At Alabama Today, we understand that the words “powerful” and “influential” are vague terms. But no matter who you ask, individuals with those qualities have the ability to create change and move issues forward. There’s no doubt that a good number of people are moving Alabama forward in politics and business. Recently, Yellowhammer published its list of the 50 most influential and powerful individuals. There were smart picks on that list and we congratulate everyone included.
Knowing that perhaps size and function kept the YH list limited to mainly high-powered and paid lobbyists, political consultants and corporate executives, as well as legislative leadership, we wanted to offer 20 more notable people.
Here’s a diverse group, from grassroots activists, bloggers and party leaders, to even a few statewide elected officials and mayors who we think should round out any list of influence in Alabama.
(In alphabetical order)
Tommy Battle, City of Huntsville
Mayor Tommy Battle was elected in 2008, then re-elected in 2012. There was speculation he would run against Gov. Robert Bentley this past cycle that he put to rest in January 2014. In last year’s State of the City address, he noted, “The state of your city is better than good: It’s great.” His leadership has a lot to do with that, making him among the highest influencers in the state.
As AL.Com reported this year, “The city ranks high on national lists of the best places to live, work and retire. For two years running, Huntsville has snagged the state’s biggest industrial prize: Remington and Polaris. Between the two, some 3,500 new jobs are expected over the coming decade.”
Scott Beason, Alabama Free Market Alliance
Scott Beason is truly a man of influence among grassroots conservatives. He’s senior policy advisor at the Alabama Free Market Alliance, a conservative advocacy group. He represented District 17 in the Alabama Senate from 2006 to 2014. From 1998 to 2006, Beason was a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.
Mayor William Bell, City of Birmingham
William Bell was elected to a full term as mayor of Birmingham in 2011 and re-elected in 2013. His influence in the state is undeniable as he brings national and international attention to Birmingham and Alabama.
Before his 2015 State of the City address, the Bell spotlighted the positive growth and revitalization projects happening in the city. The efforts have been successful in attracting and keeping residents and businesses.
Bell also can be applauded for the events and efforts that have gone into putting and keeping Birmingham on the radar outside the state. From bringing the Dalai Lama to speak to attempting to get the Democratic National Convention brought to Birmingham he has been a strong advocate for the city’s greatness.
Among the ways Mayor Bell is developing the reputation of Birmingham is as president of the African American Mayors Association (AAMA), co-chairing the U.S. Conference of Mayors Committee on Human Rights. He is also co-chair of “My Brothers Keeper,” an initiative by the U.S. Conference of Mayors and President Barack Obama.
Bill Britt, Alabama Political Reporter
Bill Britt runs and writes for the Alabama Political Reporter, which has been in operation since 2011. He also co-hosts the Voice of Alabama Politics. No one can deny Britt’s passion for politics and his dogged persistence on transparency and accountability. The traffic on his website continues to grow as does his TV audience.
There’s no doubt that Britt has the attention of many throughout the state through both of his mediums.
Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh, Public Service Commission
Twinkle Cavanaugh was elected to the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) in 2010, and is the commission’s president. She is one of seven women elected to statewide office in Alabama. Hard to imagine anyone with more influence in the day-to-day life of families and businesses in Alabama than the president of the PSC who is tasked with keeping utility rates low. Cavanaugh has been among the state’s most vocal critics of the federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations that threaten Alabama’s coal jobs and would lead to higher energy prices for all.
Cavanaugh has been deputy chief of staff and senior adviser in the Riley administration as well as serving as the first female chair and executive director of the Alabama Republican Party.
George Clark, Manufacture Alabama
George Clark is president of Manufacture Alabama as well as chief executive officer and lobbyist for the organization. The manufacturing industry is vital to the economy of the state and Clark’s role in promoting job growth, job friendly legislation and a business friendly atmosphere makes him one of the most influential people in the state.
In addition to his role at Manufacture Alabama, Clark was appointed by Governor Bentley to be chairman of the Alabama Workforce Investment Board and vice chairman of the Alabama Workforce Council.
Official bio: here
Ann Eubank, Rainy Day Patriots and Alabama Legislative Watchdogs
Ann Eubank has been part of the Rainy Day Patriots Tea Party in Jefferson/Shelby County five years and is the statewide co-chair and legislative chair of the Alabama Legislative Watchdogs. Eubank has bridged the gap from strong advocate to a respected resource for members. She is also a member of the Alabamians United for Excellence in Education Taskforce and several other groups opposed to Common Core.
Her 30-minute video about Common Core Follow the Money can be seen on-line here.
Deborah Garrett, Executive Director of the Alabama Eagle Forum
Deborah Garrett is executive director of the Alabama Eagle Forum. If you speak to people in the grassroots movement about big issues facing the state they’ll tell you Garrett is a workhorse for conservative causes and legislation. Activists look to her and the Eagle Forum for direction, which makes her among Alabama’s most influential behind-the-scenes advocates.
Her past experience includes working as an educator, as host and producer of a Montgomery-area public affairs t.v. show, and with Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore’s organization, the Foundation for Moral Law. As executive director of the Eagle Forum, Garrett is on the front lines of conservative activism in the state, including the fight against Common Core standards for K-12 schools.
Becky Gerritson, Wetumpka Tea Party
Becky Gerritson is well-known for her compelling testimony before Congress about IRS targeting of the Watumpka Tea Party group. The nationwide news and social media coverage of her speech has given her a platform as a conservative champion that she continues to use to that end. It has been reported that she’s considering running for Congress. Currently she’s helping plan a faith-based event for leaders from across the state.
Gerritson lives in Wetumpka with her husband Eric, retired from the Air Force, and daughter Shelley. She founded the Wetumpka Tea Party in 2009 and has been its president and vice president.
Lionel L. Gustafson, Grassroots Activist
There are influencers whose names you constantly see in print and hear in conversation. Then there are those who just get the job done. Lionel Gustafson gets things done. Her bio should give all young activists something to strive toward.
Her prior activities have included vice chair, Congressional Districts 1 & 2, Alabama Republican Party; treasurer, board of directors with the South Baldwin Regional Medical Center; treasurer, District 4 of the Baldwin County Republican Party; immediate past chairman of the Baldwin County Republican Party; member of the Alabama Republican Party State Executive Committee; member of Rules Committee, Alabama Republican Party; member of State Health Coordinating Committee; member of State Committee to Recruit and Train Women for Public Office; member of Baldwin County Tri-Board for Hospital Strategic Planning; co-chair South Baldwin Hospital Gala; member Board of Trustees South Baldwin Regional Medical Center Foundation; member South Baldwin Regional Medical Center Auxiliary; member South Baldwin Republican Women; member Pleasure Island Republican Club; member Baldwin County Republican Party Executive Committee; sergeant at arms, and member National Federation of Republican Women.
It doesn’t take much effort to see how she made our list of influential individuals.
Terry Lathan, Republican Party of Alabama
Terry Lathan was elected chair of the Republican Party of Alabama this year. She’s been involved in Mobile County GOP politics for year, first as vice chair four years then chairing the Mobile County GOP for another four.
According to an AL.Com profile, Lathan has a long history of political activism that includes being Mobile County chairwoman for the George W. Bush presidential campaign in 2000 and 2004. She and her husband have received several awards, including the Alabama Republican of the Year Award in 2004 and the Mobile County Republican of the Year in 2010.
Lathan is also a former elementary schoolteacher and taught fifth and sixth grade for 10 years.
John Rice, Alabama Foundation for Limited Government
John Rice is not afraid to shake things up. He’s a vocal critic of, well, anyone he thinks is not living up to their promises. A former member of the Legislature, Rice is now very active in the grassroots movement.
Last year, he managed a group calling for integrity within the Legislature and one against Common Core. The Common Core fight has made a lot of unlikely allies from both sides of the political spectrum and Rice has worked hard to keep the otherwise opposing sides focused on the issue at hand.
If you ask people in politics about John Rice you’re rarely going to receive a lukewarm answer one way or the other. Though no matter whether you love or hate his methods, stand by him or against him, there’s little denying that he’s influencing the conversation.
Tom Saunders, Alabama Forestry Association
Thomas “Tom” Joseph Saunders is general counsel and director of government affairs for the Alabama Forestry Association. The forestry association is arguably one of the most, if not the most, conservative groups in the state with a long history of supporting the caucus even before it took control of the Legislature.
The forestry association represents the state’s 250,000 landowners, loggers, timber dealers, lumber manufacturures, and pulp and paper mills.
Through managing the association’s political action committee, fundraising, candidate recruitment and strategic planning, Saunders has attained a high level of influence.
If you haven’t checked out his blog From the Weeds you’re missing out!
Cliff Sims, Yellowhammer News
Cliff Sims operates and writes for Yellowhammer News, a blog that covers a little bit of everything Alabama while remaining focused on a lot of politics. A quick look at its home screen and you’ll see why Sims made our list.
The history of Yellowhammer is not unlike that of many sites these days, but his success and growth is notable. Yellowhammer started as a political blog, then Sims worked hard to incorporate breaking news to the site and has, in the two years since I moved to the state, transitioned into sports, arts and coverage of all things Alabama. No longer just a political site Yellowhammer today hosts political stories, boxing, football, music and more.
No one would expect Sims to put himself on his own list but he is in fact an influencer in the state and deserves the recognition.
Cameron Smith, R Street Institute and AL.Com
There aren’t a lot of conservatives in the AL.Com editorial section, which is what makes Cameron’s voice there so influential.
Cameron Smith is the former vice president and general counsel of the Alabama Policy Institute. He joined The Alabama Media Group as a regular columnist in 2014. In addition to writing for AL.Com, Smith is a senior fellow with the R Street Institute, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C.
Eunie Smith, Eagle Forum of Alabama
Eunie Smith is president of Alabama Eagle Forum. She has outstanding relationships with activists and legislators as well as influencers throughout the state. Smith is well-respected as a longstanding voice in conservative politics and her group has had a very busy several years. From fighting for traditional family values to Common Core, Smith and those who work with her at Eagle Forum are influencing voters and voices that make up the base in Alabama’s most conservative areas throughout the state.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson, City of Mobile
After a heated election, Mayor Sandy Stimpson is well on his way to making significant changes to the way business is done in the Mobile. His positive attitude and determination to get things done as well as his ability to bring people together is proving beneficial to the city and is solidifying his role as an influencer statewide. His vision of One Mobile would be a great blueprint for other cities looking to bring together residents, business interest and competing political interests.
As mayor, Stimpson continues to reach for his goal to make Mobile the “safest, most business- and family-friendly city in the nation by 2020.” He’s seeking ways to do that through citizen engagement, innovation and development (which is helped by a $1.65 million Bloomberg grant the city was awarded) and other efforts to move the city forward.
Luther Strange, Attorney General
Luther Strange is a man on a mission. He’s shown that he will do what it takes to protect Alabama residents’ interests. He hasn’t shied away from fights with the federal government over Obamacare, taking on BP and the EPA, and fighting for the state’s right to continue to use a drug cocktail needed for death penalty cases. The list could go on while he continues to weigh in on matters that protect Alabamians’ constitutional rights.
His influence is undeniable as he continues to be a steady voice as the state’s Attorney General. Strange is on the executive committee of the Republican Attorneys General Association and is the chairman of the southern region of the National Association of Attorneys General.
Faya Rose Toure, Grassroots Activist and Lawyer
Faya Rose Toure is a respected voice in Alabama and a name gaining national recognition. In March, she and her husband, Hank Sanders, wrote an opinion column for The New York Times that highlighted the current state of race relations, poverty and conversation in Selma. Her fight is to make sure people understand the historical context of what civil rights activists did in Selma and how it affects what’s happening across the nation today.
Toure has received state and national media coverage for her activism. This includes a CNN story this year for her efforts in response to the Black Lives Matter campaign. Additionally, AL.com has covered numerous events and activities staged by Toure for different causes, They include the time this year Toure was arrested while protesting about Selma donating land for a monument to Nathan Bedford Forrest, the founder of the Ku Klux Klan.
A civil rights activist, attorney, and she’s the first African-American woman to be a judge in Alabama. There’s no doubt that Toure is a woman of power and influence in Alabama.
Walt Maddox, City of Tuscaloosa
Walt Maddox is a Tuscaloosa native in his third term as mayor of his home town. There’s tremendous chatter about what he will do next: run for re-election or seek higher office. Speculation is he could run for governor or Congress.
His leadership drew high accolades after the tornadoes, and he has said that his mission is to build the city stronger than ever. As one of the highest-profile mayors in the state and with a strong history and bright future, there’s no doubt Mayor Maddox is one of the most influential people in the state.