It’s true, the words “powerful and influential” can be vague and subjective. However, it’s fair to say among the universally accepted definitions within politics and policy is an individual’s ability to create change, start a conversation, influence the public or public officials, move an agenda forward or stop one in its tracks.
There’s no doubt that a good number of people are moving Alabama forward in politics and business. Recently, Yellowhammer published its 2021 annual list of who they consider the most influential and powerful. They noted it was a “Peek behind the curtain.” That it always is – a peek into the mind of the editorial team, writers, and friends of the site.
With the same people on it year after year, often in the same companies and offices and the standard members of the legislature and statewide offices. Dozens of whom certainly would belong on any list of power or influence: Jo Bonner, Katie Britt, Bob Geddie, Dax Swatek. No one can deny the influence any of them have. Others on the list begged the question “Why?” while others were glaringly missing. This list purposely does not duplicate any name already appearing on that list.
Not all influencers within the public arena are lobbyists or lawmakers. Some within the media or in advocacy organizations can shape or change public opinion. In addition, some influencers have the ability to position themselves, loved ones, or friends to the front of the line for coveted appointments or jobs.
There’s so much to power and influence; while it may hard to describe, you know when you see it, and you know who lacks it.
It could be argued that 1-5 are no brainers and would be list repeats, but heck, I say repeat them until it changes.
So with that, let Alabama Today offer 32 additional notable people who were nominated by a ragtag group of incredibly biased judges. Did I mention how incredibly biased we are? This, combined with the YH list, might give one a better view of the movers and shakers with power and influence in the state’s political world.
Worth noting, some of them are the bosses, mentors, elders statesman, and wise counsel of many on the YH list, while a couple of others are up and comers.
- Jimmy “Yellow Fella” Rane, President/CEO at Great Southern Wood Preserving
Not only is the Yellow Fella the wealthiest man in Alabama and Board of Trustee at Auburn, but there’s also no doubt he’s used his financial success to the betterment of the state, giving him great power and influence. His contributions are well documented, politically, economically, and through philanthropy.
From 2013 to May 2021, his company has given 178 contributions totaling $2,079,316.40. He also has the Jimmy Rane Foundation, which has more than doubled his political donations with $4.7 million in scholarships.
His influence is undeniable and unmatched, which is why he is number one on our list.
- Mark Crosswhite, CEO Alabama Power
Crosswhite’s voice carries a lot of weight, so much so that multiple people on the YH list answer to him in one way or another. Which begs the question, how can anyone deny his place on any list of power and influence?
He chaired the BCA board during a critical time when the organization’s future was in peril, saving a key organization critical to the state’s business development, growth and success, and ensuring a better economic future for the state. As the organization continues to grow and evolve, there’s no doubt he’s still helping steer the ship.
3. Fess St. John IV, Chancellor of The University of Alabama System
Finis “Fess” St. John IV comes from a storied line of Alabama influencers, including his father and grandfather. He’s currently the Chancellor of The University of Alabama (UA) System. Which makes him the chief executive officer of Alabama’s largest employer with multiple school campuses and a massive healthcare system.
According to the school’s website, “Total enrollment in the UA System achieved a new record this fall, with more than 70,400 students enrolled at UA, UAB, and UAH. The System’s annual economic impact surpasses $10 billion annually, and upwards of 1.7 million patients are served every year in the System’s hospitals and clinics.”
4. Chris England, House of Representatives, District 70
While many have tried over the last couple of decades, England was able to stop the further deterioration of the Democrat party (with a reputation that was nationally marred by chaos, a lack of structure, oh, and that one toilet story) and begin its rebuilding. One long-time democrat described the infrastructure as stronger now than it has been since the days of Bill Baxley.
England is a graduate of Howard University and the University of Alabama School of Law. His father grew up in Circuit Court Judge John H. England Jr., who served as a justice on the Alabama Supreme Court in 1999-2000.
To leave him off the Top 5 of any influential list is to deny reality.
5. Stephanie Bryan, Tribal Chair and CEO for the Poarch Creek Indians
No one should question the top female on this list. It’s no coincidence that she heads one of the biggest political powerhouses in the state of Alabama. PCI has capitalized on the shift in public attitudes towards a more tolerant attitude towards gaming and lottery to push for changes in the law that would allow their tribe’s operations to grow. This session’s gaming proposal wasn’t successful, but it got further than expected and may come up again in a special session. She is a political player that many say could be the most powerful over the next couple of campaign cycles.
6. Tom Coker, The Southern Group
Rare can someone survive with the longevity and respectability of Tom Coker. His strength is the state senate, but he can get things done.
His firm’s website names him as President of Tom Coker & Associates since 1982. Tom Coker offers a full range of governmental affairs services. In addition to lobbying the Legislature, he consults with clients, monitors legislation, and represents the interests of a diverse group of entities before various governmental agencies. He is also well-known for his fundraising abilities and is a first stop for many candidates to plan their campaign finance strategies.
He took a short break from owning his own business to serve as Vice President of Research and Membership at the Business Council of Alabama. While at BCA, Tom formed ProgressPAC, a political action committee that is a top giver in every election cycle. In 1986, during his first year as Fundraiser and Staff Director of ProgressPAC, Tom raised more than $1.5 million in direct contributions to candidates. He was also instrumental in merging BCA with the State Chamber while also recruiting new members, lobbying the legislature, and conducting political research.
7. Chris Pringle, House of Representatives, Dist.101
If being co-chair of redistricting doesn’t rise to the occasion of power and influence, then the words have no meaning. Representative Chris Pringle is a tried in true conservative.
Beyond redistricting, he’s also the Chairman of the State Government house committee, where Pringle sees some of the most important bills that come out of the legislature. He’s also known to ask tough questions during contract review committee.
Pringle is a crowd favorite for his sense of humor, and his tell it as it is attitude. He has no problem being on the right side of history, even if it puts him on the wrong side of those in his own caucus. That’s a true influencer.
8. Clyde Chambliss, Alabama State Senate, Dist. 30
Senator Clyde Chambliss had a great session tackling criminal justice, education, and other big pieces of legislation.
Chambliss is the Principle Engineer for Chambliss Engineering (CE), which provides civil engineering services to local governments, developers, and water systems, primarily in Elmore and Autauga Counties. He was elected to the Alabama State Senate in 2014 and currently serves on the following committees: Confirmations (Chairman), Children, Youth and Human Services, Finance and Taxation General Fund, Fiscal Responsibility and Economic Development, Governmental Affairs, and Local Legislation.
9. Nick Sellers (World Games)
Sellers, a key Alabama Power executive with over 19 years between Alabama Power and Southern Company, was chosen to take over and lead one of the biggest economic development events in recent history. With the confidence and support of the business and athletic community statewide, he’s readied the stage for the world’s eyes to be on Birmingham.
According to the World Games website, “More than 600 medals will be awarded to the competing athletes, including 200 gold medals for the ultimate champions in each discipline. The World Games 2022 will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, from July 7-17, 2022, generating an estimated economic impact of $256 million. Marking The World Games’ 40th anniversary, this will be the first edition of the event to be hosted in the United States since the inaugural World Games in Santa Clara, California, in 1981.”
The World Games is led by the International World Games Association (IWGA), a non-profit organization composed of 37 International Sports Federations and recognized by The International Olympic Committee (IOC).
- Alison Wingate, Vice President at Alabama Retail Association
“The better half of a true Montgomery power couple,” one insider told me. She has the respect of those she represents and those she lobbies on behalf of.
Alison has served as the Alabama Retail Association’s vice president since 2005. She joined Alabama Retail in 2001 as communications director after serving as director of public relations with the Alabama Bankers Association. She became Alabama Retail’s director of governmental and public affairs in 2003 before being named vice president in 2005.
11. Jim Zeigler, Alabama Auditor
Love him or hate him; he stirs things up and keeps things interesting. His influence with a grassroots army is undeniable. He’s taken an office with limited responsibilities and has used it as a bully pulpit to bring attention to many statewide issues. Zeigler took action when no one else would speak out about the disastrous prison contracts while everyone knew it was a bad deal. As of today, after months of fighting, a ragtag team of opponents led by Zeigler Governor Kay Ivey agreed it’s dead. (Ironically, the same day she announced she’s running for reelection to the governor’s office, she cedes a second big project – the first being the toll bridge in Mobile – to Zeigler’s opposition.)
What’s next for Zeigler after he’s done with the auditor? We are anxiously awaiting word.
12. Quinton Ross, President Alabama State University
Before his tenure at Alabama State University, Dr. Ross served four terms in the Alabama State Senate. While serving in the Senate, Dr. Ross distinguished himself as a true statesman and was one of seven African Americans serving in the Alabama State Senate.
Dr. Ross started his tenure at Alabama State University in 2017 as the 15th President of his alma mater, assuming the helm of the University with a vision of growth and innovation and has been the driving force behind bold new initiatives and partnerships under his guiding mantra of “Moving ASU 150 years forward.”
Dr. Ross has set a new standard for fundraising at ASU. Under his leadership, fundraising at the institution has increased by nearly 130 percent, with more than $7.6 million raised over a two-year period through corporate and individual donations, as well as increased legislative appropriations.
13. Jim McClendon, Alabama Senator
After serving three terms in the Alabama House of Representatives, McClendon was elected to the Alabama Senate in the general elections held in 2014 and 2018. In May, he announced that he would not seek reelection. While this might make him seem like a lame-duck, the fact is he is far from done. As the Chairman of the Senate Healthcare Committee, he had the backs of doctors.
McClendon will be leading the reapportionment efforts in the Senate later this year, which means he yields a lot of power and influence.
14. Paul Shashy, Campaign and Government Affairs Consultant
Shashy is a workhorse whose star is only climbing in the state. He was constantly at Tommy Tuberville’s side during the campaign, and now he’s hung his own shingle consulting for a consulting firm that is expected to make several big announcements in coming days.
Before going to work on the Tuberville campaign, he worked for Big Communications in Birmingham. His list of current and prior clients at Pash Communications is impressive. Expect to see him climb not just our list but the YH in coming years.
15. Jim Folsom Jr., Former Alabama Governor
Times have changed, and he’s returned with a small lobbying book that kept him busy this session. Many people may turn heads in the state capitol, but a respected former governor has an edge on most.
Hard to find a true statesman these days but in an interview with a local paper Folsom Jr. personified the term. Refusing to say anything bad during a time when there was plenty to talk about. In that interview, it seemed as though he was hanging up his hat and keeping politics a fond and distant memory. Saying at the time, “I remember when I first ran for office, daddy told me to work the perimeter. Your opponent will work the main roads. And you know it worked,” he recalls with a laugh. “I enjoyed the time I had in public office. In politics, you never say never.”
- Jeff Poor, Columnist, Radio Host
Jeff is a triple threat when it comes to his media prowess. He’s a Mobile based radio host, a writer for Yellow Hammer news, and a writer/editor for Breitbart. His show boasts big-name guests from across the nation, from members of congress to some of the most prestigious and well-funded national grassroots groups and policy think tanks. State elected leaders line up for their chance to chat with him in his star-studded 3-hour show. Did I mention he’s juggling these 3 gigs with an infant at home? Rockstar.
17. Todd Stacy, Alabama Daily News, AL Political Insider
Stacy’s ability to put together a seasoned stable of state politic reporters, get his own columns run in daily’s around the state, and aggregate the latest daily news for the state in a handy morning email has given him a spot on this list. His content has become a must-read for legislators, elected officials, and anyone who wants to know what’s going on in Alabama. The Prattville native has created a name for himself as a top-notch political insider.
18. Brittney Garner (AFRW & Consultant)
Brittney has a list of contacts at her fingertips that most in politics could only dream of. As the Alabama Federation of Republican Women (AFRW) president, she’s overseen some of the best events I’ve been to since moving to the state. The women of the party are truly its backbone, and no one has the ear and respect of their leaders more than Brittney.
She used her well-cultivated friendships to help Tommy Tuberville make the splash on the grassroots GOP circuit that others will be trying to emulate for years to come.
19. Sean Strickler, Vice President, Public Affairs at Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives
While Alabama Power gets all power company attention, Strickler is the face of the energy companies that provide power to many of our farmers and rural residents.
20. David Brewer, Chief of Staff for the Secretary of State
No doubt any other list of Power and Influence would usually include the Secretary of State himself, but…yeah. So it seems to me there’s no better time to recognize the tremendous work of his chief of staff, who has served both the secretary and the state well during his time.
No office in the state has ever been as responsive to requests as Merrill’s, whose staff run like a well-oiled machine, thanks to Brewer.
With grace and patience, he managed to keep the focus on the work the SOS has done and was doing during a time of crisis. While everyone is speculating what’s next for John Merrill, we can’t help but wonder what’s next for Brewer.
21. Susan Kennedy, Kennedy Consulting LLC
Susan Kennedy is a government relations and policy consultant at The Jones Group LLC. She has nearly 20 years of direct legislative experience, with a history of working in economic development, tax policy and compliance, and business and education fields. She has a degree from Emory University in Economics and a Doctor of Law – JD focused in State Tax Law from Cumberland School of Law. Susan Kennedy is the former Public Policy and Government Relations Manager for the Alabama Education Association (AEA). She works with various organizations, including NEA and NCPERS, on tax policy.
22. Mark Gaines, Lobbyist
Mark Gaines has been around for decades, bringing a wealth of knowledge, decades-long relationships, and a positive attitude to the political arena in Alabama.
He lobbies for Adams and Reese, who notes on their website that he has clients “at the local, state and federal level – in Alabama and Washington, D.C. – advising corporate clients on regulatory, legislative and economic development issues. His clients include companies in the telecommunications, road and bridge construction, financial, pharmaceutical, and defense industries, as well as municipal governments and educational institutions. Having spent 15 years in state government and more than a decade providing government relations services, Mark has developed long-term personal and professional relationships with important decision-makers at every level of government.”
Prior to joining Adamas and Reese, Mark served as Probate Judge for Jefferson County and was elected to four terms in the Alabama House of Representatives.
23. Napoleon Bracy, State House of Representatives
Democrats in Alabama are too frequently their own worst enemies when it comes to scoring with solid points during floor debates. Too frequently, much of the talk on the floor sounds like a script being repeated. That’s not the case with Bracy, though. He makes points that need to be heard. He shares wisdom and insight that should make others pause and think beyond party lines. He makes this list because not only does his party need more like him, the legislature does.
If you’re not following his twitter HipHopStateRep you’re missing out.
Napoleon Bracy was elected to the Alabama State House of Representatives in 2010. Representing Mobile, Alabama, he was elected as Chairman of the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in 2013. Bracy is the Manager of Diversity, Inclusion, and Affirmative Action for Austal USA, a defense contractor for the US Department of Defense.
24. Rosemary Elebash, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Alabama State Director
Elebash has worked hard during the pandemic to get information out to small businesses, helping find information about services, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, grants, and unemployment benefits.
Rosemary Elebash is a native of Opp, Ala., and a graduate of Troy University. She was appointed as state director of NFIB/Alabama in January 2003 and represents NFIB’s Alabama members as the public policy advocate. In addition, she is an active participant in several organizations, including the Alabama private sector chair for the American Legislative Exchange Council, past chairman and current board member of the Baptist Hospital South Advisory Board, board member of the Alabama Hospital Association Special Care Facilities Financing Authority, and Treasurer of the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee.
25. Carol Brown, Southern Strategy
One name that comes up repeatedly in conversation about those who can get things done without looking to be credited with the work is Carol Brown. She’s highly respected and has a reputation for her diligence and honesty.
Brown is one of the founders of Southern Strategy in Alabama. Her bio includes over 3 decades of advocacy and lobbying work in healthcare, business, and regulatory arenas. Before her current position, she was Vice President of Governmental Affairs and Manager of Federal Affairs for the Business Council of Alabama.
26. Tom Saunders, director of government affairs for Alabama Forestry Association
There aren’t many “true believers” when it comes to the small-government positions elected officials should be taking, but Saunders is one. Though he’s with the Forestry, his opinion is welcome on many topics to the members who understand the value that he and his association bring.
He joined the Forestry Assoc. in 2009, there’s no reason for a list of influencers to ever exist and him not have a place.
27. Molly Cagle, Shipt
Molly Cagle has shown in recent years that the sky is the limit for her talents, passion, and personality. This year, she moved on from the Business Council of Alabama (BCA) and joined Shipt’s corporate team as the Senior Director of Government and Public Affairs.
Cagle was BCA’s Vice-President of Government affairs. Katie Boyd Britt, BCA President and CEO, hired Cagle for the position in Feb. 2019. Before working for BCA, the Troy University graduate worked as Director of External Affairs at Manufacture America (MA).
28. Angi Stalnaker, CEO/Founder at Virtus Solutions, Inc.
Campaign consultant, public affairs professional, small business owner (Bama in a Box), and lobbyist are a few of the roles Stalnaker currently holds. Based out of Troy, the former Governor Robert Bentley adviser has seen some wild things in her years.
This year she’s running several campaigns to watch, including Wes Allen, who has announced he’s running for Secretary of State.
29. Bill McFarland Jr., real estate entrepreneur and businessman
The McFarland name carries a lot of weight in Alabama politics and in Tuscaloosa, but Billy McFarland Jr. has made a name for himself as a political donor and a thorn in the side of those who would have gaming legislation leave out existing entities and the charities they serve.
He stirred the pot endorsing Joesph Siegelman over Steve Marshall. A move that did not endear him to many whose praise he once earned.
McFarland Jr. worked with the coalition that asked important questions about this and last session’s proposed gaming legislation, which is why he’s on the list.
30. Becky Gerritson, Eagle Forum
Few women in the state can gather a crowd with a simple call, but Becky can do so. As a result, she’s a mainstay around the statehouse and at grassroots events around the state.
Currently, the Executive Director of the Eagle Forum of Alabama, she’s been active in fighting for and against a number of issues, including for fairness in girl’s sports, against medical marijuana, and gaming in recent years.
She began her journey in conservative grassroots politics when she and her husband founded the Wetumpka TEA Party in 2009, which quickly grew to be the largest and most active TEA Party in Alabama. She served as President until January 2019.
31. Jason Reid, Vice President of External Affairs, Home Builders Association of Alabama
Reid has been with the Home Builders of Alabama for over 20 years. Reid’s role with the Home Builders includes overseeing Alabama Builders Political Action Committee (ABPAC). Their PAC currently has $2,113,369 in its account.
32. Joey Clark, Radio host 93.1
Joey has been holding down the fort of News and Views while his co-host Jack Campbell recovers from a stroke. His name may not be well known around the state yet, but that doesn’t stop him from landing statewide candidates, local officials and providing hours of great conversation and analysis on local, state, federal politics.
Look for him to grow in the coming years as a must listen to voice.