You spend the better part of the last four decades in and around Montgomery politics, working your way up from a clerk in the State House to the governor’s mansion.
It is an impressive feat, but Gov. Kay Ivey spent time in administrative roles within state government, then serving as treasurer and lieutenant governor, and assuming the role of governor before winning a gubernatorial election.
All that time and effort to prove just as her 2018 campaign ad proclaimed, “Anything is possible in Alabama.”
Finally, at the top of the mountain: the state’s top executive. Now might be a good time to act like it.
The last year and a half of the Ivey administration has been peculiar, albeit plagued by unforeseen circumstances — the first global pandemic since the Charles Henderson administration and a hurricane that made an unexpected landfall on the Alabama coast.
Throw out the end of her first term, filling the vacancy left by Gov. Robert Bentley. It was the last half of a quadrennium. Montgomery’s political scene was in turmoil with the downfall of House Speaker Mike Hubbard. Add to that the upheaval caused by the 2017 special election.
Ivey “steadied the ship” and was rewarded with an election win.
One of the knocks on Ivey during the 2018 gubernatorial election cycle was her unwillingness to participate in a debate, both during the Republican primary and the general election.
All the debates or forums that year could not have foretold what would be in store for the future Ivey administration.
After being sworn in at her inauguration, Ivey embarked on an ambitious policy agenda with two items at the top of the list: infrastructure and prisons.
After naming former Congressman Jo Bonner her chief of staff, this now-officially-elected governor was ready to play in Montgomery.
It began with a special session and the Rebuild Alabama Act, which was essentially a tax increase to fund improvements to Alabama’s roads and bridges and, for some reason we’ll find out about one day, the expansion of the Port of Mobile.
That vote set the tone for Ivey and a new Legislature. While the votes had long been there to approve the proposal, Ivey went all-in, aiming for unanimity on the Rebuild Alabama Act.
The reasoning was simple: The Ivey administration and leadership within the Alabama Legislature really, really wanted this bill to pass. However, they were confronted with the challenge of having an entirely new class of freshman House and Senate members make their first vote to increase taxes.
That is not a good look for Republicans fresh off the campaign trail touting the virtues of low taxes and limited government. To overcome that, it seemed as if the goal was to make it so everyone walked the plank. Then, if in four years it was still an issue, there would be at least the cover for a potentially vulnerable incumbent to say, “I voted with everyone in my party.”
It turned ugly for some members, who were resistant to political pressure to increase taxes on the first day of the new quadrennium.
Inside her office, Ivey had a whiteboard on the wall with the names of the 105 members of the Alabama House and 35 members of the Alabama Senate. Reportedly, next to each name was a green dot signifying support of the gas tax increase, a red dot for opposition or a black dot if it was neither.
The Rebuild Alabama Act passed. The political fight has come and gone. Yet, the dots alongside each of the names remain.
Those red dots are paying the price to this day. House members lost funding for state parks in their districts. Other members of the Legislature who voted “no” were told by leadership their bills were dead on filing, given the governor’s opposition.
So much for allowing bygones to be bygones.
The oddity came during Ivey’s blackface episode. With such a bombshell, the governor’s office notified members of the Legislature of a potential pending scandal — that was if you were a member on her right side.
If you voted for the governor’s gas tax, you got the head’s up. If you voted against it, you found out like everyone else — through a press release accompanied by an online video.
“A careless error,” Ivey Chief of Staff Jo Bonner wrote in an email to House Speaker Mac McCutcheon as for the cause of those red-dotters not being notified. The fact that such distinct lists exist probably tells us what we need to know.
Then came the toll bridge saga, which turned out to be poorly executed politically by the governor from the beginning and remains to date an embarrassing defeat. Who knows what Jo Bonner — someone the people of southwest Alabama trusted to represent them on Capitol Hill for five and a half terms — was thinking when the Ivey administration decided to try to force a public-private partnership with strict terms on his former constituents.
The loss did not sit well and it continues not to sit well. There are still hard feelings between the governor and local officials, including State Sen. Chris Elliott, who remains engaged in a dispute with Ivey brought by the toll bridge fiasco.
Those differences continue to linger as the area recovers from Hurricane Sally, which is not helpful.
Those close to Ivey will say she and her administration are justified and to hell with her critics. She is the governor. They are not. It is not her fault they cannot recognize the good she is doing for them, or maybe they do and have their own political agenda. Whatever the reason, it will not stand and she will retaliate.
What is this, high school?
There may be a lot accomplished during Ivey’s term(s) as governor — roads, prisons, overcoming COVID-19. It could be historic.
But for many, she will be remembered as a petty person with a petty staff always looking to settle a score and get that last laugh.
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