As 2022 comes to a close Kentucky Fried Politics is naming the Frankfort players and power brokers nominated by their peers. The annual Power Brokers list has a new category for emerging power brokers, and returning names from the 2021 list.
Nominations for Power Brokers came in many forms this year – emails, texts, and phone calls. This list is not exhaustive but it is derived from those nominations alone.
Entries are open for the 2023 Power Brokers list, nominations can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
The slogan is meant to wrap around the entire state, and show everyone is on the same team. However, in Frankfort, only five people, including the Governor, make up this team in state government. Those from the legislature and lobbying corps deal primarily with these people, making them the “Team Kentucky,” Power Brokers.
- Chief of Staff Latasha Buckner
- Deputy Chief of Staff Jonathan Smith
- Senior Adviser Rocky Adkins
- Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray
Beyond the Capitol Steps
- Michael Frazier, Kentucky Student Rights Coalition: “Michael is a longstanding and prominent Kentucky activist and lobbyist working to advance the rights of students, eastern Kentuckians, and members of the Kentucky LGBT community. Besides having strong connections and sway in both the democratic and republican sides of Kentucky politics, Michael is well known for his ability to bring together both sides for bipartisan legislation that will ultimately create a better situation for all. Some of his most notable in the past few years has been spearheading the efforts for multiple pieces of state legislation, including personally passing two different student rights bills, the Kentucky Campus Free Speech Act and the Campus Due Process Protection Act. Michael has become a notable figure in the world of Kentucky politics and is now a daily sight in our capital. Through his efforts across Kentucky, numerous pieces of real law have been created and numerous coalition efforts have been forged throughout the state, uniting together students and legislators of all shades.”
- Chris Girdler, President and CEO of Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority: “The economic success Somerset-Pulaski County has experienced since SPEDA was formed in 2019 has not come by accident. That success is a testament to Chris’s work ethic, business and political experience, and love for his community and Kentucky. Many of the projects that have come to fruition in Somerset-Pulaski County — from industrial recruitment, commercial and retail recruitment, education and workforce development, and arts and entertainment — are a direct result of Chris’s influence.”
- Trey Grayson, Managing Principal at Civic Point: From his time as Secretary of State, and U.S. Senate candidate, to the Director of Harvard Institute of Politics from 2011 to 2014. He knows the ins and outs of election administration and continues to deeply engage in Frankfort.
- Jennifer Hancock, President and CEO Volunteers of America Mid-States: In her 15 years with VOA Hancock has managed to grow serious relationships with the state’s top leaders, from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell to state Senate President Robert Stivers.
- Rabbi Shlomo Litvin: “The descendent of Ukrainian Jews persecuted by the Cossacks from the east and later the Nazis from the west, Litvin has dedicated his life to service. He lives by the tenet of his Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, that “Never should two people meet without a third person benefiting,” and has prioritized both solidarity with other marginalized groups, including racial and sexual minorities, and tireless education to combat anti-Semitism. Under his auspices, in 2021, Kentucky became the first state in the nation to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism according to the definition provided by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Advised early in his career by the late Rep. John R. Lewis, Rabbi Litvin has in turn been a foremost adviser to both Governor Andy Beshear and the Republican House Caucus on issues affecting the Jewish community.”
- Jake Staton, Clinton Co. Circuit Court Clerk: “His network includes many Circuit Clerks and Deputy Clerks, numerous County Attorneys, and many other politicians , primarily in numerous counties in South Central Ky.” Staton is also close to James Comer and Max Wise. “He works it every day.”
- Thomas B. Stephens, Executive Director, Kentucky Association of Health Plans. “From his nomination: In a little under two years, Tom has helped transform Kentucky Association of Health Plans into a robust organization with rising clout in Frankfort. As the organization’s first full-time Exec. Dir., Stephens has worked tirelessly to increase visibility of health plans, expand membership to other health stakeholders, and ramp up tens of millions of dollars in health outreach programming. It’s an important job with Medicaid Managed Care Organizations holding some of the largest contracts in state government. Stephens draws from his private sector experience at Alltech and from his previous role as Secretary of the Kentucky Personnel Cabinet, where among other duties, he was responsible for management of the state’s largest self-funded health insurance plan encompassing 6-7% of Kentucky’s population.”
- Sharla Wells Director, Legislative and Governmental Relations Big Rivers Electric: “Sharla has become an expert on electric cooperative matters and has grown an increasingly more influential power base among members of the legislature after years of relationship building and hard work. She took on the broadband issue head-on for electric cooperatives and succeeded in getting key legislation across the finish line. While the utility crowd often runs in tandem together in Frankfort, folks know that if they want to get something done, Sharla will be at the center of that effort.”
- Bob Babbage: “Frequently sought by a collection of diverse, significant clients, the media, elected leaders, candidates, and other centers of influence, Bob generously shares lessons, fundamentals, and trends that help guide and explain decision making. He is a frequent expert, non-partisan political analyst on KET, LEX18 (NBC-TV), The LANE Report, and WVLK-AM radio among others. His work in co-founding Leadership Kentucky, the Louisville and Lexington Forums, plus other long-lasting programs is a meaningful ongoing legacy.
Moreover, major media have ranked Bob as a leading lobbyist year after year since 2000 both in earnings and impact, naming him “top lobbyist” 17 times. The Louisville Courier-Journal dubbed him one of two Kentucky “super lobbyists”, plus he was one of the original KFP power brokers. His firm, Babbage Cofounder, consistently supporting major Frankfort outcomes, has grown every year since 1998, now with a young, strong team of well-educated and engaged lobbyists shaping significant health policy decisions in all states as well as Washington, DC. The Babbage team consistently donates 5% of its professional time and resources to advising, supporting and lobbying for non-profit causes.”
- John Y Brown, III, Founder JYBIII Group: The former Democratic Secretary of State is among the top five in earnings for executive branch lobbying. John’s grandfather served in U. S. Congress under FDR and as Kentucky’s Speaker of the House. His father served as Governor of Kentucky from 1979-1983. So it almost seemed inevitable that John would serve the Commonwealth: in 1995 he was elected as Kentucky’s Secretary of State at the age of 32, the second youngest in the nation and one of Kentucky’s youngest ever statewide elected officials. John was re-elected without opposition in 1999 and his administration received numerous national awards and recognitions for being a leader in e-government, assisting businesses and election reform. Before entering politics, John headed up franchising for Roaster’s Inc., developing fast food venues in 37 states and several foreign countries. More recently, John served as vice-president of ResCare, working in government relations for the Louisville based human services company with over 40,000 employees in over 40 states and several foreign countries. He loves sharing his enthusiasm for business and law and served as an adjunct professor at Bellarmine University in Louisville. In 2007, John ran unsuccessfully as the lieutenant governor running mate on a ticket with gubernatorial candidate Jody Richards (Kentucky’s Speaker of the House) in a spirited seven slate Democratic primary.
- Sherman Brown, Partner at McCarthy Strategic Solutions: Brown’s influence has steadily increased as a Beshear once again graces the Governor’s Mansion. intern on US Congressman Ken Lucas’ 2002 reelection campaign, Brown’s last campaign role was Deputy Campaign Manager on the 2011 reelection slate of Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and Jerry Abramson. He worked on the finance staff of the 2007 Beshear-Mongiardo where he was part of a team that raised over $12 million for Governor Steve Beshear’s successful campaign, the most ever raised for a KY gubernatorial campaign at that time. He’s been close to Gov. Andy Beshear since his run for Attorney General in 2015.
- Sarah Osborne, MML&K: Sara Osborne has been with MML&K Government Solutions since 2013. As the former Executive Director for the Office of Intergovernmental Services in the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, Sara brings a strong insight into the state’s legislative process to the government relations team. Through her prior work experience, Sara has been directly involved with our state government’s various cabinets, agencies and Governor’s office. Prior to her position as Executive Director for the Office of Intergovernmental Services, Sara was the Director of Business Services and Legislative Liaison for the Office of Secretary of State. She also spent a year and half with the Department for Local Government. Sara has had the rare opportunity to work under two different gubernatorial administrations in separate states; she has played important roles for both former Governor Steve Beshear’s Office and the former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen’s administration. She graduated from Centre College with a B.A. in Government and a minor in Religion. Sara was selected and served as a delegate for Kentucky to the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
- John P. Cooper, Founder and Managing Partner Capital Link: Cooper has been in the halls of Frankfort since he served as chief of staff in the state Senate in 1987. John’s civic engagement across the state includes service as Vice-Chairman of the Board of Regents of Eastern Kentucky University, from which he holds multiple undergraduate degrees. For his work on behalf of his hometown of Georgetown for over 30 years, John was cited in the book The Best of Scott County as one of the most influential people in shaping Scott County’s history.
- Steve Huffman, Co-Founder and Managing Partner HCM Governmental Relations: Huffman served as Chief of Staff to Lt. Governor Steve Pence and the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet of Kentucky. He oversaw the Department of Corrections, Homeland Security, Juvenile Justice, and the Kentucky State Police. Stephen coordinated and advised legislative, personnel, and policy matters for the Justice Cabinet and its employees. Stephen also coordinated legislative and policy matters with Kentucky’s Congressional delegation, state lawmakers, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
- Patrick Jennings, Founding Partner Commonwealth Alliances: Another returning alumni of the inaugural power brokers list. Jennings has again been nominated by those in the know in Frankfort. Jennings has deep ties to Republican political campaigns going back to the late ’90s. He cut his teeth working with U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill, and then as the chief lobbyist for Kentucky Farm Bureau. He opened his own lobbying shop in 2008. Jennings serves on the Republican Party of Kentucky’s executive committee, central committee, and as the finance chairman.
- John McCarthy, Founding Partner McCarthy Strategic Solutions: He’s the former chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky, and has been consistently among the top-paid lobbyists in the state, especially since the House veered right. McCarthy was on the inaugural list of Power Brokers and his connections to Republicans keeps him as a mainstay.
- Judy Taylor, Director Governmental Affairs Keeneland: “She absolutely deserves to be at the top of the list. ‘If you dream of crossing Judy the wrong way, you’d better wake up and apologize.’ She runs Frankfort… has for 30+ years, still does today. If you’re not scared of Judy you’re either brand new or stupid.”
- Amy Wickliffe, Partner McCarthy Strategic Solutions: Amy brings over fifteen years of political and lobbying experience to the McCarthy Strategic Solutions team. She has been lobbying the Kentucky General Assembly since 2005 and previously served as Chief of Staff to First Lady Glenna Fletcher, Statewide Finance Director for Governor Ernie Fletcher and worked on various political campaigns throughout her career. As a lobbyist, she advocates for various client issues including pharmaceuticals, real estate, workers’ compensation and crime victims’ rights, just to name a few.
- Mark “Tuna” Wilson, Partner Top Shelf Lobby: This Northern Kentucky native once again makes the power brokers list as one of Kentucky’s most influential lobbyists. Prior to joining Top Shelf, Wilson was the Managing Partner of Commonwealth Capitol Group, LLC. While lobbying through 12 sessions of the Kentucky General Assembly, he tackled some of the toughest issues in Kentucky. He has worked on issues ranging from expanded gaming to tax incremental financing and smoking bans to cigarette taxes, and he has helped secure incentives and earmarks for some of Kentucky’s most popular projects. Mr. Wilson’s work took him to five state capitols around the country, including Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Florida, and Nevada. His client list includes companies on the Fortune 500, national and state trade associations, health care facilities, and developers.
- Jake Cox, former Rand Paul campaign manager current Ryan Quarles gubernatorial campaign manager: Cox has quietly been building a reputation the last decade in Kentucky politics. His latest win comes with Rand Paul in his rout of Charles Booker. As of Thursday, Cox has joined Ryan Quarles gubernatorial campaign as his campaign manager in the GOP primary.
- Matt Erwin, former consultant Craig Greenberg of Mayor: Erwin took a relatively unknown Louisville businessman in Craig Greenberg and helped him navigate his way through the Democratic Primary and a tough General Election to make him mayor of Louisville. As Democrats have been decimated in recent elections Erwin finds ways to win where Democrats are still hanging on.
- Eric Hyers: Hyers helped Andy Beshear defeat Matt Bevin in 2019, and he’s in state coordinating other Democratic efforts – including defeating constitutional amendment 1 on this year’s ballot.
- Scott Jennings: The conservative commentator for CNN is a founding partner for Louisville-based RunSwitch, a PR and Public Affairs firm. Jennings is close to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and helped his campaigns dating back to 2002. He ran a pro-McConnell super PAC in 2014 that he fired up in support of Republicans in state House and Senate races this year – adding to margins in both chambers.
- Sean Southard, Communications Director Republican Party of Kentucky: In his first year with the Republican Party of Kentucky Southard adds several notches to his campaign belt, helping the GOP add to their super majorities in Frankfort on mail and messaging. Southard Following interned with McConnell, worked for Run Switch on the McConnell Super PAC, Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, and spent five years as the Comms director for Ag Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
- Dalton Workman, Political Director Republican Party of Kentucky: Described as “wicked smart,” in his nomination, Workman spent time with the state Senate as their policy director before moving over to RPK this campaign cycle. Workman worked with Republican candidates as the GOP added to their seats in the House and Senate.
Emerging Power Brokers
- Julie Babbage, “In almost seven years of lobbying, Julie Babbage has risen to key leadership roles with influence on a host of decisions. Now as senior partner of Babbage Cofounder, Julie leads an impressive team with noteworthy achievements in advocacy. After graduating with honors from Vanderbilt, Julie got her start in the Deloitte federal practice in Washington, DC. Now recognized for her transformative strategies, Julie is leading the resurgence of DPAC, the 50-state Diabetes Patient Advocacy Coalition, serving as executive director for their all-star national board of directors. Julie’s role runs from Frankfort and the Bluegrass to numerous state capitols plus Washington, DC. In the past two years DPAC has impacted favorable decisions in both the Trump and Biden administrations for people with diabetes and allies, an impressive bipartisan record. A growing “standing army of advocates” now numbers over 6,000 nationwide.”
- John Cox, Jr. KY Chamber of Commerce: “Working for four years for the state Senate leadership as communications director, John got exceptional experience. He moved to a similar role in the Tourism Cabinet under Governor Bevin. Now with several years on the high profile state Chamber team as a director in the public affairs area, he’s in a key role to lead.”
- Iris Wilbur Glick, Principal at McCarthy Strategic Solutions: With a decade of political and policy experience Glick continues to make a name for herself in Frankfort. Prior to joining McCarthy Strategic Solutions, she served as Vice President of Public Policy and External Affairs for Greater Louisville Inc., the Metro Chamber of Commerce. Prior to her role at GLI, Iris was a political operative working on campaigns and committees supporting gubernatorial, senate, and presidential candidates. In the 2016 election cycle, Iris worked with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, serving as Regional Political Director of Indiana, Kentucky, & Ohio. Ahead of the 2014 election cycle, she joined Team Mitch in early 2013 as Political Director to reelect the Republican Leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell. In the 2012 Presidential race, Iris was based in New Mexico and Northern Nevada on behalf of the Republican National Committee as the State Victory Director. Prior positions included working with the Kentucky State Senate Majority Caucus communications team, 2011 Kentucky Gubernatorial campaign, and Republican Party of Kentucky in 2010 to elect now-U.S. Senator Rand Paul.
- Kate Wood Hall, Partner Commonwealth Alliances: Kate Wood Hall has worked in Kentucky politics and government for over 12 years and has been a member of the Commonwealth Alliances team for over two years. Prior to joining Commonwealth Alliances, she served as former Governor Steve Beshear’s Legislative Liaison and Director of the Governor’s Office of Legislative Services. During her time in this position, she was the Governor’s senior advisor on issues relating to the legislature and state legislation, and worked on key policy achievements including curbing prescription drug abuse, raising Kentucky’s dropout age to 18 and addressing state government’s pension crisis. She also actively worked with the Governor and other members of his senior staff and Cabinet Officials on policy development and strategic decision making.
- Greg McNeill, senior advisor to Secretary of State Michael Adams: “After coming to Kentucky last year, Greg became the senior advisor to Secretary of State Michael Adams where he advises the Secretary on election policy, helping the Adams to implement his agenda in Frankfort. While he is a new face to Frankfort, he isn’t new to Kentucky politics, Greg spent eight years working in Washington for Senator Rand Paul as his principal budget, tax, and economics advisor, and 17 years in the U.S. Senate, writing Senator Rand Paul’s infamous government Waste Reports. He brings to the table decades of political know-how, cutting his teeth in some of the most heated fights in DC, and has been known to be the staffer behind a federal government shutdown. He is one of the few people in Frankfort that intimately understand the levers of politics from the federal down to the state and local level, and will be someone to watch out for…”
- Abby Piper, Co-Founder Piper-Smith: “Since starting Piper-Smith, Abby has lobbied over two dozen executive and legislative branch issues across the education, health, tourism, privacy and civil rights sectors in a single session, including helping a client receive a multi-million dollar appropriation in the state budget.”
- Stephanie Stumbo: “Drawing upon an exceptional career at ABC, the PSC, Local Government and elsewhere, Stephanie Stumbo understands the subtleties and nuances of Kentucky politics and achieves outcomes for her lobbying clients that larger and more powerful interest groups only dream of. Don’t let her down-home manner fool you. Stephanie is tenacious and blunt. Though frequently operating under the radar, the Frankfort lobbying corps knows she swings a big stick. Stephanie’s decades-long relationships with lawmakers, policymakers and the Frankfort bureaucrats on both sides of the aisle make her the ultimate Frankfort insider. It’s no wonder the National Institute on Lobbying & Ethics recognized Stephanie as one of the top 100 lobbyists in the nation in 2021 – the only Kentucky lobbyist on the list.”
Notably absent: Lawmakers. This year we have decided to leave Frankfort lawmakers off this list. They will be returning next year with a new “most effective” category.