By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey is marking the first year of her administration after suddenly being thrust into office when Gov. Robert Bentley stepped down after allegations emerged that he had an affair with a former aide.
Ivey was serving as lieutenant governor when she was sworn in as governor on April 10, 2017. In an interview with The Associated Press, Ivey discussed the major events, and controversies, of her first year in office.
Ivey, now seeking to win the office in her own right, faces a number of challengers in the 2018 elections.
Ivey cites eradicating a “dark cloud” from state government after the Bentley scandal and improvements in the state economy – although she acknowledges she can’t measure how much her administration had to do with the economic boost – as her biggest accomplishment in the first year.
“Obviously there was a dark cloud that had been hanging over the state for more than year,” she said in reference to the Bentley scandal.
“People were disillusioned. They didn’t trust their government,” she said. “So I knew that my first initiative needed to be growing jobs and restoring faith in government.”
Ivey has the help of good economic news as she seeks election: an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent and an announcement by Toyota and Mazda in January that the companies will build a joint factory in Huntsville after state and local governments offered more than $700 million in incentives.
Ivey raised eyebrows during the U.S. Senate race in Alabama when she said she “had no reason to disbelieve” sexual misconduct accusations against Republican Roy Moore but planned to vote for him anyway. Ivey confirmed to the AP that she did vote for Moore.
“I did find the women’s testimony somewhat credible, but Roy Moore continued to deny the charges so how do you know? In my view, we still needed a Republican vote in the Congress. So it is what it is.”
A PRISON CRISIS
Ivey’s gubernatorial honeymoon was cut short in June when U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ruled that the state was providing “horrendously inadequate” mental health care to inmates at state prisons and ordered the state to improve conditions. “We’re working hard to address the issues the court has raised,” Ivey said.
Lawmakers have approved an additional $85 million for the prison system over the next two years. She said her administration is exploring “public-private partnerships” to address prison infrastructure and other costly projects in the state such as a new I-10 bridge in Mobile.
MEDICAID WORK REQUIREMENT
Ivey’s administration, like some other conservative states, is pursuing a work or job training requirement for the few able-bodied adults on Alabama’s Medicaid program. The proposal impacts about 74,000 people who receive Medicaid because they take care of a child or disabled person and have an income at, or below 18 percent of the federal poverty level. “If you are able-bodied and get Medicaid, it just makes good common sense you should be employed, or trying to get employed, and being proactive and not just on the take,” Ivey said.
Ivey on Friday announced that she signed a bill to exempt economic developers from the state ethics law. Critics of the bill said it would create a broad loophole. Ivey said it is needed to protect the confidentiality of economic development projects. “If a company is looking at our state or any other state, they don’t want their competition to know what they are doing. I am for that bill.”
Ivey said budget reform is one of the items on her “radar screen” for the future. She said Alabama is one of three states that have two budgets — one for education and one for non-education expenses — and earmarks most of the revenue in the state, giving lawmakers little spending flexibility. She said the state should “look at the possibility” of combining the budgets and said existing tax earmarks need to be re-evaluated to see if they make sense.
If elected in November, Ivey who is now 73 and turns 74 in October, would be one of the oldest, if not the oldest governor in the state’s history
“Maybe with age comes wisdom,” Ivey said. “My health is good. I get physicals twice a year. All is well. If you look at our schedules, you can see how active I am. Thank goodness and thank God I am healthy and will continue to be if the Lord wills.”
Asked if she thought her opponents would make an issue of her age, she replied, “Honey, I don’t know what folks are going to throw at you. But you can bet your sweet bippy they are going to throw something.”