3 years ago

POWER & INFLUENCE 50: Alabama’s most powerful & influential lobbyists & consultants

Yellowhammer's Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the most powerful * influential people in Alabama politics and business.
Yellowhammer’s Power & Influence 50 is an annual list of the most powerful * influential people in Alabama politics and business.

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. Yesterday’s segment included the state’s most poweful government officials and politicians. Today’s segment includes lobbyists and governmental affairs pros. Check back tomorrow for the state’s most influential businessmen. Names below are listed in alphabetical order.

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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Ginger Avery-Buckner, Executive Director, Alabama Association for Justice

It is now commonplace for Republicans to ask “Where is Ginger on this bill?” before committing one way or the other on a piece of legislation affecting civil litigation.

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. For them to now be such major players in a State House dominated by Republicans is a testament to Avery-Buckner’s leadership. She solidified her association’s position in the 2014 campaigns by pivoting on a dime and becoming one of the largest contributors to GOP candidates.

Avery-Buckner puts a lot of effort into getting her organization’s members to the State House when important issues are on the agenda. They have perhaps the most noticeable presence of any association when they pull out all the stops, and it just plain works.

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Sonny Brasfield, Executive Director, Association of County Commissions of Alabama

Brasfield has built out a grassroots network that becomes a powerful force when activated. He really knows how to leverage his members. It is not uncommon for some rural senators to hear from dozens of county commissioners on certain issues. All of those individuals are presumably influential people within their districts, so it really moves the needle when they start calling legislators.

Brasfield is a wily old veteran who has been through the fire. He has a reputation for being tough to deal with, but he sticks to his guns for his counties, and it has paid off. The ACCA is funded by county tax dollars, making Brasfield the only taxpayer-funded lobbyist to make this year’s Power & Influence 50.

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Greg Butrus, Partner, Balch & Bingham LLP

If you’re a powerful politician, executive, campaign consultant or governmental affairs professional and you have an important legal question about anything related to state and federal energy policy, campaign finance, government relations, or regulatory compliance issues, Greg Butrus is the only person you call — period.

From the swanky headquarters of Balch & Bingham’s downtown Birmingham office, Butrus has quietly become the go-to legal counsel for many of the state’s heavy-hitters.

In short, Butrus is the most politically influential attorney in the state, and it’s really not even close. It doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the most genuinely humble and likeable individuals working in Alabama politics.

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William J. Canary, CEO, Business Council of Alabama

Over a dozen years into his tenure as CEO of the BCA, Canary continues to be active at the Statehouse. His organization is well-funded, well-staffed, and has the state’s business elite ready to engage on policy issues at a moment’s notice. It is hard for Canary’s competition to compete with that kind of muscle.

The BCA has gotten what they wanted far more often than not since Republicans took control of the legislature in 2010, particularly on education issues, where they continue to increase their engagement.

Prior to being one of the closest allies of House Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, Canary ran the American Trucking Association in Washington, D.C., and worked in the George H.W. Bush White House.

He and his wife, Leura, who is General Counsel of the Retirement Systems of Alabama, are the only husband and wife team to ever make the Power & Influence 50. They have been near the center of every major political fight over the past 15 years. That will likely continue in the years to come.

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Joe Fine, Lobbyist, Fine Geddie & Associates

Fine did not invent lobbying, but he arguably did invent and perfect the way it’s done at the Alabama Statehouse.

Just consider the past forty years since he was first elected to the Alabama Senate.

Governors have come and gone. Powerful associations have grown and crumbled. An entire political party that once held total sway over the state practically went defunct. One of the only constants through it all is that Joe Fine was and continues to be a central player.

Flanked by his longtime business partner Bob Geddie (see below), Fine will be the state’s preeminent lobbyist until the day he decides he is ready to pass the baton.

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Bob Geddie, Lobbyist, Fine Geddie & Associates

Geddie is not only a top-tier lobbyist, he is also a trusted adviser to some of Alabama’’s titans of industry.

Business leaders from around the state have empowered Fine-Geddie to be among the most influential players in electoral politics by sending their money to a group of Geddie-controlled political action committees. It has proven to be a brilliant and highly successful operation, but no one else has been able to replicate it because they have not built up the trust that Geddie has over the past few decades.

Fine-Geddie’s statehouse team, which includes Clark Fine, Lamar Higgins, Ben Patterson and Mary Margaret Carroll, have positioned them to be an influential force for years to come.

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Rebekah Mason, de facto governor

When former cabinet secretaries openly refer to you as the “de facto governor,” your spot on the Power & Influence 50 is locked in.

Capitol insiders say the governor’s long-time mistress is still the most influential voice in his orbit, even after she publicly resigned from her unofficial post as “senior advisor” when audio recordings obtained by Yellowhammer News revealed their illicit affair.

Mason’s fingerprints have been on every part of Governor Bentley’s agenda since he won re-election. It may never be fully understood just how much she has controlled the administration’s direction, particularly during the two years since her inappropriate relationship with the governor was allegedly first uncovered by members of Bentley’s security detail.

Did she do it for love? For money? For the power? Whatever her reasons, Mason’s place in Alabama political history is secure.

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Robert McGhee, Head of Governmental Affairs, Poarch Band of Creek Indians

McGhee just flat out shows up, goes to work and wins. Good luck coming up with an issue on which the Poarch Creeks have lost in the past five years.

The resources McGhee has at his disposal are unimaginable to even the most deep-pocketed lobbying shops in Montgomery. That combined with his in-depth understanding of gaming laws and the legislative process have made McGhee a force on both Goat Hill and Capitol Hill, a rare feet.

Prior to his rise within the Tribe, McGhee made a name for himself 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.

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John Ross, Lobbyist, Swatek Howe & Ross

Ross is a workhorse when the legislature is in session, constantly moving between the House and Senate working votes for his firm’s growing stable of clients.

He rose to prominence in Alabama political circles during the 2010 election cycle when he served as executive director of the state Republican Party. The GOP was swept into power for the first time since Reconstruction, and Ross, then still in his early-30s, immediately became one of the most sought-after governmental affairs pros in the state.

Since then he has maintained close ties to House and Senate leadership, as well as rank-and-file members, and built a reputation for being a savvy operator both inside the Statehouse and on the campaign trail.

Expect him to be at the forefront of the next generation of power players for decades to come.

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Clay Ryan, Vice Chancellor for Government Affairs, University of Alabama System

Ryan gained notoriety as the most influential external advisor to Governor Robert Bentley during the early years of his administration. He was smart enough to get out of the Capitol before the train ran off the track and returned to his post as head of governmental affairs at a prominent Birmingham law firm.

Since then he has gone on to run the governmental affairs operation for the University of Alabama System. With the Alabama Education Association crippled, there is not only a void to be filled in the education advocacy space, there is also a power vacuum in Alabama politics. Bringing Ryan in signaled that the UA System is serious about filling it, particularly through the newly created advocacy group Alabama Unites for Education, which is being chaired by UA System Chancellor Robert Witt.

With the ubiquitous UA brand out in front and the support of some of Alabama’s business heavyweights behind him, Ryan’s influence is on the rise.

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Dax Swatek, Lobbyist, Swatek Howe & Ross

Swatek is a battle-hardened veteran of Alabama political campaigns going all the way back to Congressman Robert Aderholt’s first U.S House campaign in the mid-90s. His longtime friendship with Business Council of Alabama CEO Billy Canary gave him early access to Governor Bob Riley, whose re-election campaign Swatek helmed. His close relationship with Riley led to him become then-ALGOP chairman Mike Hubbard’s top political advisor during the Republican wave of 2010. All of that culminated with Swatek partnering with a handful of other operatives to form the most prominent governmental affairs firm to pop up in the wake of the GOP takeover.

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Steve Windom, Lobbyist, Windom Galliher & Associates

Windom forgot more Alabama political secrets this morning than everyone else in the whole state knew to begin with. He has developed a lengthy historical record in his mind of why events played out a certain way and applies that context to whatever set of issues he is working on.

His lobbying operation has been bolstered by the addition of well liked former State Rep. Blaine Galliher, who was also an influential staffer in the Bentley administration before joining Windom in the private sector.

Prior to his lobbying career Windom was elected Alabama’s first Republican lieutenant governor since Reconstruction after serving nine years in the senate. But even with his unrivaled résumé, he still won’t allow himself to be outworked.

3 hours ago

Illegal immigrant charged in death of Mobile woman

Domingo Francisco Marcos, a Guatemalan immigrant in the United States illegally, has been charged with vehicular homicide and fleeing the scene of the accident with injuries in the Monday death of Mobile’s Sonya Jones on US 98.

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According to WKRG, the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office said Marcos, 16, hit Jones’ vehicle head-on and then tried to run away. However, he was injured too badly to do so and collapsed after leaving the immediate scene.

Marcos was then taken to USA Women’s and Children’s Hospital for surgery. Prosecutors plan on asking the judge not to grant him bond.

He reportedly entered the country via Mexico and was apprehended in Arizona by federal law enforcement officials in 2017. Before he could be deported, he claimed asylum and was released awaiting a hearing. Marcos never showed up in court to speak to his claim, so it was denied. However, authorities had no way to locate him so he was never deported.

In a statement, Congressman Bradley Byrne (AL-1), who represents the Mobile area, decried yet another illegal immigrant allegedly responsible for the death of an Alabamian.

“Yet again we have someone who is in our country illegally taking the life of an American citizen,” Byrne said. “How many more Americans have to die before we take action to crack down on illegal immigration, secure the border, and keep the American people safe? Enough is enough!”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Will Ainsworth: Common Core is a failed, Obama-era relic that must come to a quick and immediate end

Alabama took a strong step toward independence in its public schools this week when the State Senate approved legislation to repeal the Obama-era curriculum mandates known by most as Common Core.

Everyone agrees that Alabama needs strict academic standards that our children must meet. It is vital to economic development, it is vital to our workforce development and it is vital to our children’s future success.

Where we differ in the Common Core debate is who should set those standards.

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I believe Alabamians should determine the curriculum and standards for our state’s schoolchildren based upon our available resources, our needs and our first-hand knowledge of what makes Alabama great.

We should not rely upon some out-of-state entity or liberal, Washington, D.C. bureaucrats to determine our standards, and we certainly should not continue embracing this most damaging legacy of the disastrous Obama administration.

When Thomas Jefferson said, “The government closest to the people serves the people best,” he understood that a top-down approach and governing from afar denies the important knowledge and details that those on the local level possess.

Perhaps the most asinine theory behind Common Core mandates is the cookie cutter approach it takes to schools across our nation.

Rather than recognizing and accounting for the differences among the states, their workforce needs, and the public educations they should offer, Common Core demands an across-the-board, one-size-fits-all mandate that is typical of liberal policy pronouncements.

Moreover, the public schools in a politically conservative state like Alabama, where character education and allowing students to acknowledge God are important, are vastly different from the schools in ultra-liberal cities like San Francisco and New York City, where educators consider themselves enlightened and the groupthink doctrine of political correctness dominates.

But, in the end, the most effective argument for repealing Common Core is the fact that it has proven to be an unmitigated failure.

When Alabama first adopted Common Core roughly a decade ago, advocates labeled it as the cure-all for our public education system, but the magic elixir they promised has proven to be just a worthless bottle of snake oil.

Prior to the adoption of Common Core, Alabama’s students ranked at or near the bottom in almost every education metric that was tested, and, a decade later today, our state still ranks 49th in math and 46th in reading.

For these stated reasons and too many others to detail, it is time for Alabama to abandon this liberal social experiment and chart its own, independent path toward success in education – one that is rooted in conservative principles and one that embraces long-proven, fundamental teaching concepts.

Sen. Del Marsh (R-Anniston), who filed the legislation, and the co-sponsors of his bill should be commended for working to end this unnecessary Obama-era relic. Dropping the gavel when the repeal of Common Core passed the State Senate was one of the happiest and most satisfying moments of my time in public service.

Will Ainsworth is the Republican lieutenant governor of Alabama.

5 hours ago

Bill to repeal Common Core in Alabama passes Senate

MONTGOMERY — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’s (R-Anniston) bill to eliminate Common Core in the state of Alabama passed the State Senate as amended by a 23-7 vote on Thursday afternoon, despite a passionate filibuster by Democrats in the chamber.

The bill, SB 119, now heads to the House to take up after the legislature’s spring break next week.

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SB 119 was given a unanimous favorable recommendation on Wednesday by the Education Policy Committee.

State Sen. Garlan Gudger (R-Cullman) introduced a friendly amendment that was adopted by the Senate before they passed the bill. The amendment would move Alabama away from Common Core standards directly to new standards adopted by the state school board in 2021-2022 (instead of using transition standards next school year and then new standards in 2020-2021).

Gudger’s amendment also addressed concerns that the bill would inadvertently bar Alabama from utilizing things like AP tests and national certifications and exams.

Lt. Governor Will Ainsworth (R-AL), who presides over the Senate, told Yellowhammer News Wednesday that he strongly supports the repeal of Common Core.

Update 4:20 p.m.:

Marsh released the following statement:

In the past I have made it clear that we have an elected school board who should dictate policy when it comes to education in Alabama. However it is clear that we have a dysfunctional school board who is incapable of making decisions that give our students and teachers the best chance at being successful.

We have used the Common Core standards in Alabama for nearly a decade and while we do have some blue-ribbon schools, the vast majority are severely behind. We are still ranked 46thand 49thin reading and math according to National Assessment of Educational Progress. This is unacceptable so it is time to try something new.

I have worked and will continue to work with the education community in developing high standards so that we have the most competitive and rigorous course of study in the country, we cannot accept the status quo and this is a good first step.

I want to thank the Senate for their support and their work as we ended up with a piece of legislation that went through the legislative process to become the best possible bill we could pass and addressed everybody’s concerns. This was a fantastic first step as we move to address sweeping education reform in Alabama.

RELATED: Ivey on Common Core: ‘We should be deliberate in determining a course of study for our state’

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

6 hours ago

Marsh’s bill to help build Trump’s wall passes Senate

MONTGOMERY — Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh’ bill (R-Anniston) that would voluntarily allow a taxpayer to divert a portion or all of their own state income tax refund to We Build the Wall, Inc. passed the Senate by a vote of 23-6 on Thursday afternoon, overcoming an organized Democrat filibuster.

The bill, SB 22, now is set for a first reading in the House, which can take up the legislation after the legislature’s spring break next week.

“I thank the Senate for their support on this matter and I look forward to working with the House to give Alabamians a voice and are able to express their desire to support President Trump and stronger border security,” Marsh said in a statement.

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After Minority Leader Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) started a filibuster Wednesday, Marsh carried the bill over.

On Thursday, the bill was named to the Senate special order calendar and was again filibustered when it came up, this time with multiple Democrat senators joining in the effort. Republicans, seeing the filibuster was set to continue for hours, successfully adopted a cloture petition to end the filibuster so the Democrats would not continue blocking the chamber from conducting business.

“People I talk to across Alabama are sick and tired of politicians in Washington D.C. talking and nothing being done about the crisis on our borders. This bill is about sending a message to Washington that we support President Trump and his mission to secure our southern border,” Marsh advised.

He added, “Alabamians overwhelming favor securing our borders, protecting our citizens and their jobs and supporting President Trump. This bill simply allows citizens, if they choose, to send a message that they want to see our borders secured by sending a portion of their tax refund to donate to build the wall.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

BONEFROG, ‘The world’s only Navy SEAL obstacle course race’ heads to Alabama this Saturday

Do you love anything military, obstacle course or NASCAR racing-related? If so, you’ll want to head down to Talladega Superspeedway this Saturday for BONEFROG. With obstacles placed every quarter mile, BONEFROG is sure to test even the most seasoned athletes.

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Brian Carney, CEO and Founder of BONEFROG, said the race is designed to push racers past their limits and see that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to.

“We try to replicate the same type of obstacles we trained on in SEAL training but on a smaller and safer scale,” said Carney. “With BONEFROG you can feel the military authenticity throughout the entire event and especially throughout the course.”

This year, the race will offer several options: the 3-mile Sprint, 6-mile Challenge, 9-mile TIER-1, 8 Hour Endurance and the all-new 18+ mile TRIDENT.

For those with children, BONEFROG will also offer quarter and half-mile courses with scaled down obstacles.

Set up at Alabama’s historic Talladega Speedway, Carney says the Alabama BONEFROG race isn’t one to miss.

“There’s so much history here and we utilize every inch of the speedway to make this race stand out from any other. If you’re coming to BONEFROG to race then Talladega tops them all in that department,” Carney said.

At BONEFROG racers can expect not only to be challenged but inspired. Carney says he will never forget watching Alabama veteran, and former Dancing with the Stars contestant Noah Galloway complete the race’s Black OP’s obstacle.

“For those who don’t know, Noah’s an army vet who lost an arm and a leg in combat. To see him on the monkey bars in front of our massive American Flag taking on one of our toughest obstacles just sent chills through my body,” Carney said.

Carney continued, saying that moment continues to linger in his memory.

“To say it was inspirational would be a massive understatement. It’s stayed with me ever since and pushed me and my entire team to always strive to put on the best events we possibly can because our racers deserve just that.”

With 20,000 to 30,000 racers expected to participate in this year’s BONEFROG races, it’s safe to say popularity is unmatched.

More than just a fun and challenging race, BONEFROG partners with nonprofits, like the Navy SEAL Foundation, to give back. Carney said the company has raised over $200,000 for charity to date.

If you’re ready to test your limits and join the race, there’s still time. To register or to learn more about the company, visit the BONEFROG website at www.bonefrogchallenge.com