By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Saying it is time to build the foundation of a better future, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey began her first full term as governor Monday with a call for more investment in state infrastructure.
In her inaugural address, Ivey did not offer specifics of the gas tax proposal expected to come before lawmakers this spring, but the governor said Alabama must improve infrastructure to compete in a 21st century global economy.
“Now is the time to increase our investment in infrastructure. Now is the time to solve this problem,” the Republican governor said in her address on the steps of the Alabama Capitol.
Ivey had been lieutenant governor but automatically became governor 21 months ago when then-Gov. Robert Bentley abruptly resigned amid an impeachment probe partly centered on his relationship with a female aide. Ivey won a term in her own right by defeating a Democrat, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, in November.
“Today, I stand before you filled with optimism and eager with anticipation of what’s yet to come,” Ivey said.
“More good paying jobs. Better education for our children. Roads that are the envy of the nation …Today, all Alabamians – regardless of party affiliation – have the chance to stand together, united, to help build a brighter future.”
Ivey, 74, is the state’s second female governor and the first Republican woman elected to the post. The governor said she grew up in rural Alabama at a time when little girls didn’t dream of being governor one day.
Ivey left an empty chair on the inauguration platform to honor the state’s first female governor, Gov. Lurleen Wallace, whom Ivey called one of her childhood heroes.
In her 2018 campaign, Ivey largely focused on her brief record as governor and emphasized the state’s recovering economy and her work to restore trust to state government. She told voters she had “steadied the ship of state.”
She began her second term with references to her priorities, including some initiatives that could be politically difficult to navigate.
Ivey has been in discussions with legislative leaders about a possible gas tax increase, but did not disclose any specific proposal in her inaugural address.
The state has not seen an increase in the statewide gasoline tax since 1992. An attempt to raise the state gas tax failed two years ago in the Alabama Legislature.
Ivey also said she would be announcing a prison initiative in the coming days, including “replacing costly, at-risk prison facilities.”
The Alabama prison system has come under criticism for crowding, understaffing, and violence. The state also faces a federal court order to improve care for mentally ill inmates.
“The status of our corrections system is an Alabama problem that must be solved by an Alabama solution. As your governor, and I plan to do so,” Ivey said.
Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who grew up in Wilcox County with Ivey, attended the inauguration. Ivey joked that if you are from Wilcox County, you’ll never know where you will end up.
Four former Alabama governors attended the inauguration, including Bentley, former Gov. Don Siegelman, former Gov. Bob Riley, and former Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr.
Ivey’s first oath-taking ceremony was a hastily conducted affair in the Alabama Capitol after Bentley gave Ivey a few hours of notice that he was resigning. Her second swearing-in ceremony had the full pomp of inauguration day. Red and white banners hung from the columns of the Alabama Capitol to form the image of the state flag. A parade in downtown Montgomery followed.
Standing on Montgomery’s Dexter Avenue, not far from the Montgomery church where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once pastored, Ivey said: “We are reminded of two different chapters in Alabama history: a time when the Civil War raged and 90 years later when the Civil Rights movement was inspired.”
“It is important for all of us to acknowledge our past,” Ivey said. “After all, it at a pulpit just down the street that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so powerfully taught us how to confront struggles with honesty, courage, and love.”