind-the-scenes power players in the booming Huntsville economy, Daniel Wilson is north Alabama’s preeminent operator when it comes to government relations and commercial development. He is now managing shareholder of Maynard Cooper’s offices in Huntsville and Washington, D.C., reinforcing the strong synergy between successful businesses in North Alabama and federal entities in the nation’s capital.


Metro Birmingham

Mike Hale, sheriff, Jefferson County

Mike Hale has become something of an institution in Jefferson County government and politics. He has seen a lot of changes in his two decades as sheriff and has received recognition and numerous awards for his conduct of the office. The size of the county alone makes for significant law enforcement challenges. Hale has shown the type of leadership that helps keep his area of the state moving forward.

Randall Woodfin, mayor, City of Birmingham

Randall Woodfin has enjoyed a swift ascent to the heights of political power in the state’s largest city. Woodfin defeated an entrenched incumbent in 2017 and has not looked back. In fact, since that time, he has shown a remarkable awareness of which policy battles will help elevate his profile in Alabama and beyond. However, nothing amplifies one’s message quite like opposition. So it will be interesting to see if any conservative politicians in the state actively oppose him on any of his public policy positions. Such a scenario could be politically beneficial to both parties involved.

West Alabama

Carl Jamison, chairman, JamisonMoneyFarmer PC

A longtime executive board member and past chairman of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA), Jamison’s power and influence extend far and wide. However, it is magnified in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, where the accounting firm started by his grandfather in 1920 has grown into one of the biggest in the region. Couple this with Jamison serving as treasurer for EDUPAC, which is the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees’ political arm, and you get one of West Alabama’s key cogs.

Cathy Randall, chairman, Pettus Randall Holdings, LLC

The epitome of her alma mater’s “Where Legends Are Made” campaign, Dr. Cathy Randall is a hallmark of the Tuscaloosa area, as well as an icon for female leaders throughout the state. Her incredible resume of service ranges from long-serving as the director of the University of Alabama’s computer-based honors program to advising some of Alabama’s corporate titans. Randall currently serves on the boards of directors for the Alabama Power Company and Mercedes Benz USI.


Montgomery Area

John Mazyck, principal, The Frazier Lanier Company

As the Business Council of Alabama’s Montgomery area district chairman, John Mazyck has a strong voice in who the state’s largest business group supports from his region. Mazyck is a principal in The Frazier Lanier Company and has been heavily involved in corporate and municipal finance deals. His influence only serves to rise given his elevated position on the BCA’s executive committee. Look for Mazyck to assume a position as a statewide player.

Dr. Quinton Ross, Jr., president, Alabama State University

Quinton Ross has been on the job for a little less than a year, and he has already received rave reviews from inside the Alabama State family and from key decision-makers and business leaders at the state level. Historically black colleges and universities are an important part of our state’s history and culture, and ASU is a central part of the community in the Montgomery area. Ross, a former state senator, has infused some much-needed leadership into an institution that had too often been a cauldron of controversy. Ross has put in motion a plan that will allow ASU to reach its potential and benefit all of Montgomery.


Wiregrass

Bill Carr, chairman and managing partner, Carr, Riggs & Ingram

Carr may just be an accountant on paper, but this money man has his hand in much, much more. For its relative size in the Wiregrass, Enterprise is gifted considerable pull, as Carr is one of the first phone calls that top-tier statewide candidates make when fundraising and seeking support. Besides the impressive feat of building one of the twenty biggest accounting firms in the nation out of southeast Alabama, his involvement in the road building industry and advising the likes of the Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA) and the Community College System make him the unquestioned czar of Coffee County.

Mark Saliba, mayor, City of Dothan

The relatively new mayor of Dothan, Saliba is continuing a family legacy of public service and influence in Houston County. His father, Alfred Saliba, served two terms as mayor between 1989-1997 and now Mark, the president of the Alfred Saliba Corporation, is leading the Wiregrass’ largest city with a focus on economic and workforce development. Combined with his chairing of the Home Builders Association of Alabama’s heavy-hitting PAC, Saliba packs a punch from the Peanut Capital of the World.


Gulf Coast

Wiley Blankenship, president and CEO, Coastal Alabama Partnership

Having worked across the state in all areas of economic development since 1996, Wiley Blankenship is perfectly suited to help coalesce coastal Alabama’s diverse portfolio of leaders into one juggernaut of an organization. That is exactly what he is doing as head of the Coastal Alabama Partnership, which is becoming a major factor in local and statewide politics, besides its crucial civic and economic development work.

Angus Cooper, III, president, Cooper/T. Smith Corporation

The Cooper family is a staple of power and influence along the Gulf Coast, and Angus Cooper, III is taking the reins of this legacy in exemplary fashion. Now on the powerful board of the Alabama Power Company, Cooper has been active in the leadership of the Alabama Wildlife Federation and the State Port Authority, in addition to many civic organizations in Mobile. Look for this prominent corporate leader to keep rising.

Elliot Maisel, chairman and CEO, Gulf Distributing Company

Like the benign godfather of Mobile, Maisel sits in his well-appointed office above his beverage warehouse and pulls more strings than most know exist. Through his leadership in the Alabama Wholesale Beer Association, his power and influence are felt throughout the Yellowhammer State. But when it comes to Mobile, he truly is king of the castle, now serving as the powerful chairman of the Airport Authority to boot.

 

1 year ago

2018 POWER & INFLUENCE: Who’s next?

The Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the 50 most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics, business and state government – the men and women who shape the state.

Today, we’re taking a look at a new group of Alabama leaders poised to be part of the next generation of power and influencers.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 4th Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who have utilized their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, October 25 at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, pro tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists.

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For more information on the event and to purchase tickets please click here.

Christian Becraft, director of governmental affairs, Auburn University

As director of Governmental Affairs, Christian Becraft has significant responsibility in the university’s approach to its interactions within state government. This is a position for which she is well-qualified given her previous experience as Governor Ivey’s education policy advisor and her service on the Education Commission for the States.

Chris Beeker, III, state director for rural development, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Agriculture is a $55 billion industry in Alabama. Chris Beeker is the main point of contact between that industry and the critically important U.S. Department of Agriculture. Beeker was appointed to his position by President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Having grown up as part of a family-owned catfish farm and cattle business, Beeker was ready for this important job on day one.

Molly Cagle, director of external affairs, Manufacture Alabama

As the chief lobbyist for Manufacture Alabama, Molly Cagle boasts power and influence well beyond her age already. Besides her sway in policy matters affecting industrial giants in the Yellowhammer State, she is also the go-to staff member for candidates and elected officials wanting the support of JOBS PAC. This former Senate Liaison for Pro Tem Del Marsh will continue rising on the governmental affairs scene for decades to come.

Patrick Cagle, president, Alabama Coal Association

The former director of the JobKeeper Alliance, Patrick Cagle is now standing up for jobs in the state as head of the important Alabama Coal Association. After taking the reins this past spring, he is already making his mark on this vital industry, growing his power and influence along with the association. He is also a mover as a member of the Conservation Advisory Board, the 10-member group appointed by the governor to oversee hunting and fishing policies in the state. Patrick and Molly Cagle are a true power couple on Goat Hill.

Will Dismukes, Republican nominee, House District 88

Will Dismukes is poised to fill an open seat in the Alabama House of Representatives, and he did so by managing his way through a field that included the handpicked Business Council of Alabama candidate and an Autauga County political legend. Dismukes was a two-time All-American pitcher at Faulkner University, and he gained considerable political experience in the Alabama Farmers Federation governmental affairs shop. He is now a small business owner looking to make his mark in Montgomery.

Chris Elliott, Republican nominee, Senate District 32

Chris Elliott is likely the next state senator from the overwhelmingly Republican district 32. Elliott has a diverse business background and has already served a term on the Baldwin County Commission. The gulf coast region is a big part of Alabama’s economy. Elliott’s background and experience should come in handy navigating the treacherous waters of the Alabama Senate.

Garlan Gudger, Jr., Republican nominee, Senate District 4

Garlan Gudger, Jr. is a successful small businessman from Cullman who demonstrated some pretty strong popularity in defeating a two-term incumbent in his Republican primary for the Alabama Senate. That type of mandate from his district and strength of personality should allow him to carve out space for himself in the state senate.

Lance Hyche, owner, Greystone Public Affairs, LLC

Lance Hyche has been able to pull off the difficult challenge of maintaining a lobbying practice and being a campaign consultant. After all, there are only so many hours in a day. Yet, Hyche has an impressive client list in both practices and the wins to match. His years of experience in grassroots campaign and issue outreach have served his clients well and set him up for continued success.

Greg Keeley, managing partner, Dreadnaught

Greg Keeley is a highly sought-after expert on politics, international affairs and cyber-security. He is a frequent contributor on Fox News, Daily Caller and The Hill. During the last year, though, he has been in the unique position of localizing his national profile to Alabama politics. A veteran of combat theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq – with commissions from the U.S. Navy and the Australian Navy – Keeley is able to call on uncommon background and experiences as he grows his new firm Dreadnaught.

Wes Kitchens, Republican nominee, House District 27

Wes Kitchens will likely be representing a north Alabama district in the Alabama House of Representatives. Considering that the last person who held that seat launched themselves toward the lieutenant governor’s office, Kitchens has some pretty big shoes to fill. Kitchens has served as president of his chamber of commerce so his ability to focus on jobs and the economy should help him achieve that end.

Parker Duncan Moore, state representative, House District 4

State Representative Parker Duncan Moore has not even stepped foot onto the house floor yet, but this 29-year-old is already poised to be a player in Montgomery. After winning a special election in May to replace former House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, Moore is set to win a term of his own come November 6. From there, this Decatur-area conservative will look to acquire power and influence over the next four years.

Edward O’Neal, associate, Maynard, Cooper & Gale

Edward O’Neal has become a consistent presence at the Alabama statehouse. As an associate at the high-end law firm of Maynard, Cooper & Gale, O’Neal holds a prominent place in MCG’s governmental affairs practice. He has also been a legal advisor to numerous political campaigns. O’Neal has transitioned well from a decorated academic career into the governmental affairs arena.

Tim Parker, III, president, Parker Towing

Parker Towing has a long, storied history moving freight up and down Alabama’s river system. Tim Parker, III is now a director and president for the company which continues to play a vital role in keeping the state’s economy moving. Also a member of the board of the Alabama State Port Authority, Parker’s involvement in lasting public policy decisions will only increase.

John Rogers, communications director, Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed

After successfully managing a hotly contested race during the 2014 election cycle, John Rogers headed to work in the Alabama legislature where he now serves as communications director for Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed. Rogers is responsible for much of the messaging and materials for members of the Republican caucus in the upper chamber. He is a student of politics and has the profile of someone who will continue to stay in the mix.

Paul Shashy, public affairs specialist, Big Communications

Communications guru, campaign specialist and government affairs consultant, Paul Shashy is a political jack-of-all-trades. His mastery of getting pro-growth, common sense conservatives elected is evidenced by the trust placed in him by the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee (ACJRC), the state’s biggest businesses and top-tier Republican candidates from Senator Richard Shelby to former Senator Luther Strange. Shashy is going to be shaping Alabama elections and influencing the entire political scene for the next half-century.

 

Charlie Taylor, director of government relations, the University of Alabama System

A 2017 graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law, Charlie Taylor has a professional and political resume that would make people twice his age jealous. As the director of Government Relations for the mighty University of Alabama System, he is set to become a household name in Montgomery. With his deep connections to the Birmingham business community and as a Senator Shelby alumnus, Taylor’s star is unquestionably on the rise.

Elizabeth Bloom Williams, owner, EBW Development

In Alabama politics, fundraising is the niche of all niches. Elizabeth Williams has mastered her craft, raising money for the state’s most cash-flush campaigns in recent cycles. Simply put, if you want someone with impeccable organizational skills, unsurpassed know-how and a rolodex only beat by the governor, Williams is the go-to federal and state fundraiser. Look for her power and influence to continue climbing.

 

1 year ago

2018 POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential lobbyists, consultants and economic developers

Today, we introduce the third segment of the 2018 Power & Influence 50 on Yellowhammer News.

Our team has spent weeks talking with key operatives and analyzing recent developments in public policy and politics. The intersection between business and politics in our state is undeniable, and our list is meant to provide you with an inside look at who wields the most power and influence in Alabama state politics.

The list is being released in three segments: business leadersgovernment officials and today’s segment, lobbyists, consultants and economic developers.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 4th Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who have utilized their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, October 25 at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, pro tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists.

For more information on the event and to purchase tickets please click here.

Thank you for being a loyal reader of Yellowhammer News.

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Ginger Avery-Buckner, executive director, Alabama Association for Justice

With quiet efficiency, the Alabama Association for Justice is close to scoring one of its biggest political coups in recent history. With trial lawyer-backed Associate Justice Tom Parker on the cusp of being the state’s Chief Justice, Ginger Avery-Buckner has not only masterfully handled the legislature’s flip from blue to red, but she has reset the table on the traditional “Republican business” vs. “Democrat trial lawyers” judicial battle in the state.

To fully understand how remarkable that is, one must remember that the trial lawyers association not too long ago donated over 90 percent of its campaign contributions to Democrats.

While long-time Democrat groups like AEA were left on the outside looking in after 2010, Avery-Buckner’s stalwart leadership has kept the Association for Justice on the front lines of electoral and statehouse battles alike. They have not just survived, but as Parker’s imminent victory portends, they have thrived in the new Montgomery climate.

Josh Blades, lobbyist, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings

Alabama through-and-through, Sylacauga-born Josh Blades was named the city’s youngest entrepreneur after starting a full-service archery shop at the age of 15. Ever since then, his political star has been on the rise. After running for city council at age 19, being elected student body president in college and earning his political science degree, Blades began to leave his indelible mark on the Yellowhammer State’s political world.

Having served as communications director for a successful Alabama gubernatorial campaign, campaign manager for a successful race for Alabama Republican Party chairman, deputy chief of staff to the governor and chief of staff to the state’s speaker of the house, Blades has already built a resume at his young age that most would envy over a lifetime.

Blades now occupies a position in the private sector with the national law firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, where he is a key member of the firm’s formidable lobbying team. Whether it’s in the executive or legislative branches or a campaign, Blades has the know-how to get the job done right. His place on the power and influence list could easily become permanent for decades to come.

Philip Bryan, partner, Swatek Howe & Ross

Philip Bryan has anchored himself to any list of the most powerful and influential people in Alabama politics. This is a result of the strength of the relationships he has built with those at the summit of power in Alabama, as well as his extraordinary political savviness and boundless energy.

Bryan has now moved into private practice where he is set to become an elite lobbyist. The transition should be seamless for him. Few can match wits with Bryan when it comes to navigating the critical Alabama State Senate. He knows the senators, staff and process possibly better than anyone else in Alabama politics.

Every lobbyist does their best to forge relationships with members of the legislature. However, Bryan’s are next level. In his former position as chief of staff to the Senate president pro tem, Bryan communicated with members in a way and with a frequency that sets him apart from others in his new world.

Based on his pure political talent and meaningful experience, Philip Bryan is among the most powerful and influential.

Brent Buchanan, president, Cygnal

In any industry or profession, you know someone has reached elevated status when references are made to them using only their first name. For pollster Brent Buchanan, that is now the case.

Alabama politicos and insiders can often be heard saying, “Brent has the polling.” Or, upon receiving some polling information, asking, “Is this a Brent poll?”

Buchanan saw an opening in the market for homegrown Alabama polling and took it. He has an impressive client list of candidates, trade associations and corporations, and his company has now expanded beyond Alabama. By the end of 2017, Cygnal had done work in more than 36 states for 170 clients.

In addition, Buchanan has developed a strong relationship with Governor Ivey and her team.

Some have called him Alabama’s Nate Silver, a reference to the renowned statistician. However, Buchanan’s place on this list is a result of all of the data and information he holds. Because, in politics, those in possession of information wield power and influence.

Greg Butrus, partner, Balch & Bingham

Greg Butrus and his place on this list are also a testament to the fundamental principle that information translates to value in politics. For insiders and corporate clients there is tremendous value in being able to consult with Butrus on a myriad of subjects they encounter in the political, regulatory or legislative process.

Butrus has vast knowledge in the areas of campaign finance laws, energy policy, ethics laws, executive branch rulemaking and regulatory affairs. His ability to file away information, opinions, events and random occurrences for later counsel and application is remarkable.

His experience in the Alabama political arena goes all the way back to his days as a staffer for Senator Howell Heflin in Washington, D.C. A conversation with Butrus is as enjoyable as it is edifying.

Butrus may not maintain the type of visibility for which others in Alabama politics work, but his power and influence is understood by those in the know.

Greg Canfield, secretary, Alabama Department of Commerce

As President Trump – and before him, Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh – loves to say, jobs, jobs, jobs. In Alabama, where the economy is booming like never before, it has been Canfield working day in, day out for the last seven years to make this success possible. Now, with Governor Kay Ivey’s pro-growth leadership, Canfield and the Department of Commerce are churning out jobs left and right.

Now, as evidence of his profound success, the biggest challenge for the state’s economy is producing more skilled and qualified workers. Alabama has gone from having a severe jobs shortage to not being able to nearly fill all of the quality jobs currently available. This is a good problem to have, and the governor, supported by trade associations and economic development partners across the state, has a plan to boost the state’s skilled workforce by 500,000 by 2025.

While more cabinet shakeups are expected in the coming months, people around the state will hope that Canfield remains in the position that has become synonymous with his name and his “Made in Alabama” branding campaign. If not, expect Canfield to continue to flex his power and influence in a new arena.

 

Mike Cole, principal, P. Michael Cole, LLC

Mike Cole is the type of behind-the-scenes power player about whom we enjoy informing our readers through the publication of this list. Cole has a client list that includes several of the largest employers in the state of Alabama. Their trust in him to get the job done speaks volumes about his influence and effectiveness in the realm of politics and policy-making.

A lawyer by trade, Cole has an uncommonly diverse governmental affairs practice. He moves about with ease in executive agency matters, regulatory affairs and legislative lobbying. To have the relationships and knowledge in those areas to the extent Cole does makes him a legitimate power player.

Cole has also capitalized on the growth and increased activity of the politically surging north Alabama region. As the area has seen its native sons rise to prominence in offices such as speaker of the house, lieutenant governor and attorney general, Cole’s influence has increased accordingly. And this is why he counts some of north Alabama’s most important entities as his clients and why Mike Cole remains powerful and influential in Alabama politics.

 

Joe Fine, partner, Fine Geddie & Associates

Joe Fine is a perfect exemplar of his alma mater’s “Where Legends Are Made” advertising campaign. A graduate of the University of Alabama both in undergraduate studies and law, the iconic, would-be “Lobbyist Hall of Fame” member perhaps perfected the modern governmental affairs profession in Montgomery.

Since Fine was elected to the first of his two terms in the state senate 48 years ago, governors have come and gone. Powerful associations and alliances have grown and crumbled. The state completely flipped from Democrat-controlled to Republican. However, Fine was through it all, and still is, at the forefront of policy making and political battles that shape the state’s success.

Along with his longtime lobbying partner Bob Geddie (see below), the gentlemanly Fine will be the state’s who’s who of lobbyists until the second he decides he is ready to pass the baton.

 

Bob Geddie, partner, Fine Geddie & Associates

Geddie is not only a top-tier lobbyist and the state House of Representatives specialist for his firm, but he is also a trusted adviser to some of Alabama’s titans of industry and other political power brokers as well.

Corporate executives from across the state have empowered Fine Geddie to doll out their political money through a network of Geddie-controlled political action committees. This includes some of the state’s largest, most successful businesses, in addition to individuals like prominent Power and Influence member Jimmy Rane. Geddie has just this past year added another powerful PAC to his arsenal, with the Auburn Board of Trustees’ Tiger PAW PAC under his chairmanship.

When it comes to the lobbying side of things, legislators of both parties will tell you, “It’s hard to say no to Bob Geddie.” That power of persuasion is a useful tool in the statehouse, which is only aided by Geddie’s meticulous knowledge of the process and the players. He knows every member, every rule and every tactic necessary to pass legislation through the lower chamber.

Geddie is most often seen quietly observing from a small hallway off the main lobby on the fifth floor. From there he can see everyone who comes and goes, and he has ready access to members as they walk to and from the House chamber. Many have tried to emulate Geddie’s tried-and-true formula, but few even compare.

C.J. Hincy, executive director of governmental affairs, Auburn University

A newcomer to the Power and Influence list after being a Who’s Next member previously, Hincy has Auburn’s governmental affairs and political operation humming like perhaps never before. Along with Geddie, Hincy’s counsel has been integral to Tiger PAW PAC’s emergence as a political kingmaker, and the university’s sway in Montgomery is closing in on a peak level, with Governor Kay Ivey as an alumna along with soon-to-be Lieutenant Governor Will Ainsworth.

Hincy, while relatively young for a lobbyist of such power, carries himself like a seasoned veteran. He has been working hard throughout this campaign cycle to make friends and stockpile influence, with his status in the capitol poised to reach an unquestioned top-tier level in 2019. Look for this star to keep rising as Hincy and Auburn plays a major political role in the years ahead.

 

Robbie McGhee, vice chairman, Poarch Band of Creek Indians

The rise of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama politics has reached new heights in recent years, and much of that is because of the work done by Robbie McGhee.

McGhee has built sustainable relationships across the political and ideological spectrum. He has shown a knack for staying above the fray, but also a willingness to engage more forcefully when absolutely necessary.

McGhee has also been instrumental in highlighting the tribe’s commitment to good corporate citizenship with key influential leaders at all levels of state and local government.

His background and experience provide him with the type of authority that catches the attention of policy-makers. McGhee 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.

Robbie McGhee has left no doubt that he is among the most powerful and influential people in Alabama politics.

 

Paul Pinyan, executive director, Alabama Farmers Federation

ALFA, ALFA, ALFA. Need we say more?

While Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell steers the ship, Pinyan, a newcomer to the Power and Influence ranks, is the individual making this political juggernaut fire on all cylinders day-to-day. Coming off of an uber-successful campaign season for ALFA, many are murmuring of the increased role Pinyan took in the organization’s endorsement process and, later, the campaign season.

With a stacked governmental affairs and political team around him – highlighted by former Secretary of State Beth Chapman – Pinyan holds the keys to Alabama’s premier trade association and grassroots network. If you want to win a contested elected in Alabama, whether it is a statewide race or a legislative seat, you need ALFA’s support. And, to get this, you very well might first need Pinyan’s covert backing.

With all of their success this cycle, ALFA’s role in Montgomery, if possible, will be growing even more. At the forefront of this immensely powerful apparatus is Pinyan, and he does not appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.

 

Steve Raby, lobbyist and political consultant

The king of north Alabama, Raby wields power and influence beyond his fiefdom now, serving as his friend and Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon’s political guru and chief advisor.

Like Avery-Buckner on this list, Raby’s guile and vision are affording him a resounding second act in Alabama politics. As a longtime Democratic activist and consultant, he was the Democratic nominee for Congress against Mo Brooks in 2010. A decent first act for sure, but after the GOP sweep, many pronounced Raby’s rise as dead on arrival.

Fast forward six years to when McCutcheon gets elected to serve as speaker. Seemingly out of nowhere, Raby was back on the scene playing a crucial role as a close confidant to one of the most powerful people in the state. Raby is a political animal and, as much as anything, an extra set of eyes that watches the speaker’s back.

Raby also runs the mighty political operation for the House Republican Caucus. This role sees him play a key part in incumbent Republican House members’ campaigns, which just grows Raby’s influence every year.

Clay Ryan, vice president for governmental affairs and special counsel, University of Alabama System

There are some people who walk into a room and you can tell they are in a position of power and influence by sheer presence alone. Clay Ryan is one of those people.

Ryan is a deft communicator who operates among elected officials and corporate executives with equal amounts of ease. And Ryan has put in the requisite work to become a select power player.

He is known for keeping a laser-sharp focus on the issues impacting the University of Alabama System. In representing a large entity like the UA System, a significant amount of time and effort goes into coordinating the work of staff, lobbyists and others protecting his employer’s interests.

When it is time to engage with decision-makers, Ryan has proven to be a determined advocate. His relationships extend to the highest levels of state government. When Ryan calls, they answer the phone, and they listen.

The increased political activity of the UA System in recent years has served to increase successful outcomes and only enhanced Ryan’s power and influence.

Houston Smith, vice president for governmental affairs, Alabama Power Company

Running point on governmental affairs in Montgomery for Alabama Power can be an overwhelming task. That person must be responsible for every piece of the company’s political and public policy agenda at the state level.

Houston Smith has met the challenge.

His ability to call on his years of experience dealing with a wide range of issues inside the company has been key. After several years practicing law, Smith joined the company as director of public relations. Soon, he was promoted to director of corporate affairs with responsibility over federal affairs, corporate relations and other public policy issues.

A difficult hurdle for many corporate lobbyists is being able to effectively communicate the more detailed aspects of their company’s business and how those aspects are affected by public policy decisions. Smith’s knowledge base and uncanny grasp of larger public policy issues, such as trade and economic development, serve him well in this role. As the company’s primary contact with state elected officials and cabinet members, communicating on these types of issues is essential to success.

Houston Smith has firmly secured a place among Alabama’s powerful and influential.

Dave Stewart, senior adviser for government affairs and economic development, Bradley Arant Boult Cummings

Another wunderkind working for Bradley Arant, Dave Stewart has an impeccable resume of his own. After an eye-catching performance as policy director for then-Governor Bob Riley, he was called up to serve as the administration’s Chief of Staff.  This key experience in the state’s executive branch left him with rarified perspective and knowledge, which Stewart has parlayed into his influential role in the private sector.

Stewart has one of the heaviest hitting client lists in the state, built off of not only his first-hand, in-the-trenches experience, but also expansive knowledge of policy and his lasting relationships within the legislature and state agencies big and small.

Stewart is also in the select club of lobbyists who understand both policy and politics. Far too many understand one but scoff at the other. Not Stewart – his elite ability to blend wonkish policy arguments and effective political messaging builds the best strategic approach possible for his clients.

Look for Bradley Arant’s dynamic duo of Blades and Stewart to continue appearing on this list for the foreseeable future.

Sommer Vaughn, partner, Swatek Howe & Ross

Sommer Vaughn is a person with the talent and drive which would have allowed her to choose any profession. Lawyer, doctor, engineer and banker are all well within her capabilities. Instead, she chose to be a lobbyist.

She chose wisely.

If you were forced to pick one person to shepherd your issue or piece of legislation through the Alabama House of Representatives – and you could only pick one – Vaughn would be an astute choice.

The depth and breadth of her relationships in the Alabama House are difficult to match. From the speaker of the house to incoming members who have yet to get sworn in, Vaughn knows the people and the strategies required for success. There are no partisan obstacles for her, either. Vaughn is able to leverage her relationships into influence on both sides of the aisle.

Vaughn is able to bring to bear years of experience working in the legislature and the governor’s office. There is not much that goes on in state government of which she is not aware.

Look for Sommer Vaughn to expand her power and influence in the years to come.

R.B. Walker, director of legislative affairs, Alabama Power Company

Rochester Butler Walker has the kind of name that was custom-made for the Alabama political arena. And, ever since he was a child, he has displayed the type of ambition, confidence and craft that it takes to get to the top.

A former SGA President at the University of Alabama, Walker has already thrived working for two of the state’s most powerful institutions: the Alabama Power Company and the University of Alabama System. Now in his second stint at the Company after leaving his beloved university this past year, at a young age he is not close to reaching the zenith of his political ascent.

With an infectious personality and the cunning intellect to grasp the nuances of any issue, it is really Walker’s unceasing drive that separates him from the pack. He has worked hard his entire life, essentially, to reach the top of the political ladder, and this lobbying machine is still climbing.

Look for Walker to keep building power and influence year-by-year. Who knows? It could land him in the governor’s seat one day.

Steve Windom, partner, Windom Galliher & Associates

If you’re running for high-office in Alabama, there is no better lobbyist to have on your team than former Lieutenant Governor Steve Windom. A fundraising savant, Windom knows which buttons to press and when. His unique, preeminent status as a Montgomery powerbroker stems from the fact that he has done it all himself – whether it is campaign work or being in the legislative trenches, Windom has the first-hand experience that you cannot replicate.

There is also not a craftier operator in Alabama politics than Windom. He is shrewd, charismatic and owns a room when he walks in. But what keeps Windom at the very highest level of power and influence is his unrivaled work ethic. Whether on a weekend, a family vacation or a holiday, Windom never rests.

He is always working, always on. Windom has taken the time to cultivate relationships in every nook and cranny of state government. He knows everyone from the maintenance man at an obscure state agency to the governor of Alabama – and each person in between. Steve Windom forgot more Alabama political secrets this morning than everyone else in the whole state knew to begin with. And he’s not showing any signs of letting up anytime soon.

1 year ago

2018 POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential government officials

Today, we introduce the second segment of the 2018 Power & Influence 50 on Yellowhammer News.

Our team has spent weeks talking with key operatives and analyzing recent developments in public policy and politics. The intersection between business and politics in our state is undeniable, and our list is meant to provide you with an inside look at who wields the most power and influence in Alabama state politics.

The list is being released in three segments: business leaders, lobbyists and consultants and today’s segment, government officials.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 4th Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who have utilized their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, October 25 at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, pro tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists.

For more information on the event and to purchase tickets please click here.

Thank you for being a loyal reader of Yellowhammer News.

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State Rep. Will Ainsworth

Those looking for the next generation among Alabama political figures, look no further than Will Ainsworth.

Ainsworth has already served a full term in the Alabama House of Representatives. Now, he stands ready to expand into a legitimate statewide power base.

Ainsworth is currently the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Having already received nearly 400,000 votes, his profile has quickly elevated across the state and in Montgomery. With only token opposition, Ainsworth is poised to become first in the line of succession to the governor’s office.

He is known for taking strong conservative stands which will continue to endear him to the conservative base in Alabama. He is a former youth pastor with a business background who will be lined up with the electorate on social and fiscal issues.

Ainsworth is forward thinking and has shown that he is not scared to step into the fray. So, expect him to cut out a role for himself in policy debates at the statehouse. This will only increase his power and influence.

State Rep. Steve Clouse, chairman, General Fund Budget Committee

While Steve Clouse hails from the small southeastern Alabama town of Ozark, this veteran state legislator oversees one of state government’s biggest annual headaches – the general fund – for the House. This budget funds the state’s most controversial functions, including Medicaid, prisons and mental health. With all of that thankless responsibility comes considerable power and influence.

Having served in the House since 1995, Clouse has achieved a statesman-like leadership status in the lower chamber. He also helps lead the Wiregrass’ delegation, which is steadily growing in influence with the help of Reps. Donnie Chesteen (R-Geneva) and Paul Lee (R-Dothan). With Alabama’s General Fund Budget always a focal point of attention and political gamesmanship, Clouse figures to be an eminent political player for years to come.

Kay Ivey, governor of Alabama

Governor Kay Ivey has demonstrated raw political power unseen in state politics in quite a while.

In the Republican primary, she received 56 percent of the vote and avoided a runoff in a field of four. To put in perspective how resounding a victory she achieved, her opponents collectively outraised her by nearly $200,000 and still did not come close to holding her under 50 percent.

However, if campaigns are supposed to provide voters with a window into how a prospective officer holder will govern, then Ivey has shown she is a focused, confident leader. She has never strayed from her message and, when confronted with controversy, she responds with a decisiveness and clarity that should be in campaign consulting textbooks.

And we have seen this discipline in her governance. Ivey concentrates on what matters and does not get caught up in meaningless debate.

The state’s economy is roaring under Ivey. She is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump.

And she has the power and influence of executive branch resources at her disposal. Those state agencies affect the lives of every Alabamian in every community.

Most importantly, Ivey connects with people. She connects naturally with people of all backgrounds, ages and geographic locations.

These components are the perfect recipe for success and place Kay Ivey in a truly special position of power and influence.

State Rep. Mike Jones, chairman, House Rules Committee

The chairmanship of the House Rules Committee brings with it substantial clout in the Alabama statehouse. Mike Jones has maximized that opportunity to become one of the building’s key political players.

As chairman of the committee that determines the order of bills taken up each legislative day, Jones has the ability to set legislative priorities, which in turn provides him substantial leverage in dealing with lobbyists as well as his own colleagues.

Jones is a political animal who enjoys the machinations of the statehouse.

He is also just as likely to dive into the details of legislation as he is the House political apparatus.

His chairmanship allows him to have control over the ebb and flow of the debate on the House floor. When legislation gets bogged down, Jones has tremendous leeway in determining its fate. He has a strong voice in whether to move on or fight through.

Jones is among those who may actually see his influence increase during the new term as new members enter the ranks. Look for him to stay on the list of Alabama’s power players.

Del Marsh, Senate president pro tem

Del Marsh is the kind of public servant for which the current electorate craves and our founding fathers envisioned. Marsh originally ran for office simply because his state senator was not responsive to the needs of small business.

Once elected, Marsh became a tireless advocate for smaller government. He is as comfortable in a tree stand as he is a committee room and feels as much at home in his machine shop fabricating gun parts as he does working in a boardroom.

Marsh has built a long record of seeking conservative solutions to the problems facing our state. He led the charge to provide education freedom to Alabama families; he formulated the largest reductions to the size of state government in history, and no one has cut taxes and red tape for small businesses quite like Marsh.

This approach has propelled Marsh into one of the most powerful and influential positions in Alabama politics. As Senate president pro tem, he oversees every aspect of the legislative process in the upper chamber. From committee assignments to legislative priorities to the time of adjournment, Marsh remains in control.

Del Marsh remains one of the most powerful and influential people in state politics for a reason.

 

Steve Marshall, attorney general of Alabama

After Marshall last year was appointed as the 48th attorney general of Alabama, Yellowhammer News wrote, “Marshall will likely meet some formidable opponents when he seeks his first state-wide election in 2018.  His ability to capitalize on the benefits of incumbency may prove he is one to watch in Alabama’s political future.”

Ever since Marshall’s first press conference as the state’s top law enforcement official, the former rural-county district attorney has handled the bright lights of Alabama’s political stage like a seasoned professional. With an even-keel demeanor and a genuinely warm personality, Marshall’s understated charisma is matched only by his legal intellect and political instincts.

Alabama has had a bevy of influential attorneys general in recent decades, with Marshall already making his own mark and then some. And his meteoric rise is not nearly over. He continues to get more and more involved with hot-button national issues such as immigration, abortion and oversight of tech companies, with his power and influence now extending beyond the Yellowhammer State’s borders thanks to a growing number of White House appearances.

 

Mac McCutcheon, speaker of the House

True leaders shine in times of chaos, and Mac McCutcheon’s rise to become Speaker of the House is bested in this department perhaps only by Governor Kay Ivey’s similar achievement in recent years.

One of the nice guys at the statehouse, McCutcheon has garnered power and influence even beyond his lofty position due to the sheer authenticity of his personality. With this comes the trust that legislators have in McCutcheon – if he promises something, you can take it to the bank. For his selfless, lifetime of service to Alabamians and significant contribution to the betterment of our state, McCutcheon this year will be presented with Yellowhammer’s Power of Service award.

With a new quadrennium on the horizon, McCutcheon will find himself in the political spotlight, as proposals regarding prickly issues like new infrastructure funding, the lottery and sports betting are all expected to come before the state legislature. Look for McCutcheon and the legislature’s leadership team to ably navigate several minefields in 2019.

 

State Rep. Bill Poole, chairman, Ways and Means Education Committee

Many refer to Bill Poole as a United States senator in waiting, and you can see why with a quick glance at his historic rise as a freshman legislator to chair the powerful committee in the House tasked with appropriations and revenue sources for the important Education Trust Fund – the state’s budget that handles K-12 and higher education funding.

Not only was his ascent impressive enough, but Poole has proven his merit and more since then, steering the education budget with such machine-like efficiency that you would miss what really sets him apart. When fellow legislators are asked about Poole’s talents, they cannot help but praise his intelligence, drive, vision and savviness. Yet, it’s that undefinable “it” factor that has political pundits and power brokers abuzz – Poole’s genuine, infectious likability.

Whether his future will continue to be in Montgomery or move to Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, Poole will undoubtedly be serving the people of Alabama in exemplary fashion for decades and decades to come.

State Sen. Arthur Orr, chairman, Senate Education Budget Committee

Now in his fourth year as chairman of the Senate Education Budget Committee, Arthur Orr has carved out a particular place of power and influence in state government.

The education budget in Alabama is a $6 billion chunk of money. And those who have any measure of control over state funds have a chance to exercise considerable leverage over policy-making. Orr has seized the opportunity before him.

An exceptionally smart and engaging lawyer by trade, Orr has an attention to detail which allows him to know every single line of the budget and every nook and cranny of state government to which that money flows. Orr makes anyone advocating for even the smallest portion of dollars from the education budget justify the expense.

As a result, other members of the legislature are highly attentive to Orr’s own legislative priorities which, in turn, only expands Orr’s power and influence even further.

Steve Pelham, chief of staff to Governor Kay Ivey

The success of the Ivey administration is undeniable. Governor Ivey has been a commanding figure during the term she filled and will likely enjoy a full term starting in January. However, that type of success for any political figure is a team effort. And the person coordinating that team for Ivey is Steve Pelham.

Pelham is a natural fit for his role as chief of staff to the governor. He is loyal, focused and selfless in his approach. Even though he sits in a position of significant power and influence, Pelham is rarely the subject of interviews or publicity. He understands the need for one voice representing the administration and the distractions that occur when that is not the case.

And, yet, no one outside of Governor Ivey, herself, plays a bigger role in the day-to-day operations of the governor’s office and has a greater say in the long-term vision for the administration.

Pelham has shown near perfect execution of the duties and role of the governor’s chief of staff. The result will be even greater opportunities for him to expand his power and influence in the future.

Greg Reed, Senate majority leader

Leading a majority party in the Alabama legislature is no easy task. It seems with any issue or strategy there will be conflicting motives, ideas, geographical concerns and – yes – egos. Under these conditions, being able to move the body forward toward any objective would seem a nearly impossible task. Furthermore, any person leading that effort leaves themselves vulnerable.

Greg Reed, however, can pull it off. Reed possesses exceptional personal and organizational skills which have helped him keep his caucus on track and still remain a popular figure with his colleagues. Reed is also a dogged competitor who, once his caucus sets off toward an objective, will work tirelessly to see it across the finish line.

Reed’s political career has accelerated at a rapid pace. His skills are a natural fit for Senate leadership. With numerous new Republican senators taking office in the upcoming term, Reed stands to become an even more trusted and influential player in statehouse politics. Greg Reed’s stock is only going up.

State Sen. Jabo Waggoner, chairman, Senate Rules Committee

The road to success in the Alabama Senate travels through the office of Jabo Waggoner.

As chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee, Waggoner sets the daily agenda for his chamber. He has the ability to move legislation forward at the timing of his choice. Or, he can stop a piece of legislation dead in its tracks if he so chooses.

And that is not the only source of his considerable clout.

Waggoner represents the conservative, business-minded district that occupies much of the territory in over-the-mountain Jefferson County. Many of the executives from Alabama’s largest employers live in Waggoner’s district. They are the type of power brokers for which other members of the legislature clamor to represent. And he has always been responsive to the needs of this constituency. A staffer at a large business organization once wrote in a pre-election assessment of Waggoner, “Send me more like Jabo Waggoner.”

The truth is, though, there are no others like Jabo Waggoner. His power, his influence and his legacy are unique in Alabama politics.

State Sen. Cam Ward, chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

Cam Ward was made for politics. He started his career as a congressional staffer before quickly moving on to bigger and better things.

Ward’s victory in a House of Representatives seat in 2002 marked the beginning of a noteworthy career in office. He has served in the Alabama Senate since 2010. His district includes a large part of the areas just south of Birmingham where he remains incredibly popular. Ward has faced very little opposition on the home front his entire time in office. Much of this is a result of his constant work on the local level and his attentiveness to his constituents.

In Montgomery, Ward chairs the all-important Senate Judiciary Committee, which is a committee that takes up more pieces of legislation than any other committee in the chamber. And Ward controls the throttle on all of it.

Ward is hard-working, ambitious and always mindful of every political angle. This, combined with the amount of legislation that falls within his control, makes him a real power player in state government.

1 year ago

2018 POWER and INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential business leaders

(J. Willamor/Flickr)

Today, we introduce the first segment of the 2018 Power & Influence 50 on Yellowhammer News.

Our team has spent weeks talking with key operatives and analyzing recent developments in public policy and politics. The intersection between business and politics in our state is undeniable, and our list is meant to provide you with an inside look at who wields the most power and influence in Alabama state politics.

The list is being released in three segments: elected officials, lobbyists and consultants and today’s segment, business leaders.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 4th Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who have utilized their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Thursday, October 25 at Ross Bridge Resort in Birmingham. Past events attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house, pro tem of the Senate, members of Congress, dozens of state legislators and many of the state’s top executives, lobbyists, opinion leaders and political activists.

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For more information on the event and to purchase tickets please click here.

Thank you for being a loyal reader of Yellowhammer News.

 

Alexia Borden, senior vice president and general counsel, Alabama Power Company

As a key member of the Alabama Power executive team, Alexia Borden oversees all legal matters for the company. Considering the vast reach of the state’s largest utility, this is a heavy responsibility.

Issues such as regulatory compliance, economic development and ongoing and potential litigation all end up in Borden’s office at some point in time and all require a keen understanding of both the legal and the political environment.

Borden’s experience has prepared her well for the general counsel role. She previously served as vice president with responsibility for Governmental Affairs and prior to that was a partner at the prestigious Balch & Bingham law firm.

Relationship-building is a critical trait for corporate general counsels and one that comes easily for Borden. Whether through her relationships with Alabama political figures or the company’s own board of directors, Borden has put herself in a position of significant influence in Alabama politics.

 

Stephanie Bryan, tribal chair and CEO, Poarch Band of Creek Indians

In 2014, Bryan became the first female political leader elected to the position of tribal chair and CEO for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Raised by a single mother, her self-made rise as one of the state’s preeminent leaders is a made-for-movie script of hard-work, grit, determination and faith in God.

Today, Bryan oversees all tribal operations, including government, Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority and the PCI Gaming Authority. The tribe’s economy has grown a stunning 1,000 percent since Bryan began serving as vice-chair in 2006, which is a testament to her savvy and leadership acumen.

Bryan’s portfolio is highlighted by the tribe’s gaming facilities and its $250 million OWA (pronounced oh-wah) complex in Foley, which includes an amusement park and was named by the Alabama Tourism Department as its 2018 attraction of the year.

With a lottery bill on the horizon, look for Bryan to wield ever-increasing influence over the 2019 legislative session and remain an absolute must-visit for candidates on the campaign trail in the years to come.

 

Paul Bryant, Jr.

Paul Bryant, Jr. bears a name that needs little introduction in Alabama lore. Bryant and his legendary family legacy are staples in the Yellowhammer State. Sixty years after his father came to coach in Tuscaloosa, Bryant’s unquestioned power and influence extend into more realms, perhaps, than any individual in the state.

He is one of the state’s most successful businessmen, and his support is a must-have for aspiring political campaigns. His holdings include, or have included, banking, insurance, construction and agriculture. Bryant also possesses the type of well-oiled influence one might expect – and then some – at his alma mater, the University of Alabama. Essential to all of his activity has been a quietly efficient engagement in the state political process.

Observers in every nook and cranny across Alabama admit that Bryant’s influence is as unique as it is mighty. He might wear many hats, but his key to ever-multiplying success is modeled after President Theodore Roosevelt’s famous saying: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

 

Rick Burgess and Bubba Bussey, radio and TV entrepreneurs

During the last 25 years, few Alabama entrepreneurs have enjoyed as much success as have Rick Burgess and Bill “Bubba” Bussey. The pair began with a small radio show in northeast Alabama and have since grown it into a media and marketing empire.

They are now heard on 14 stations from the top to the bottom of the state, as well as through their recent venture on CRTV.

Their business moves have been savvy. But their growth has been built on the trust they have built up with their listeners. For anyone in media, parlaying that trust into advertising is key. And that’s how they have grown their brand.

That same trust also has an impact on their ability to influence the political debate. When Rick and Bubba speak on an issue, their listeners afford them great credibility. When Rick and Bubba endorse a candidate for office, their listeners pay attention.

Rick and Bubba have reached a point of consistent power and influence in Alabama politics.

 

Mark Crosswhite, chairman, president and CEO, Alabama Power Company

There is a quote from Mark Crosswhite on the Alabama Power website that demonstrates why he has been so successful leading his company and also why he is a past recipient of the Yellowhammer News Power of Service Award.

Crosswhite says, “I believe in this company and I believe in this state. We will continue our long tradition of service to the people of Alabama.”

This expressed loyalty to his company and its people and the confidence in the many good things in Alabama, combined with a recognition of the importance of service, provides the bearings that should guide all corporate leaders.

These are the type of values Yellowhammer News seeks to highlight in compiling this list.

That same belief in his state compelled Crosswhite to serve as the driving force in the business community’s successful overhaul of the Business Council of Alabama (BCA). The decisiveness with which Crosswhite handled the changes brought the controversy to a conclusion from which the state’s economy will benefit for years to come.

Running a company that serves 1.4 million customers and employs 7,000 people brings with it significant power and influence. Yet, it is the expression of these traits through action that makes Mark Crosswhite quite possibly the most powerful and influential man in Alabama politics.

 

Johnny Johns, executive chairman, Protective Life Corporation

You simply cannot compile a list of the state’s influential leaders without including this icon of the Alabama business community. Currently serving as executive chairman of Protective Life Corporation, Johns, even while edging towards retirement, still towers at the top of every politician’s wish list of would-be supporters.

Johns first joined Protective as executive vice president and chief financial officer in 1993, when the company’s value was $580 million. By the conclusion of his tenure as president and chief executive officer, Johns had led the company through its $5.7 billion sale to Dai-ichi Life of Tokyo, Japan. The company is one of Alabama’s most historic success stories and continues to operate in Birmingham as the world’s 13th largest insurance company.

While Johns and Protective Life wield nearly omnipotent political power in the Yellowhammer State, their incredible philanthropic and civic accomplishments speak even louder. This is perfectly exemplified by the company’s pledge of more than $23 million in donations to Alabama entities through 2020.

 

Mike Kemp, president and CEO, Kemp Management Solutions

A newcomer to Yellowhammer’s Power and Influence List, Kemp is the type of crafty behind-the-scenes operator that prefers to keep his name out of the limelight. However, this Birmingham business leader has become known in Alabama political circles as a top-notch statesman, peacemaker and leader whose impact can no longer be kept secret.

As president & CEO of Kemp Management Solutions, Kemp is active in the booming construction industry. Having planned and managed more than 1,500 projects valued at more than $6.8 billion, he knows a thing or two about getting the job done. Kemp has been an integral contributor to the crucial Alabama Workforce Council, but his true influence extends beyond construction.

As the second-highest ranking officer in the Business Council of Alabama’s leadership this past year, Kemp is widely recognized as the individual on the executive board who put his foot down and put an end to the dispute between then-BCA CEO Billy Canary and some of the state’s largest companies. Simply put, without Kemp, the state’s business community might not have been able to put the pieces back together.

 

Terry Lathan, chairman, Alabama Republican Party

The effervescent and omnipresent chair of the Alabama Republican Party, Terry Lathan has led a tremendously successful conservative movement in the state. In three years as chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party, Lathan has presided over a party that dominates state politics.

Under her supervision in 2016, the party delivered a landslide victory for President Donald Trump in the Heart of Dixie. Now, she stands at the center of midterm efforts to quash the attempted “Blue Wave” in Alabama and, looking ahead, is already revving up the party’s machinery to defeat Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook) in 2020.

Despite the many challenges that have been thrown at Lathan, the ALGOP is at its highest electoral standing in state history. Just this year, the party adopted its first-ever state platform, ensuring Lathan will be at the forefront of policy discussions as the legislature begins a new quadrennium.

 

Jimmy Parnell, chairman, president and CEO, ALFA Insurance Companies and Alabama Farmers Federation

Words cannot do justice to ALFA’s unparalleled influence on Alabama’s elections. From state House races to the Governor’s Mansion, the Alabama Farmers Federation has a quiet chokehold on elections big and small. While they pick and choose which candidates to get behind, ALFA is the bellwether trade group – if you get ALFA’s support, it’s your race to lose.

At the helm of this dominance is Parnell, a fifth-generation Chilton County farmer with a degree in agricultural business and economics. He is a partner in his family’s beef cattle and timber business and his long history within the Federation spans more than 20 years. The state’s farmers are his extended family, and he is a tireless advocate when it comes to the interests of those he serves. There is no greater friend, and no mightier adversary, to have in Alabama politics than Parnell.

 

Joe Perkins, founder and principal, Matrix, LLC

A man, a myth and a political legend –  where can you even begin with Joe Perkins? The visionary founder and leader of the nerve-inducing consulting firm, Matrix, LLC, Perkins has done and seen it all in his storied career.

While most Democratic consultants have changed skins since Republicans took control in 2010, Perkins has survived, and even thrived, by sheer force of will and maintaining a political operation unrivaled in organization, guile and influence.

While the AEA’s demise has shrunk one of his former calling cards, Perkins efficiently remains one of Alabama Power’s most trusted strategists. With the state party’s incompetence, Perkins is the only real Democratic power structure left in the state worth talking about. As his recent work to get Doug Jones elected and now piloting Walt Maddox’s gubernatorial bid shows, Perkins displays no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

 

Jimmy Rane, chairman and CEO, Great Southern Wood Preserving

What can you say about a man who has it all? Besides being Alabama’s richest man, Rane may have the most widely known nickname around – the “Yella Fella.” It comes as little surprise that Rane’s power and influence commands the type of respect normally reserved for dignitaries of the highest order, with politicians near and far wanting an audience with the venerable business leader and philanthropist.

Called the Sam Walton of the small, southeastern Alabama town of Abbeville, Rane has not only sustained his community in the Wiregrass, but his support of his cherished alma mater Auburn University has been crucial to growth on the Plains. He has served as president pro-tem of the Board of Trustees and the Jimmy Rane Foundation has given over 250 college scholarships. Now, he is a vital part of Auburn’s ramped up governmental affairs efforts, with the emerging Tiger Paw PAC ready to roar.

 

Quentin Riggins, senior vice president for Governmental and Corporate Affairs, Alabama Power Company

The reforms and leadership changes enacted at the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) amounted to the most significant political move of the previous 12 months. And if Mark Crosswhite was the driving force behind the business community’s overhaul of the BCA, then Quentin Riggins was the mastermind behind the effort.

The BCA controversy presented a unique dilemma for the business community and those seeking reform because it was an insider’s game but with a far-reaching impact. What may have involved a relatively small amount of people would have a tremendous effect on creating and maintaining a climate for job retention and growth, economic development and industrial recruitment.

Under those conditions, Riggins proved to be the only person who could put together the type of effective strategy to bring about the necessary reforms.

Riggins leveraged his background in state government, prior experience at the BCA, superior political relationships and extensive business community knowledge to put together a workable plan that would not only bring about leadership changes but also reform the organization’s entire structure.

To chart the course for such a major shift at the state’s largest business organization shows why Riggins sits on any list of Alabama’s most powerful and influential.

 

Britt Sexton, CEO Sexton, Inc., CEO of FS Financial, Inc., managing member of Sexton Investments, LLC

Any politico worth their salt knows that Sexton is in the very upper echelon of Alabama power players. As a member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees, Sexton has carved out a lofty role that many aspire to, yet only dozens reach.

Behind the scenes, Sexton has methodically played a key part in waking the sleeping political giant that is the UA System. Due in large part to his leadership, now there are only a handful of political apparatuses in the Yellowhammer State that breath the same rarified air of influence as the boys in Tuscaloosa.

As one of the state’s most successful investors, with business interests ranging from financial services and private equity to software and real estate, the Decatur-based Sexton has also become one of north Alabama’s most notable philanthropists and civic leaders.

His drive to make Alabama a better place for future generations burns bright, and while many other power players of his stature are in the twilight of their careers, Sexton still has decades ahead of him.

 

Gary Smith, president and CEO, PowerSouth

If there are jobs being created in south Alabama, it is highly likely that Gary Smith and his PowerSouth team are playing an integral role. And because of this, Smith maintains an important part of the policy-making process in Montgomery.

PowerSouth is an ambitious energy cooperative with its headquarters in the Wiregrass. It was formed in 1941 and provides energy for members who serve 39 Alabama counties. The amount of communities to which PowerSouth connects in those counties puts it in touch with elected officials and political players at every level of government.

With that comes measurable influence. And it all funnels to Smith.

Now that Alabama’s economy is picking up speed, expect to see Smith and PowerSouth an even larger part of the conversation.

 

Zeke Smith, executive vice president of External Affairs, Alabama Power Company

It seems as if there are some people that are natural born leaders. Zeke Smith is one of those people. As the leader of Alabama Power’s vast external affairs division, Smith must lead a team comprised of too many people to count and dealing with so many different issues there is not space to list them.

Whether it is legislative policy-making, state agency rulemaking, regulatory issues, economic development or public relations, all fall within Smith’s responsibility. And his unequivocal success in these areas has created a wide base of power and influence.

None of this would be possible without Smith possessing the traits of executive leadership that he does.

His demeanor, unmatched knowledge of the business and sharp communications skills are evident to those who meet him. Like other successful executive leaders, these are a product of that careful balance between confidence and humility, focus and vision, knowledge and delegation and firmness and understanding.

Smith’s leadership skills, and the results it has produced, have given him heightened credibility across the political spectrum and in different business sectors. Power and influence have followed.

 

Finis St. John, IV, interim chancellor, the University of Alabama System

From his downtown office in Cullman, attorney “Fess” St. John wields power that extends far and wide.  For years, he has been perhaps the most influential member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. His know-how and vision were affirmed just months ago when he was named as interim chancellor to replace the retiring chancellor Ray Hayes. His passion for the UA System and its multi-campus setup is also evidenced by his newfound position of trust, as St. John is serving as chancellor in an unpaid capacity.

While his fierce advocacy for the system and his visionary leadership work wonders behind the scenes, St. John’s humility looms even larger than his considerable influence. His humble nature might stem from his long family history in Alabama politics, as St. John’s father served as president pro tem of the senate in the late 1970s. Under Fess’ watchful eye, his family legacy and his beloved UA System could not be in better hands.

 

John Turner, president and CEO, Regions Bank

Only one Fortune 500 company is headquartered in Alabama: Regions Bank. As president and CEO, John Turner leads a company that has $125 billion in assets. This looks like a daunting task for anyone. However, Turner has prepared for this his entire career.

Turner has experience in the Alabama banking community going all the way back to his days at AmSouth Bank where he held senior consumer, commercial and business positions. He also served as president of Whitney National Bank in 2008. Turner joined Regions in 2011 when he became president of the critically important south region of Alabama, Mississippi, south Louisiana and Florida Panhandle.

Turner now oversees the massive multi-state operation of Regions, including more than 200 branches in Alabama. With that connection to so many communities around the state, Turner and his company have seats at the table in Montgomery and beyond. As a result, Turner’s power and influence will remain formidable.

 

Tim Vines, president and CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama

Few industries are forced to engage so closely in the political and policy-making process to the extent of the health insurance industry. Under the leadership of Tim Vines, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama has successfully continued that engagement.

Vines took over this year as President and CEO after 24 years with the company. His knowledge of the business, its mission and its operation are fully ingrained in his leadership approach.

However, Vines also knows Alabama. Originally from LaFayette, Alabama, and a graduate of Auburn University, Vines serves on boards for the American Red Cross Alabama Region, the Better Business Bureau of Alabama and Samford University.

In addition, Blue Cross and Blue Shield is one of Alabama’s largest job-creators, employing thousands of people throughout the state and providing insurance to nearly 3 million. It is one of the few companies in the state that operates in all 67 Alabama counties.

That type of reach across Alabama, and a strong understanding of its people, places Tim Vines squarely on any list of the most powerful and influential in Alabama politics.

 

1 year ago

Alabama veteran shares about his time in ‘America’s Last Frontier’

James Kuppersmith sat down with Ford Brown of “The Ford Faction” and discussed his time in Alaska from the perspective of an Alabamian.

James is a veteran and was stationed in Alaska, where he met his wife. It turns out they were both from Alabama and ended up meeting back in Alabama just a few years later.

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Ford and James cover everything from nightless days to the wildlife you always have to watch out for.

James shares how the modernization of Alaska takes so long because so many things there are protected or might have a negative environmental impact.

Subscribe to the Yellowhammer Radio Presents The Ford Faction podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

1 year ago

Strong like Samson, tough like Benaiah and wise like Solomon -Thomas Cox reveals his plan for himself and raising his kids

(MealFit/YouTube)

Finding the time to do everything in a day is tough, but Thomas Cox shared his secrets on “The Ford Faction.”

In this episode, Thomas Cox from Mealfit.co discussed where his parenting techniques come from and how he finds time to execute them. He breaks down the processes he does with each of his children.

First, he teaches them to be strong like Samson. He wants his kids to be strong in many ways: mentally, physically, socially and spiritually.

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Second, Thomas wants his kids to be tough like Benaiah.

He said, “Toughness is one of the biggest parts of our lives we have to get better at so we can adapt to what’s happening around us.”

Finally, you have to be wise like Solomon.

Thomas told host Ford Brown, “I think if you’re not spending a lot of your day on self-development, you are missing the boat.”

Subscribe to the Yellowhammer Radio Presents The Ford Faction podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

1 year ago

Former Sheriff David Clarke slams Randall Woodfin for not recognizing federal laws in Birmingham sanctuary city debate

(G. Skidmore/Flickr)

Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke appeared this week on “The Ford Faction” to discuss protecting George H. W. Bush on the tragic day of 9/11.

He goes on to discuss Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin calling Birmingham a “welcoming city” that will not work with ICE.

Clarke explains that according to federal law, it is illegal to not enforce federal immigration laws. He says mayors and politicians are subject to federal prison when they don’t enforce federal laws in place.

The frequent Fox News Channel guest tells host Ford Brown that he wonders why mayors are not being charged by the US Attorney’s Office for not enforcing federal laws.

Clarke predicts that the only way to reverse the trend is to make sure the voters turn out to vote.

In conclusion, the former sheriff gives a quick “Roll Tide.”

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1 year ago

Alabama’s new $25 million investment fund for start-up companies

(M. Hottle/Facebook)

Matt Hottle joined “The Ford Faction” Thursday from Birmingham, and works for the Alabama Futures Fund (AFF).

AFF has closed a $25 million early-stage venture capital fund, launching the largest seed-stage investment fund in Alabama history.

According to Hottle, AFF will focus its investments in companies across a broad range of industries that exhibit the potential for high growth. AFF is focused on developing a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Alabama and will only invest in companies that are headquartered in, or willing to relocate to, the state of Alabama.

The fund was conceived to address Alabama’s historically low ranking in funding for early-stage startups. AFF will add meaningful capital to the burgeoning Alabama startup ecosystem while helping to close the funding gap that has hindered startup activity and economic growth in Alabama.

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1 year ago

Tickets now available for Yellowhammer Multimedia 4th annual Power of Service reception

(YHN)

Yellowhammer Multimedia announced today that tickets are now available for the 4th annual Power of Service reception. The event – which has sold out every year – will take place Thursday, October 25 at the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa.

This event honors the Yellowhammer Power & Influence 50 who have leveraged their stature to make a positive impact on Alabama. The Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the most powerful and influential players in Alabama politics and business, from elected officials and governmental affairs pros to CEOs and economic development heavyweights.

“This year’s list is a true reflection of Alabama’s evolving power structure,” said Yellowhammer Multimedia Editor and Owner Tim Howe. “With our audience engagement at an all-time high, we have received input from across the state that led to an exceptional number of nominees.”

The much-anticipated list of 2018 awardees will be revealed October 1. It will showcase both the state’s most prominent political and economic leaders, as well as several behind-the-scenes power players.

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In addition to the list of 50, two special honorees are selected for the prestigious Power of Service award for their generous contributions to improving our state. This year will honor Alabama House of Representatives Speaker Mac McCutcheon and renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Swaid Swaid of the Swaid Clinic.

“While the Power & Influence 50 list is a great reason to celebrate, our two Power of Service honorees exemplify a lifetime of service to the people of Alabama,” said Howe. “Dr. Swaid and Speaker McCutcheon have chosen to utilize their positions of leadership to serve others for the good of the state. We expect another sellout crowd this year to commemorate all of our awardees.”

In previous years, Power of Service Awardees include Protective Life Executive Chairman John D. Johns, Alabama Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Great Southern Wood Preserving founder Jimmy Rane, Alabama Power Company Chairman, President and CEO Mark Crosswhite, U.S. Representative Gary Palmer and Alabama State Senator Jabo Waggoner.

Opportunities to sponsor this event are available. For more information email events@yellowhammernews.com

1 year ago

The Hollywood Conservative Amanda Head: ‘What has Colin Kaepernick really sacrificed?’

Amanda Head, the Hollywood Conservative, wasted no time blasting off on the Brett Kavanaugh hearings over the interruptions, stunts and news over the past week.

Amanda said she thinks Kavanaugh will be ready to go by October 1. She then goes into another gear about how In & Out is getting pushback after they donated to both political parties. Next, she weighs in on the NY Times Op-Ed from their anonymous source. Finally, she tries to figure out what Colin Kaepernick has actually sacrificed.

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Head’s segment, The Final 30, is brought to you by McCutcheon Engineering: Professional Engineering Consulting Services

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Subscribe to the Yellowhammer Radio Presents The Ford Faction podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

1 year ago

Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale lays out his two-part plan to ensure safety in Jefferson County schools (AUDIO)

(M. Hale/Facebook)

Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale joined Ford in studio Wednesday and laid out his plan to ensure safety in Jefferson County Schools.

Hale said he wants to see the safest county schools in the nation in Alabama.

His plans include placing a School Resource Deputy (SRO) in every Jefferson County school – elementary, middle and high – and forming an assessment team within the School Resource Division to identify students who exhibit specific behavioral patterns that may indicate a need for assistance.

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Mike Hale said, “Tactical response in schools is different. You have children, you need the proper ammunition, you have to have the proper tacticle plan and our plan not only put a deputy sheriff in every school but it says we think that important in Jefferson County.”

He added, “The mental health component is a big component of the success.”

Jefferson County Schools will set the precedent for leading the nation in school safety.

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1 year ago

Alabama Power works to keep the electricity running through any storm (AUDIO)

(Alabama Power/Facebook)

Michael Sznajderman, spokesman for Alabama Power called in today to explain the preparation that goes into hurricane season for Alabama Power.

It is no small ordeal as they were ready to go with sister companies such as Georgia Power and Mississippi Power ready to help out and in turn do the same for them.

He stated that thought it was not a large storm, “48,000 customers across the state were affected” out of the 1.4 million customers they serve in Alabama.

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“At the peak of the storm, there were 25,000 without power, however, now that number is down to 7,800 now without power,” said Sznajderman.

Alabama Power has been chipping away at those numbers since first light today and will continue to work.

Host Ford Brown went on to ask when does the company turn their attention away from the hurricanes and onto other potential storms around the state, which Sznajderman replied, “We are always watching out for the state no matter what is going on at our state, but November we switch to tornadoes and snowstorms.”

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