Gov. Kay Ivey took office just over a week ago, and while the former lieutenant governor still hasn’t settled into the Governor’s Mansion, she’s already made significant changes in the state.
Ivey ascended to the governor’s chair after its former occupant, Robert Bentley, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor campaign finance violations in an agreement ending what was nearly the state’s first impeachment of a top politician. Upon taking office, Ivey alluded to Bentley’s fall from power, but said the “dark day” was also an opportunity for the state.
“Today is both a dark day for Alabama yet also one of opportunity. I ask for your help and patience as we together steady the ship of state and improve Alabama’s image. Those are my first priorities as your 54th governor,” Ivey said. “When I took the oath of office in 2011 and then again in 2015, I was prepared for this day, but never desired or expected it. The people of Alabama should know that there will be no disruption in the function of your state government.”
On her first full day as governor, Ivey’s office confirmed the termination of Jon Mason from his position as director of Serve Alabama, the governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service, a position that paid $91,400 annually. Mason is the husband of Rebekah Mason, with whom former Gov. Bentley admitted to having an inappropriate relationship, although he continues to deny any physical relationship.
Mason’s termination wasn’t the only staff change made by the new governor, either. In addition to asking, as is custom, for the resignation letters of all top appointed administration officials, on her second day in office Gov. Ivey abolished the Office of Rural Development, which was headed up by former gubernatorial candidate Ron Sparks.
Sparks, who was the Democratic runner-up to Bentley in the 2010 governor’s race, said the move is a blow to rural Alabama.
“You all learned of this decision in the same manner as I did, through news media,” he said in a social media post on the matter. “I am deeply saddened that politics came before protecting the people of rural Alabama, and especially before saving the lives of babies.”
In response, Ivey said in a statement the office’s purposes will be better served by integrating them into the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.
“Rural Alabama is near and dear to my heart. Don’t forget I’m from rural Wilcox County,” Ivey said. “My decision to shutter the Office of Rural Development will refocus rural development efforts into existing agencies.”
In another capital shake-up, Ivey announced she has changed the date for the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the United States Senate to comply with state law, which says an election must be held immediately following a vacancy if it occurs more than four months from the regularly scheduled election. Previously, Bentley had set an election for November 2018, a move criticized by many, including Republican Secretary of State John Merrill.
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