Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh’s political career began in high school, continued through college and then took off for good not long after she graduated from Auburn University.
Cavanaugh is close to finishing her second term as president of the Alabama Public Service Commission, and, yet, the story of her impact on the state continues to be written.
She ran for class office numerous times as a student at Jeff Davis High School in Montgomery and worked as a volunteer on George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign during college.
According to those who knew her then, she was a natural at it.
After one year of teaching ninth grade science and computer programming, she packed up her things and moved to Washington, D.C. for a job answering phones at the Republican National Committee.
Her early foray into politics was driven by a desire to be involved and enjoyment of the energy and excitement surrounding political organizations.
Now, 14 years after having been elected as the first female chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, Cavanaugh sees her participation in the process in a completely different way.
One of those ways is doing her part to create more efficiency in state government.
Cavanaugh has put that approach to work in her own agency.
During her time at the Public Service Commission, she cut staff by 38% through reorganization and attrition. She reduced the number of state cars in use by 59%, including refusing a state car for herself. She reduced her own office space by 2/3.
Over the past seven years, she has “rightsized” the PSC and reduced overall spending by 30%. This has saved taxpayers over $50 million and will continue to save Alabama over $10 million annually. In 2017, the PSC returned a record $13 million to the state general fund.
And, yet, a sense of service has most decidedly marked her time in office.
“Serving in public office has allowed me to help people in ways I never knew I could,” explained Cavanaugh. “But it has also presented me with opportunities to do other things important to me.”
What is important to Cavanaugh is her faith and her family.
“So many doors have opened for me to share my faith in ways I never would have been able to had I not been serving in public office,” she said. “We have all been put into our unique situations for a reason. I know, now, that all the traveling around Alabama I have done, people from all over that I have met campaigning, being able to do all those things has allowed me to be a light for Christ.”
And that’s why she wants to continue serving her native state, whether in office or as a private citizen far into the future.
“People need help,” remarked Cavanaugh. “When we’re helping storm victims or helping small businesses get started or there’s someone who wants the opportunity for a good job, when we’re doing that, we’re helping people.”
Being able to help people spiritually is just as meaningful for her.
“We all need help spiritually, too,” she added. “When I have visited storm sites and seen how lives have been changed or been to coal mines and met miners worried for their jobs, it means as much to me to be able to love them and pray for them. Being able to help people with both parts of their lives has been a tremendous blessing for me.”
Running for office and serving as president of the Public Service Commission has also provided her with the ability to show her own daughter what opportunities are out there for women.
“There were times when my daughter didn’t quite understand what I did, and that made it tough as a mom,” said Cavanaugh. “I can remember a time when I volunteered at her school, and she wanted me to change out of my suit so I could be dressed more like some of her friends’ moms. Then, as she got older, she became one of my biggest cheerleaders. Now she knows a career is out there for her in whatever she sets her mind to.”
She often speaks to women’s groups and offers whatever advice she can.
“I tell women to think bigger and more broadly to achieve their goals,” she advised. “There is rarely a direct path to where you want to go.”
She points toward the fact that she taught school for a year so she could save up and move to Washington where she got a job as the lowest ranking employee in her division.
“It is never going to be easy,” Cavanaugh remarked. “The key is to make stumbling blocks into stepping stones.”
The rigors of a campaign and elected office can be tough to handle. The scrutiny can be intense.
Cavanaugh’s faith is what guides her and at the same time is the reason why she thinks no one should let fear of that scrutiny stand in the way of running.
“No one is perfect – not any one of us,” she said. “That’s why we can find comfort in God’s grace. So no one should be discouraged from serving and putting themselves out there to be part of making our state and our country better.”
Yellowhammer News is proud to announce Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh as 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.