We’re finally podcasting!
In this first episode of “In the Weeds” with Alabama Daily News, Todd Stacy and Caroline Beck discuss the upcoming legislative session and some of the bills that are already getting attention.
Gov. Kay Ivey joins the show as the first ever guest on “In the Weeds” to talk about a range of topics, including her leadership style, Jo Bonner coming on as Chief of Staff, the push to get more gas tax revenue to improve infrastructure, and Alabama’s new “first dog.”
TRANSCRIPT: Alabama Governor Kay Ivey goes “In the Weeds” with Alabama Daily News
Todd C. Stacy: Well hey, Governor
Governor Kay Ivey: Hey Todd. Thank you for coming for a visit.
TCS: Well, thank you for making the time you are the very first guest on this Alabama Daily News podcast. You know, that’s a really big deal for, for me and for the listeners. So thank you for for doing that.
GKI: Thank you so much. Today is also a big day for the department of revenue. They’re celebrating their 80th years of existence. It’s also the birthday of Commissioner Barnett. So I just finished up over there helping them celebrate their 80 years of being in service to the people of Alabama.
TCS: That’s great. Well, when you welcome me into this office, I realized it has been a long time since I’ve been in here and I’ve never failed to be impressed. This is just a, you know, august rom. I’ve never seen any other governor’s offices but this one it really is impressive in terms of if you’re a guest you’re coming into the Executive Office. You know, it’s just really impressive.
GKI: Well, if these walls could talk we’d all be smarter wouldn’t we?
TCS: That’s right. Well, I just wanted to have a little conversation with you about what’s going on what has been going on and what you look to to do in this term and really as the session gets going. But I heard a rumor that I wanted to confirm first. I heard that you may be a new adoptive parent…
GKI: Her name is Missy. She’s a Collie dog. Got her from the Humane Society. My dog, Bear, Alabama’s first dog, died November 16 and it broke my heart. Nothing will ever replace Bear but I bought him a pretty headstone and planted him up at the cabin that he loved up on Lake Jordan. And then I started looking for another dog, and we went to the Humane Society and found her. And she’s four years old and Collie mix, and very friendly and lovable and she’s just she’s even jumping on the elevator by herself now.
TCS: There was such an outpouring of you know, support…
GKI: People sent cards and so many people made a contribution. Daniel even donated umpteen big sacks of dog food to the humane society and other people made contributions to different charities in honor of Bear. That was very touching. I saved all those cards and notes that came from people who made contributions.
TCS: I watched the inauguration, stood right there. I mean, wonderful speech, I thought there were a lot of good speeches that day in terms of setting the agenda. Now the election is over, you know, big election the inaugural festivities are over. What happens after all the pomp and circumstance is over?
GKI: Then you go to work – and I mean serious work. When I was trying to wrestle with the idea of even making a race for governor I had to face the fact that our state is facing some very difficult challenges and needs. Because they’ve been, with the prisons and the infrastructure, neglected for years and years and decades, and if I was successful in running for governor, I was going to have to deal with those. And you don’t look forward to dealing with difficult things, but that was one of the soul searching questions that I had to answer for myself. Was I willing, if I was going to run for governor, would I be willing to take on the high priority needs that the state has because of neglect by others through the years. And it was a hard decision for me to make because both of those where heavy lifts.
When I reached in my heart and soul and realized that the reason that you serve is to make people’s lives better and provide more opportunities for them. Well, without question, our infrastructure needs require an increased investment. Without question our southern states have already done that around us. We are lagging behind and our roads and bridges and our port are not in good shape and I’ve got a whole document open that shows that the average county road should be repaid at least every 50 years, and we do it every 156 years. So we are lagging behind and we’ve got to maintain our roads and bridges and port to support our continued economic growth. So I’m hard working on it. I have the opportunity and I have to take the lead because it’s the right thing to do for the right reasons to make it right and best for Alabama.
TCS: Let me ask about that because, you know, here you are in your new term. You came into office, what, was it 20 months ago, everybody knows the circumstances. My observation at the time was that you had an orderly transition and we’ve talked about that how you prioritized how it had to be done right – right the ship of state and all that. Also think you were a known figure, it’s not like somebody advanced into the office that nobody knew. I mean, you’d been elected many times and also I just felt like maybe there was this thirst for leadership from the people that maybe helped you be perceived not as just kind of this “acting” governor but as “the” governor. And, of course, you know successful election all that but it’s got to be different having been elected I mean having put your name on the ballot as two people to support you and won pretty convincingly.
GKI: Well first of all I am grateful for the outpouring of voters that went to the polls that day. I am just so grateful at the high number of votes for Kay Ivey for Governor. That is a very humbling realization. But it gives me the strength to know that is okay to do what’s right for the right reasons and people the people of Alabama, I believe, know and respect and trust what I say and do and so I’m counting on the good relationships and the trust that we built up over the years to help me steer me well as we work with the people of Alabama, legislators and other key folks that are essential to moving our state forward we just have to work together and get this done. Future generations future depends on it.
TCS: So you think having the you know the voters approval saying is that feel different? Is it a mandate of
GKI: Well, it’s a solid voter approval. That it is ok for Kay Ivey to be governor. And prior to that everything was kind of tenuous. But now there is a certain level of certainty that this is a matter of record we are going forward and I’m grateful for that trust and I’ll guard it mightily. And I will protect that trust.
TCS: You had four former governors at your inauguration…
GKI: Yes, we had Governor Folsom, and Governor Bentley and Governor Riley and Governor Siegelman.
TCS: I thought that was just really interesting. Matter of fact, I think we were sharing photos about it. We just haven’t seen that gathering of governors in a long time.
GKI: We also had two former lieutenant governors.
TCS: That’s right.
GKI: Windom and McMillian.
TCS: And of course Folsom. Did you get to talk to them?
GKI: Oh yeah, we had a picture after the ceremony but some ow Siegelman slipped out before we took it.
TCS: Okay. But that’s good. If you don’t mind me asking what, do you talk about? Small talk? ‘Hey, I remember this office…’
GKI: Well, we were outside and it was chilly that day. So it didn’t last long. But they were very gracious and I appreciate the fact that they came. We invited all former governors.
TCS: That’s nice. Well, I’ll wanted to ask you about your new Chief of Staff. Of course, I’ve known Steve a long time and, you know, happy for him that he’s gone on to Auburn. But you brought Jo and it was a major league hire. I made it made it made a big splash. He’s obviously very well known
GKI: And well respected.
TCS: He’s a guy who’s been a chief of staff before then a congressman. Did you have to talk him into it? How did you how did y’all come to that?
GKI: Well it was last fall, I think, we were in Tuscaloosa and he was employed with the University of Alabama System. See, Joe and I grew up together in Camden, Alabama. And he and his folks were in Camden until the sixth grade until they moved to Greenville. So I’ve known Joe a long time, and his older brother and I were classmates. Joe’s a hometown boy. So when I was in Tuscaloosa that day, I had lunch with him. And I just asked him, would he ever have any interest in serving the people of Alabama again, and working in the governor’s office and I planted the seed then, and we nurtured it, and I’m delighted to have him and today’s his first official day as chief of staff.
TCS: Oh, is that right? Okay, well, great. I was gonna ask how it’s going, but if it’s day one,
GKI: Well he’s been here since December 1st.
TCS: Okay. Senior Advisor,
GKI: Senior Advisor, and performing many of the duties of Chief of Staff, but it becomes official today. Now we get him some calling cards.
TCS: Okay, yeah, that’s right. Well, that’s good. Having served in government and everything, I’m really into the process of things and just me it’s so important to surround yourself with people you trust people that are effective because if you don’t, man, a lot of things can can slip by. And I wanted to ask you about that. I mean, I’d like you to, you know, when they walk me through your you know how you delegate while we do have a senior staff or cabinet meeting, where what’s your process for, you know, delegating responsibilities and asking for results and setting expectations.
GKI: Start with your Cabinet, the Cabinet officers those selected one by one. When I took the oath of office with three hours notice we inherited a full gamut. Over the next six to eight months we evaluated each one of them the duties of the office and the criteria, the capabilities of the each candidate person and we changed out about half of the cabinet and that was part of steading the ship. One on one you just meet with them and outline the duties and my expectations. And so they go to their respective department and become the head. And, remember my cabinet, because they’re in that position. Then you take my staff, which we’ve got broken out now, and I brought you this so you could see, for example, my deputy chiefs of staff along with the policy advisors. And so we’ve broken up, we’ve clustered certain cabinet levels under each one of these staff members and they stay in touch with and communicate back and forth and we have monthly cabinet meetings to have updates. But our chief of staff and these deputies in the policymakers focus on their respective departments and it works really well.
You got to have two-way communications. You’ve got to have the information going both ways. And right now I think we’ve done pretty good job and the cabinet people feel comfortable in asking questions or making recommendations. They’ve all been very helpful in submitting their wish list for the legislative session, what their needs are in their departments. And so we’re working closely with them. So I just believe when you identify capable, competent people that you trust and they have a track record that they bring, you can work with them as long as I do my part which is being very specific and forthright and decisive. There’s a lot of leaders who won’t make a decision.
TCS: That’s right
GKI: But I don’t have a problem making a decision. You present me all the facts and verify that they are the facts and I’ll make a decision for you.
TCS: Yeah, somebody told me that’s how you work. You ask for options and are like, “hey don’t come to me without options” and “Okay, I’ll make the decision but you but you need to present me options…”
GKI: Because I want the people that I work with and am responsible for to have input, because they’d be a stronger and I want the best of their thought process and the best of their experience to shine.
TCS: Kind of related to that, I’ve always found that whether you’re a governor or congressman or senator, a lot of people will tell you what you want to hear instead of maybe what you need to hear. Whether it’s staff or lawmakers or lobbyists or whomever, how, how do you get your team and others outside of the organization to resist that temptation and tell you what you actually need to hear?
GKI: Well, when I’m dealing with staff, they know straight up that they need to bring me options and they need to be able to present their pros and cons on each option. And because I work closely with staff and cabinet, I trust them to do that. The rank and file Alabamians, you know, we’ll never know because there’ll be folks who will tell you one thing and feel another, but they don’t necessary make options available to me to make decisions. But I’m happy to visit with anybody most anytime we can schedule it and hear from anybody that wants to make a presentation. But you look folks in the eye – just like you and I look in each other in the eye – and that goes a long way to build trust.
TCS: Has it been going with the new lawmakers?
GKI: We’ve got some great folks that are coming in. The new House members, new Senate members, I’m real optimistic. I think we’ve got a bright, capable group. I’ve enjoyed working with Lieutenant Governor Ainsworth. He’s indicated that he wants to be an active Lieutenant Governor and I’ll sure let him. And I’ll include him in some things. I’ve already appointed him to the Workforce Council. And he has interest in that. And that’s fine.
TCS: That’s interesting because I mean, you know what it’s like to be lieutenant governor and want to be involved in things and so is that where that comes from?
GKI: Well, I offered to be of help to my predecessor, and he didn’t seem to want to take me up on my offer. But Lieutenant Governor Ainsworth is capable, he’s bright, and I’ll be glad to plug him in. I think we’ve also turned over to him the Small Business Committee.
TCS: That’s interesting, because, you know, over the years, different lieutenant governors have done differently in terms of being involved or not being involved. But it seems like it would be logical he’s got his constitutional officer that beyond the legislative session has has some time that has some duties have some work to do mean that there’s it kind of makes sense.
You talked about inaugural inaugural address, prisons, education funding, so you’ve set the table in terms of what you want. But my big question on infrastructure is, you know, where are the specifics? Do we know yet what have you all settled on a number four what the gas tax might be?
GKI: We’re still meeting with legislators and influential groups. In my mind, I have a set amount that I’m interested in. I want a reasonable amount. We are down 14 points in our purchasing power. I’m not asking for 14 cents, but I do want a reasonable amount that will take us and help us meet the challenge that the state faces to build infrastructure like it ought to be. We only get one chance at this and it’s been since 1992. That was the last time we came close. To do something just to get us back 10 years – we’ve got to make get this right. And so we’ve been very deliberate about it and meeting with the right folks that are trying to answer questions and give them facts and details.
It’s like I told you about the county roads needing paving every 50 years and we are over 100 years. that we wait to pave roads and our bridges are in bad shape. You know, it’s just unconscionable, to me to think about a mother that has to have a child of an elementary school child standing to catch the bus at 5:30 in the morning because the bus has got to go out of its way to go around 15 miles one way to escape cross a certain bridge. That is a heartbreaker, much less the safety of our people who travel less. First responders need to get where they need to go in a timely fashion but we’ve got congestion. Our rural areas need road improvements and new roads in the rural areas to open up more opportunities for economic development. I can give you a whole list of why we need this and it’s not an easy thing to do, nobody wants to do it, but we have got to have good roads. And our purchasing power in 1992, we’re way down from it now. So we’ve got to do this and I’m proud to be leading the charge.
TCS: I went and visited up there in Tuscaloosa with the Alabama Transportation Institute and they’d crunched all the numbers about what you know what this price would get you you know what this amount of sense we get you in terms of fixing different regions and everything. Has that have been part of the y’alls as that research the Alabama Transportation Institute and all these other researchers that kind of informed view on what the number needs to be?
GKI: I’m sure it’s had an influence on Bill Poole – Representative Bill Poole, who is going to be the quarterbacking the bill starting in the House. Of course, it’s a tax bill so it has to start in the House. So Bill, being from up there, he’s probably already got that and I’ve got a whole report that does not address that particular issue, but we’ve crunched a lot of numbers.
TCS: But nothing specific today?
GKI: Not today. We’re gonna be forthcoming
TCS: Fair enough. Everybody’s anticipating and it’ll be interesting.
GKI: Everybody has been asking because they want to shoot something down.
TCS: Well I was gonna say once you once you put something out there you’re going to get a lot of that’s when they’ll…
GKI: Everybody is going to write about whatever amount it is. So let’s get it right so we don’t have to do this but once every 50 or 100 years.
TCS: Understood. Well I look forward to seeing it and we’re paying attention I’ve been writing about it the whole state really and but there will be critics I mean there will be folks that say no tax ever you know…
GKI: And we’ve got to have provisions for electric cars. ALDOT has been working with folks to establish what’s called charging infrastructure on the highway system, and you’ve got to have some kind of registration fee for electric cars.
TCS: Yeah, because they’re using the roads but their not paying…
GKI: That’s right.
TCS: And indexing. We talked about indexing where or my visit with the transportation folks said, you know, if we had done some kind of indexing back in 92, where the gas tax stayed, you know, with consumer price index, whatever metric you chose, we wouldn’t be in the same mess we are. And that was a very important component if we wanted like to say, get it right, this some kind of indexing would probably be a good idea. So we’re not doing it again. And 25 years, has that been a part of y’all discussions, too?
TCS: I did want to ask you. I profiled your during the campaign. I really appreciate you let me follow you around for the day. That was really interesting in Dothan, the way it turned out. I know you read it, so I was gonna ask you what you thought. I am interested in leadership style and what your leadership style is, as compared to other governors. So what I wrote was that your leadership style is different than your immediate predecessors. As I said, “Ivey isn’t overbearing, nor does she wanted to be patronized. She doesn’t command attention by forcing it or by asking for it without quietly expecting it. And it works. To paraphrase lean in author Sheryl Sandberg, Kay Ivey isn’t bossy, Kay Ivey is the boss.” How close did I get in terms of how you see yourself?
GKI: Well, I’m forthright. I don’t try to second guess you. I don’t try to play games. I just look you in the eye and give you my forthright opinion or decision. And if you’re in a position to implement it, I’ll expect you to implement it. If you feel like you can’t, you need to tell me now. So I just try to be straight up with people. And I find that people enjoy being treated like they like to be treated. So I want to trust people I delegate to and respect them and let them have their input. And together we’ll go forward. It’s also very important that you have working, cooperative, open communications with the members of the Legislature, individually as well as the leadership. And I worked very hard at that. But having been Reading Clerk the Alabama House and also having served as lieutenant governor, I have a special rapport with members of the House and Senate, and I’m grateful for that.
TCS: Well let me ask you about that, because there’s a balance there – maybe even a tension, you know, how much does the governor lead the legislature to tell them where the state needs to go and how much how much does the governor let the legislature lead on its own…?
GKI: It’s got to be a cooperative endeavor, from them to me and me to them. As long as we cooperate with one another and communicate, we will make it fine. Not that we have to agree on everything, but we disagree agreeably, and so far in my experiences, it’s working. Last fall I had the leadership, the House and Senate in, and told them what I was thinking about doing for this the major parts of the first legislative session. They bought into it and so we met with them and continue to meet with them to flesh out the details.
TCS: It’s just interesting to me because you know Governor Riley had a democratic legislature and he had to use the bully pulpit, that is about all he had, to try to get them to do things and at the end of the day, there were a lot of things that got done. Bentley – and I was working in the Legislature at the time – he seemed a lot more passive maybe because he had been in the legislature in terms of alright, the Republican majority can kind of do what they want to do, and he was less engaged in that. But maybe it’s just over time, we’re eight years now into a Republican majority, maybe we’re finally getting used to the to the governing does that help?
GKI: I’m sure it does. But I just believe that one on one and in small group meetings with the Governor and legislators need to work together and meet frequently. That’s working for us.
TCS: So we’re sitting here in your office I see your you know steady as she goes nameplate over there that’s pretty neat and I we talked about your campaign ad that had the you know the riding on the back of the big picture we would you sit in them Lurleen’s office chair, when I was walking in the door I saw the school groups and lots of little girls and I know you take pictures with them and made them so do you think there’s one of those little girls that you’ve met world and taking a picture where there maybe she sat in your chair and that she’ll be she’ll be sitting in that chair as governor one day
GKI: I hope so and I hope it’s sooner than 50 years.
TCS: Yeah. Right. Maybe Maybe 30 years or or less.
GKI: Or less. It’s okay. I look forward encouraging young people and I try to do that every chance I get.
TCS: Do you ever hear that from women there are especially younger school age or college age women that they, have made a difference do they communicate that to you at all?
GKI: I think everybody’s amazed that we have a second female governor but glad we do, and a light bulb seems to go on and say, you know the glass ceilings been broken maybe I can do that. It’s okay to have aspirations.
TCS: You had a long career through business center and politics and all this but I wondered considering the you know the picture the yearbook quote and all that I’m curious when you really first thought yeah I’d like to be governor
GKI: I can’t personally pin point that point. What was in the year book, you know.
TCS: That was somebody else saying that about right?
GKI: When I was at Auburn I was certainly interested in Student Government Association – freshman senator, sophomore senator, secretary of the student body, vice president of the student body, first woman to be vice president of the student body and then I was in the homecoming court. So I’ve always wanted to be a part of an entity that helped people and make life better for people. So it just so happens that I was lieutenant governor at the time and situation that occurred and in three hours notice I took the oath of office, and the rest is history.
TCS: So you weren’t plotting this back in Camden?
GKI: No. In Camden little girls just never even dreamed about being elected governor of the state of Alabama. But now it’s okay to have those dreams for our young people. And I’m proud to help them realize that every person can have that dream.
TCS: That’s really nice. Well, that’s all I have for you. I really appreciate you taking the time. Anything else you want people to know or want to share with are many, many listeners
GKI: Well, I congratulate you on the progress you’ve made with your Daily News. I read that and I look forward to learning about podcasts.
TCS: Thank you. Well, we’ll have one listener at least. That’s great. Well, thank you very much.
GKI: Thank you so much. Todd.