5 years ago

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

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

This year’s list is being released in three segments: Government officials and politicians, lobbyists and consultants, and today’s segment, business leaders.

Don’t miss Yellowhammer’s 2nd Annual Power of Service reception honoring the men and women on the Power & Influence 50 list who leverage their stature to make a positive impact on the state. The event is set to take place Friday, May 13th at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Mountain Brook. Last year’s event attracted a who’s who of Alabama politics and business, including the Governor, Lt. Governor, Speaker of the House, Pro Tem of the Senate, numerous 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 click here and to purchase tickets click here.

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Rick Burgess, nationally syndicated talk radio host, Rick & Bubba Show

As the only media personality on the Power & Influence 50, Burgess is a unique fit among the state’s business elite. He and his co-host, Bill “Bubba” Bussey, have built a radio empire that gives them an unmatched platform to entertain listeners across Alabama and beyond, as well as advance their Christian, conservative worldview and political agenda.

Burgess represents the duo on the Power & Influence list because he has shown a greater willingness to throw his weight behind political candidates in recent years, most notably Congressman Gary Palmer, whom Burgess helped propel into office with a giant wave of ads featuring his endorsement. He has also become one of the state’s most outspoken opponents of gambling expansions of any kind.

Candidates will be lining up to garner Burgess’s backing in the years to come, but he’s already proven to be very picky when it comes to supporting politicians. That makes his endorsement even more valuable.

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Mark Crosswhite, CEO, Alabama Power Company

Crosswhite is now two years into his tenure atop the Power Company and continues to impress with his exacting approach to both internal company operations and governmental affairs.

APCO’s operation is so vast that almost every state policy has the potential to affect their business in some way. For that reason, the company has been an active player for decades in every nook and cranny of state government — from the county and municipal levels up to the legislative and executive branches.

Crosswhite served as Alabama Power’s Executive Vice President of External Affairs for almost three years; then became CEO and President of Gulf Power, another Southern Company subsidiary. He was then Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Southern Company from mid-2012 until March of 2014 when he became CEO of Alabama Power at the age of 50.

With seemingly limitless resources, Crosswhite and Alabama Power wield influence on a level that most others — including many on this list — can only dream of.

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Garry Neil Drummond, CEO, Drummond Coal

The Drummond family built a multinational coal juggernaut off of a $300 loan from Walker County Bank in Jasper, Alabama, using three mules as collateral on the note.

As the third generation CEO (he took over the company in 1961 and spurred it on to previously unfathomable heights), Mr. Drummond has endured the Obama administration’s wrath to an extent that few Americans can even imagine.

No other industry in America has been the target of such fierce opposition from the government, but Drummond has thrived by diversifying his company’s holdings and continuing to run one of the most efficient mining operations in the world.

Forbes ranks him as Alabama’s wealthiest individual, which means he is one of the few Alabama businessmen who routinely gets courted by national politicians. Presidential candidates have been known to carve out chunks of entire days to try to get on Mr. Drummond’s calendar for a meeting.

For most businessmen it works the other way around. Drummond’s in a league of his own in the Yellowhammer State. He doesn’t just work for a giant company — he is a giant company.

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Joe Espy, President, Melton Espy & Williams PC

Espy is the preeminent criminal defense attorney in Alabama and the first call when almost any top tier political figure needs legal counsel. When it comes to needing the type of representation Espy provides, there are no party lines. He has represented Democrats and Republicans alike. He currently reps the governor, which means he will likely be omnipresent in political circles for the foreseeable future.

On top of his highly successful law practice, Espy is also a University of Alabama Trustee, placing him in rarified air among the state’s business elite.

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Grayson Hall, CEO, Regions Bank

Hall has banking in his bloodstream. There was little doubt where he was headed after earning his MBA at the University of Alabama and later graduating from the Stonier School of Banking. He has been working his way up since then and now helms the largest publicly traded company in Alabama.

He is a fierce believer in the concept of “shared value,” which is essentially the idea that all company initiatives should create value in some way for its customers, employees, shareholders and communities. That approach has earned Regions the best reputation among banks nationally, up from No. 19 just a few years ago.

In addition to his enviable position atop Regions, Hall also serves on a handful of other influential boards of directors, including Alabama Power’s.

Every ambitious politician from Alabama or passing through the state — from members of Congress to presidential candidates — has Hall on their call list.

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Johnny Johns, Chairman, President and CEO, Protective Life Corporation

The soft-spoken CEO of Protective Life Corporation has an unrivaled rolodex and intense desire to leave the state of Alabama better than he found it. Under Johns’ leadership, Protective has been a philanthropic powerhouse in the Birmingham community. After merging with Tokyo-based Dai-ichi Life Insurance Co. last year, the newly combined companies donated a stunning $4.1 million toward initiatives that will impact medical research, education and culture in Alabama for many years to come. This year the company donated $500,000 toward to the UAB Athletic Foundation’s $15 million goal for a proposed Football Operations Building.

Johns is on numerous influential boards of directors, including Regions Financial Corporation, Southern Company and the University of Alabama System.

His influence on Alabama’s political landscape extends back to the mid-90s when he and a group of powerful businessmen put together a successful effort to flip Alabama’s courts — which had become known as “tort hell” — to Republican control. He was also a major contributor to the 2010 effort to end 136 years of Democratic control in the Alabama legislature.

Johns is one of the first calls for any aspiring statewide candidate.

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Terry Kellogg, CEO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama

Kellogg has spent three decades with BCBS, rising up through the ranks to become the company’s CEO in 2010. He has earned a reputation for being brilliant and not scared to tell it like it is. BCBS of Alabama maintains the largest market share of any health insurer in the country.

Under Kellogg’s leadership, BCBS has been one of the most politically active companies in Alabama, maintaining a strong presence at the Statehouse and actively engaging in a wide variety of policy issues. He has guided the company well through the tumultuous implementation of ObamaCare.

Kellogg told the Birmingham Business Journal last year that his leadership style is inspired by Dwight Eisenhower.

“Eisenhower was on the ground everywhere,” he said, “present all the time and accessible.”

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Thomas M. “Tommy” Lee

Lee is president and CEO of Vulcan, Inc., an aluminum manufacturer based in Foley, and he’s got over four decades of south Alabama business and political connections at his disposal. He is a former Chairman of the South Baldwin Chamber of Commerce and a past winner of the Walton M. Vines Free Enterprise Person of the Year.

He is making his first ever appearance on the Power & Influence 50 this year due in large part to his ascendance to the chairmanship of the Business Council of Alabama, a powerful voice representing the statewide business community’s interests before state government.

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John McMahon, Chairman, Ligon Industries

McMahon is the kind of industrialist who would fit right in in the pages of an Ayn Rand novel — a legendary investor in the Alabama business community whose holdings span diverse industries and dot the U.S. map. He is also on numerous influential boards of directors, including Protective Life Insurance Corporation, ProAssurance Corporation, National Bank of Commerce, Cooper/T. Smith Corporation and UAB Health Systems.

He keeps his head down and avoids the spotlights, but anyone in the know understands just how influential he has been and continues to be in Alabama politics. He was a key player in the business community’s revolt against “tort hell” in the mid-90s, a movement whose impact continues to ripple across Alabama’s economic landscape. Since then he has been a powerful ally for numerous powerful politicians, including state legislators, members of congress and presidential candidates.

When McMahon calls, everyone answers.

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Claude B. Nielsen, CEO, Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc.

Claude Nielsen joined Coca-Cola Bottling Company UNITED, Inc. in 1979 and has been the company’s CEO since 1991. Under his direction, Coca-Cola UNITED has become the largest privately held Coca-Cola Bottler in the United States and is the 7th largest privately held company in Alabama.

He flexed his muscle politically last year by personally making calls to lawmakers in an effort kill a proposed soda tax increase. One legislator who was on the fence about the issue told Yellowhammer, “Once he called, I was a ‘no,’ end of discussion.”

That’s the level of influence that has propelled Nielsen onto this year’s Power & Influence 50.

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Craft O’Neal, Chairman and CEO, O’Neal Industries

O’Neal runs Birmingham’s second largest private company, a $2.5 billion per year juggernaut that employs roughly 370 people in the Magic City alone.

The O’Neal name is golden in Alabama business circles. His grandfather founded O’Neal Steel, which is now O’Neal Industries, and his father ran the company for many years as the younger O’Neal worked his way up and ultimately succeeded him as chairman and CEO.

O’Neal flexed his muscle this past year by helping pull together a group of Birmingham heavyweights to resurrect UAB football. With O’Neal playing a key role, the group navigated a labyrinth of political challenges and ultimately succeeded, a result that could have a profound impact on the Birmingham community for decades to come.

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Jimmy Parnell, President, CEO and Chairman, Alfa

Simply put: Parnell is a great American.

He was driving a tractor when he was five and managing his family farm’s payroll by age 12. His subsequent success in private business (he’s a partner in his family’s beef cattle farm and timber business) and deep farming background (he’s a fifth generation farmer) prepared him for his current role as CEO of Alfa, an organization whose agriculture and insurance interests make them one of the top players in Alabama’s economic and political landscape.

There isn’t an organization in the state that can touch Alfa’s grassroots capabilities. When their members get engaged on an issue or back a candidate, it matters. Their governmental affairs team is one of the largest and most active on Goat Hill.

It is hard to believe there was a time prior to Parnell’s tenure when Alfa was behind the curve in adjusting to Republican control after the 2010 election cycle. With Parnell at the helm, they’re not behind the curve on anything — ever.

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Jimmy Rane, CEO, Great Southern Wood Preserving Incorporated

Alabama’s preeminent entrepreneur built a multinational lumber empire from the tiny town of Abbeville, then devoted his resources to sustaining and developing his hometown’s economy and culture. As a result he is beloved by the local community and revered by his employees.

Rane, who is commonly known as the “Yella Fella” after portraying that character in popular Yellawood TV commercials, now owns and runs the largest lumber treatment company on the planet.

Politically, Rane has long been one of the Republican Party’s most influential supporters, even while Democrats held total sway over the state. He was a major financial backer of the GOP’s successful effort to takeover the legislature in 2010, and remains a close ally of legislative leadership.

He is the most influential member of the Auburn University board of trustees, currently serving as president pro tem.

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Britt Sexton, CEO, Sexton Inc.

Anyone who can position himself as a vocal leader on the University of Alabama Board of Trustees must have some serious juice. Behind the scenes, Sexton has been a major part of waking the sleeping political giant that is the UA System.

He is one of the state’s most successful investors, with business interests ranging from financial services and private equity to software and real estate.

His financial resources have allowed him to become one of north Alabama’s most significant philanthropists.

And when it comes to politics, any ambitious politician would do well to try to enter his orbit, because while many other power players of his stature are in the twilight of their careers, Sexton has decades ahead of him.

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Gary Smith, President & CEO, PowerSouth

Smith has really shepherded a new era at PowerSouth. The company has gone from a small co-op at odds with the state’s largest utility, to a major statewide player in economic development and energy policy and a partner with Alabama Power.

Their influence will continue to grow in the political space with the founding of the The Energy Institute of Alabama, an advocacy group aimed at promoting the state’s energy sector that is being chaired by PowerSouth VP Seth Hammett.

Smith has put together a good team with a mix of veterans and young talent. This is his first year on the Power & Influence 50. Expect him and his company to continue to rise in the years to come.

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Zeke Smith, Executive Vice President of External Affairs, Alabama Power Company

There has been a lot of internal shuffling at Alabama Power in recent months, which has actually allowed Smith — a longtime member of the Power & Influence 50 — to consolidate power with regard to the company’s enormous external affairs operation.

He has drawn rave reviews for his leadership on the Alabama Workforce Council, an organization that is leading the effort to redesign the state’s workforce development initiatives and prepare the next generation to compete in the global marketplace. Smith was personally tapped by the governor to spearhead the group, just one example of his stature in the upper echelons of Alabama’s political and business structure.

He is one of the few individuals whose political network and influence is felt in both Montgomery and Washington. Whether you’re a freshman state legislator or a long-time United States senator, you want Smith in your corner.

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Finis St. John, IV, Attorney

“Fess,” as he is known, is perhaps the most influential member of the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and currently serves as the System’s Athletic Chair. He has been a fierce proponent of the UA System’s multi-campus setup. Most recently he has been the driving force behind the UA System getting more involved in federal and state governmental affairs, an initiative that could change the state’s political landscape in profound ways.

St. John’s family has a long history in Alabama politics. His father served as president pro tem of the senate in the late 1970s.

Today he and his wife run a highly successful law firm in Cullman. They are the only husband-wife pair who are members of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which is a big deal in the legal community.

St. John is Chairman of the Board of Directors for Southern Community Bankshares and First Community Bank and also is Chairman of the Board of Directors and co-founder of Cullman Environmental.

He has carved out an influential space for himself, in spite of not being based in the traditional power centers of Birmingham or Montgomery.

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Lee Styslinger, III, CEO, Altec Inc.

From Birmingham, Styslinger runs an electric and telecommunications equipment manufacturer whose products can be found getting work done in over 100 countries.

His political influence, similar to his business interests, expands outside of Alabama. He is among the first Alabamians any aspiring Republican presidential candidate will try to get on the phone. When Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney came to Alabama, Styslinger was their guy. When Jeb Bush sought an Alabamian to activate his giant fundraising base in the state, Styslinger is the man he tapped to do it.

He is a member of the extremely powerful Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs of major U.S. corporations, and of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Perhaps most impressively in sports crazed Alabama, Styslinger is a member of the Augusta National Golf Club and part of the Masters Tournament Committee.

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Mike Thompson, CEO, Thompson Tractor

When it comes to infrastructure projects in the state of Alabama, few people are as engaged as Thompson, whose machines have helped build an unfathomable number of miles of highway in the Yellowhammer State.

He was one of the key financial backers of the Republican takeover of the state legislature in 2010, and on the national level he is a coveted “bundler” for presidential candidates, most notably the Bushes.

Thompson has been known to call state lawmakers into his office to personally persuade them to support legislation he cares about. They usually get on board quickly.

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Dr. Robert Witt, Chancellor, University of Alabama System

The UA System is Alabama’s largest employer and the umbrella organization for the state’s most iconic institution. That alone would make Witt one of the most influential individuals in the state, but in the same way he executed an unprecedented growth strategy in his previous post as president of the System’s flagship university, he is now taking the System’s political influence to new heights as well.

With the teachers union crippled, Witt and his allies on the UA Board saw an opportunity to fill the power vacuum with an advocacy group focused on education outcomes, rather than just teacher benefits. Witt now chairs Alabama Unites for Education, and is building out a multi-pronged political operation that includes lobbying, grassroots advocacy and candidate recruitment and support.

Witt is one of the few individuals whose influences touches all of Alabama’s “big three” — politics, business and sports.

5 hours ago

Gov. Kay Ivey signs bill into law allowing alcohol delivery in Alabama effective later this year

MONTGOMERY — Governor Kay Ivey on Monday signed into law SB 126, which will legalize the home delivery of alcohol in the state of Alabama effective October 1, 2021.

Sponsored by Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) and Rep. Gil Isbell (R-Gadsden) in the respective chambers, SB 126 will create a licensing process that ultimately allows liquor, beer and wine sold at retailers to be delivered to residences, including by services such as Shipt, Instacart or DoorDash.

The new law contains limits on the amounts of each beverage that can be delivered, and deliveries can not be made to dry counties and dry cities.

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Deliveries of sealed alcoholic beverages under the law may occur from grocery stores, restaurants, breweries and other retail establishments licensed by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Any alcohol delivered from a restaurant under the provisions of SB 126 must accompany a meal.

All delivery drivers carrying alcohol will be required to undergo a background check and must be at least 21 years old. The bill requires that a person age-21 or older must receive all deliveries of alcohol.

SB 126 received final passage by the legislature last week.

“Our legislation allows for alcohol delivery with strict, multiple layers of checks and balances in place. The legislation explicitly regulates that alcohol deliveries are made only to adults of legal drinking age,” Waggoner has said in a statement.

Isbell added, “Passing common sense rules for safe alcohol delivery in Alabama is smart all around – giving more options to consumers relying on delivery services while providing a boost to delivery workers and local retail businesses during a pivotal time.”

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

6 hours ago

The Frontier Industrial Innovation Conference set for April 13-14

The past decade has brought tremendous changes to businesses in industrial and energy sectors. Taking advantage of those changes to uniquely position and empower each sector to shape the future industrial economy is the objective of The Frontier Conference. The two-day event is being held virtually this year from The Frontier‘s home in Birmingham.

The Frontier is the only conference of its kind to focus on emerging technologies for all key industrial subsectors. Its goal is to forge connections and collaboration among industrial innovation stakeholders. The conference will include an exciting mix of innovators, executives, entrepreneurs, investors and up-and-coming leaders of the industrial world to think, talk and hear about ideas and technologies that are shaping the future of industry.

“The Frontier Conference is about solution-seekers who are shaping the future of industrial innovation,” said The Frontier founder Hank Torbert. “Our goal is to contribute to that process and help companies succeed by sharing ideas and innovations across sectors. That also helps us stay focused on emerging development and trends and ensure that we continue to provide all who attend with valuable information, access and opportunities.”

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More than 200 people have registered for the conference, representing 130 organizations and 17 major industries from more than 20 states and five foreign countries. Attendees include business leaders seeking capital, partners, customers, new lines of business and innovative solutions for specific functions, such as economic development.

The 2021 conference is the first for The Frontier since its move from New Orleans to Birmingham in 2019. Torbert called Birmingham “the ideal home for The Frontier,” given the city’s industrial history and its emerging status as an epicenter for development of future industries.

“Throughout its history, Birmingham has been a city of pioneers, builders, innovators and entrepreneurs,” Torbert noted. “Today, it is a major epicenter of industrials, as is Alabama as a whole, whether you’re talking about automotive, chemicals, transportation, aerospace or manufacturing in general. That energy fits with our goal of building an industrial innovation community across all sectors that allows for the collaboration and expansion of emerging ideas and technologies.”

Torbert said Birmingham benefits from both private and public leadership that understands the economic evolution underway worldwide and is committed to an approach to economic growth that is diversified, innovative, strategic and collaborative. That’s a key factor in Birmingham’s emergence as a national leader in creating and attracting jobs of the future, he added – an assessment that is endorsed by Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin.

“We understand that the industrial world is undergoing rapid transformation,” Woodfin said. “Birmingham’s commitment to innovation is part of our vision for helping our industrial sector remain competitive by transforming the ways they operate, compete and do business. We’re pleased to have The Frontier as a partner and a resource in our efforts.”

The growing energy for innovation in Birmingham extends to the rest of the state. Alabama continues to position itself for sustained success in the economy of the 21st century.

The state ranks third nationally in auto exports and has a strong presence in the chemical industry, where over 200 companies employ a total of more than 10,000 people, with annual exports exceeding $2 billion. Alabama also ranks among the top 10 states in the growth of biotech research funding, led by major research facilities in Birmingham and Huntsville.

In just the past five years, Alabama’s biotech startups have attracted well over $100 million in venture capital. At both the state and local levels, public and private entities are investing in workforce development initiatives to ensure a well-educated labor pool for new and expanding industries.

“Increasingly, Alabama’s innovation community demonstrates its commitment to the idea that we are here to work, learn and grow together,” said Greg Barker, president of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama (EDPA). “Collaboration is an essential ingredient in our overall success, and we’ve seen that The Frontier is committed to helping those partnerships flourish.”

Along with EDPA and 30 other corporate and organizational partners, Alabama Power is a sponsor of The Frontier Conference. The conference will provide benefits from connections made and information shared, in addition to promoting the benefits of doing business in Alabama.

“We are constantly identifying new initiatives, products and services to meet our customers’ evolving needs,” said John Smola, director of Business Transformation and Administration for Alabama Power. “The Frontier conference provides an opportunity for us to learn from, engage with and gain best practices from other industry peers focused on innovation and customer offerings.”

To learn more about The Frontier, or to register for The Frontier Conference, visit thefrontier.co.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

7 hours ago

Seven-ton elephant statue takes its place outside Bryant-Denny Stadium

Tuska, a 19-foot-tall, seven-ton bronze elephant statue, was installed Monday in front of Bryant-Denny Stadium at the University of Alabama.

The newly named Tuska Plaza is at the southeast corner of Tuscaloosa’s University Boulevard and Wallace Wade Avenue. The project includes new landscaping, a large pedestal for Tuska to stand on, sidewalks surrounding the statue and lighting elements for nighttime viewing, UA announced.

The statue was recently donated to UA by the Tuscaloosa-headquartered Westervelt Company, along with a generous gift from Bill and Mary Battle.

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The statue was sculpted by English artist Terry Mathews and has resided at nearby NorthRiver Yacht Club for the past 20 years.

Tuska’s installation comes just in time for Alabama football’s annual A-Day scrimmage, which will kick off at noon on Saturday, April 17.

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

7 hours ago

Regions lighting up Birmingham headquarters building for annual Regions Tradition golf tournament

Regions Bank, title sponsor of the Regions Tradition, will light up the Regions Center in downtown Birmingham with the image of a golfer in preparation for the upcoming golf tournament.

Starting on Monday night at 8:00 p.m. CT, all four sides of the Regions Center will be lit with images of a golfer, allowing a 360-degree view from anywhere near the building. The 20-story light display will be lit daily from 8:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. and again from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. through May 9.

This year’s Regions Tradition will be held May 5-9 at Greystone Golf and County Club. Enhanced protocols will be in place related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The tournament – even last year when it was canceled due to coronavirus – continues to be a major generator of charitable support and donations. In fact, the total amount raised in 2020 represented the largest amount raised in one year in the history of the tournament. Children’s of Alabama is the primary beneficiary, and other area nonprofit organizations also significantly benefit.

Overall, the event generates an estimated annual economic impact of $25 million statewide.

The Regions Tradition remains one of the premier stops of the PGA TOUR Champions, which is the men’s professional senior golf tour for those aged 50 and older. In fact, it is one of five majors on the tour.

The event will once again feature Hall of Fame-caliber golfers, as well as a celebrity pro-am with some of the biggest names around.

On the professional side, this year’s lineup is slated to include the likes of Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, Bernhard Langer, John Daly and Vijay Singh.

Celebrities set to participate include Nick Saban, Bo Jackson and Kirby Smart.

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

8 hours ago

Allowing lottery purchases through a cellphone is a terrible idea but the Alabama Legislature might do it

Another week is here, and that means we are into another week of gambling conversation.

Many discussions have already been had about what type of gambling we will have in the state of Alabama and who will benefit.

Will it just be a lottery and nothing more? Will it be casino gaming? Will there be sports betting? Will I be able to bet on WrestleMania? Will the Poarch Band of Creek Indians be happy? Will illegal casino owners across the state be happy? Will out-of-state investors want to come to the state and build casinos? Will the money go to the General Fund? Will the money go to education? Will the money go to ISIS?

Most people of the state of Alabama don’t really care about the particulars here. They don’t know that the Alabama Senate is about to substitute a “simple” lottery bill by Senator Jim McClendon (R-Springville) while Senator Del Marsh (R-Anniston) has a more complicated and comprehensive bill that would open up gambling in the state of Alabama.

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Personally, I don’t think the votes are there for any of this. There are too many competing factions that will not allow gambling legislation to move forward unless their side benefits, but at the same time they don’t want the other sides to benefit. This is why we are in a never-ending stalemate.

But missing in all of this is a very bad idea wrapped in a very vanilla idea.

No one is really concerned about the lottery. Over 70% of the people in the state appear to want a lottery of some kind, and support for other types of gaming is less but still there.

Most people view the lottery as a relatively benign thing. They want to be able to buy lottery tickets at their local grocery store and gas station while picking up other items. The average person will buy whatever they need at the store and then plop down a couple of one-dollar bills on chances to win a couple million in return. It’s a long shot, but it is simple fun and generally harmless.

Unless it is not.

The Alabama legislation, as currently proposed, would allow Alabama residents to purchase lottery tickets through their phones. While this seems generally harmless, I will remind you that to purchase lottery tickets this way you will need a credit card, a debit card or a direct link to your bank account.

So what?

What is the difference if I buy a lottery ticket with a $5 bill at the grocery store or if I do it via a smartphone app?

Good question with a simple answer.

If you allow people to buy lottery tickets on credit, people will buy lottery tickets on credit.

If you make it easy for people to drain their bank accounts to buy lottery tickets, people will drain their bank account to buy lottery tickets.

It is just human nature. No one in their right mind would go down to their local convenience store to buy $1,500 worth of lottery tickets, but if you allow them to do that by entering a passcode on their phone, they will do it.

Use of the transaction, the lack of the shame that is created by bringing in hundreds of dollars to risk on a pick 6 and the ability to do it all in the dark, make it far more likely.

This is a terrible feature of all the lottery legislation that has been proposed.

And conversations with McClendon and others make it clear that this feature — it is a feature and not a bug — will stay in the bills.

McClendon laid this out during a recent radio interview on WVNN in Huntsville.

Partial transcript as follows:

We have an entire generation that does life on their phone. They order lunch on their phone, they get their plane ticket on their phone, they call their Uber on their phone, they meet their girlfriend or boyfriend on the phone. This generation of people, they’re not going to stand in line at the “handy mart” to buy a ticket. And this business of buying an iPhone like lottery ticket is very common throughout the rest of the country, that is no big deal and it’s pretty sophisticated too…You download your charge card.

So simple, so easy, so … bad.

Our neighboring states, which we love to talk about because they already have the lottery, ban this practice.

In fact, of the 45 lottery states in the United States, only 21 allow this stuff to be done over the phone. This means that 24 states understand this to be an issue.

To make this even more clear, some merchants won’t allow this practice at their locations even if the state does.

It is because this is such a bad idea. Think about it — faceless corporations heard they could make money off of lottery tickets by accepting credit cards for them and said, “No, that’s a little sketchy and not good for the customer.”

There is a message here.

The lottery has been called “a tax on stupid people,” but that doesn’t mean we should allow the state to take advantage of them.

I know, I know, personal responsibility and all that. If someone wants to get a new credit card and max it out on Mega Millions, let him. After all, it is his money and his problem, right?

Kinda. But we should do all we can to help people make less disastrous decisions.

Look at it this way: We build roads on mountains and tell people that they need to go slower and be cautious because the risk is greater as we drive near the edge. The risk is yours if you head up there, so be careful.

But, we also put guardrails on the more treacherous parts of the path.

They operate as protection for both the dummies who want to whip around the roads for a thrill and for the Johnson family of five out for a weekend drive whose dad takes his eyes off the road to tell Timmy to stop hitting his sister. We don’t just shrug our shoulders and say, “Sorry, Timmy, you’re dead.”

For that reason, part of the bill needs to be tweaked in whatever form gambling takes in Alabama to put those guardrails up.

Listen:

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.