MONTGOMERY – Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey had the distinction of being sworn in for the third time as governor, putting her in the elite company of the late Gov. George Wallace.
Until Monday, we were unsure what to expect of a second complete Kay Ivey term in the governor’s mansion.
Based on the selection of Ivey campaign ads last cycle, one would think this brand-new day in Alabama welcomes the governor and Carhartt-clad bros at the gun range railing against the Biden administration and its overreach.
However, if the past were any indicator, what Kay Ivey campaigned on will not necessarily reflect her priorities as governor.
Was there a mention of a gas tax increase before the 2018 general election? No, but just weeks after, it was all we heard about from policymakers.
Since the general election, there has not been a concerted campaign for anything. There has been talk of improving public education, but that is any day that ends in a “Y” in Alabama.
Ivey’s inauguration speech earlier this week was our first glimpse.
Historically, Alabama governors have been along for the ride. Sure, they have grand ideas and big rollouts, but it has been hit or miss.
These last four years have shown that buy-in from the governor is required for the Alabama Legislature to pull off some remarkable achievements — be it gambling, health care, criminal justice or infrastructure.
However, the same is true the other way as well. Should the governor want to build on her legacy by adding some landmark achievements, she cannot go at it alone.
She tried with prisons and failed.
She tried with the I-10 bridge and failed.
She had some success bypassing the herd of turtles dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, but that came to an end and may come with the price tag of a permanent structural change to the state’s public health apparatus.
She needs the Legislature, and the Legislature needs her.
There are 140 members of the Legislature, all with different ideas on how to improve the quality of life in Alabama.
It would be nice to report there is now a crystal-clear policy vision from the one governor, but there is not. Instead, we got some general ideas.
Do you want public education improvements? Oh, you will get some strong efforts on K-12 public education. Yeah, buddy!
“Ensuring every Alabama student receives a high-quality education will be my number one focus,” Ivey said during her inaugural address.
Well, there you have it.
The problem is no one is sure exactly what that means. We have heard the same soaring rhetoric from lawmakers, yet no one has been quite willing to offer specifics.
Ivey insisted that when it is all said and done, Alabama will be in the top 30 and not 52 out of 50 or whatever ridiculous metric it is that has been used to lay out our glaring deficiencies in education.
The other noteworthy highlight from Governor Ivey’s inaugural was wholly expected — boasting about the availability of jobs and success in recruiting industry to Alabama.
No question, Kay Ivey and her administration have done very well with this aspect of state government. But who is this for?
Right now, in Alabama, one of the biggest drags on the economy is a low workforce participation rate. Alabama lags behind the rest of the country.
If you want a job, you can get a job — and not just some minimum-wage service industry job. The problem is that there are not enough takers.
No one wants the jobs, so we essentially have a governor giving the state something it does not want. No one knows why. There could be too much under-the-table work available. There could be a lack of individuals willing or able to pass a drug test. There might even be some government freebies disincentivizing work in Alabama.
When you ask the so-called experts, they do not know why this is a problem. Yet, it is a problem, and all of the happy talk about the state’s low unemployment rate is meaningless.
What we heard from the governor was probably more notable than what we did not hear.
There was no mention of gambling. At this point, do we even want it? If the answer is yes, getting through the Legislature may be even more difficult than before.
There were three key departures from the Alabama Senate last year — Sens. Del Marsh, R-Anniston, Jim McClendon, R-Springville and Tom Whatley, R-Auburn. Without those three, getting to a three-fifths majority, which is required for a constitutional amendment, will be even more difficult.
The governor will have to show some leadership here.
Finally, there was no mention of Medicaid expansion. There wasn’t even a hint of it. At this point, the resistance from Republicans in the Legislature may have the governor’s office thinking this discussion is a waste of time.
However, if it was going to happen, about now is when you’d expect to start seeing some hints dropped.
We have a vague idea of what the future holds for state government. It is better than before, but the next clue probably will not come until the governor’s state of the state address in March.