I’ve been tough on Gov. Kay Ivey.

And I didn’t really want to be. I like her story. Girl from rural Alabama, works hard and ascends to the highest office in her state.

I mean, really, what’s not like to like?

But it really irked me she refused to participate in debates — not in the primary with her fellow Republicans and not in the general with Democratic nominee Walt Maddox. It still irritates me. It’s not personal. This irritation is entirely based on principle. Because I really feel like debate in the public square is essential for a thriving and healthy democracy. Just as essential as a free press (gratuitous plug) and a fair and open electoral process (free of Russians and the billionaire who founded LinkedIn). Cue “The Star-Spangled Banner” and slice the apple pie!

It doesn’t matter if you are a male or female, play for the red team or blue team, or if you are virtually guaranteed a win if you are your party’s nominee, you should be able to stand up and state and defend your plans and positions and make the case for why you are the right person to lead whatever office it is you are running for — no matter if it is for Wilcox County High School class president or governor of this great state. Period.

And to me, it was even more important for Ivey to do this because she had never been elected governor by the people, she only received her post because our horndog governor “loved” holding the “breasts” of his top adviser. (Insert the emoji that vomits green stuff.)

I understand why she didn’t do it. Her consultants and handlers determined it wasn’t her strong suit and if she participated it could only hurt her chances. I get it.

But still. It just made me crazy that she wouldn’t participate and really didn’t even have a very detailed plan on her website, either. (Insert that emoji with a clenched jaw here. And maybe add the angry, red-faced one too. Or at least the eye-roll one.)

But clearly her calculations were correct. And while I hope this doesn’t set a precedent where every “anointed” candidate or incumbent feels they can just skip over this whole pesky “participating in our democratic process” part, I am going to move on.

Because when I actually got to hear Kay Ivey speak on Monday as she delivered her inaugural address, it was obvious to me she loves this state. And maybe, just maybe, unlike many of her predecessors, she is in this for the right reasons. Could it be possible that we could actually have a governor who doesn’t leave office with a commemorative mug shot? A girl can dream, right?

In addition to saying how much she loved this state and what a “proud Alabamian” she was, Ivey laid out her plans for the next four years, emphasizing a need for a gas tax to address aging infrastructure problems and a call for state prison reform. There was no mention of the L word. (Just in case you haven’t been paying attention, that word is LOTTERY.) She also re-emphasized the commitment to the much-lauded preschool education initiative “Strong Start, Strong Finish” and said our economy was strong, as “more Alabamians are working today than ever before.”

She also made a call for bipartisanship to overcome the challenges we face. “If we work on them together — Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals — then today’s challenges can be looked upon as tomorrow’s accomplishments,” she said.

A refreshing notion to hear in this polarized world we live in. It takes far more courage and character to say you will “work across the aisle” than it does to just say the other party is evil. So, thank you, Gov.

And in a move certain to win the hearts of everyone who doesn’t live in the city that thinks it’s the only real city in Alabama (cough, Birmingham), she gave shoutouts to Huntsville and Mobile.

“Just as Huntsville is recognized around the globe for its work in space exploration and discovery, I predict in just a few short years, Mobile will become one of the top four cities in the world where large, commercial aircraft are assembled. And we will reach this milestone in under a decade,” Ivey said.

Flattery will get you everywhere with Mobilians, Kay, so thank you. And I think you are right. This little Port City is pretty damn extraordinary. And it’s only the beginning.

Don’t worry, Birmingham. I’m sure you’ll get something eventually.

(I’m just kidding, Ham. We love you — even though you are a little arrogant and a tiny bit narcissistic.)

But seriously, it will be nice to have a governor who isn’t so Birmingham-obsessed and who will look out for the interests of South Alabama, so I really hope that is the case. With the announcement this week that former Congressman Jo Bonner will be her new chief of staff, that can only mean good things for us. I am happy a Mobilian will be in her ear every single day. Don’t let her forget us, Jo!

I like the optimism every January brings. Everyone believes (at least for a few weeks) they can start fresh and lose 50 pounds and change all of their bad habits. And an inauguration brings that same feeling. I am sure in a few short months we will hear more tales of state legislators being bought by lobbyists, and we’ll be fighting over the lottery and the gas tax and who gets how much money from each of them. And we’ll somehow manage to screw all of that up too. But right now, in this moment, I am hopeful for this great state that I also love, and I am rooting for only the second female governor in its 200-year history.

Let’s do this, Kay!