MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Within a span of minutes, Alabama’s lieutenant governor catapulted from a position of largely ceremonial duties to the state’s top political job. But new Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has decades of experience working in, and around, state politics.
She held two terms as state treasurer and ran for governor in 2010, entering a crowded GOP primary field that included ex-Gov. Robert Bentley, who resigned Monday rather face impeachment hearings. Ivey dropped out of the race that Bentley eventually won, and she was victorious in her bid for lieutenant governor that year.
“Not to be overly flattering, but you don’t tell Kay anything,” Former Republican Party Chairman Marty Connors responded when asked if party powerbrokers told her to switch to the lower ballot race in 2010. “She tells you exactly what is on her mind. She pulls no punches. That’s why I trust her.”
After she was sworn in Monday, the 72-year-old Ivey called it a dark day in Alabama but one of opportunity.
“I ask for your help and patience as we together steady the ship of state and improve Alabama’s image,” she said.
Ivey grew up in Wilcox County, the same rural area where U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was raised, and the two attended high school together.
She graduated from Auburn University in 1967 and has worked as a classroom teacher, banker, administrator in higher education and assistant director of the state’s industrial recruitment agency.
She worked for then-Gov. Fob James in early 1980s, serving as first as executive assistant for social services and then as assistant director of the Alabama Development Office.
“She would persevere to always get the job done at a high level. She always wanted to know the details,” James said. “She’s got a lot of political know-how by now.”
As state treasurer, Ivey oversaw the Alabama Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan, which was heavily invested in stocks. Turmoil on Wall Street caused its assets to plunge as tuition costs rose to the point of the plan becoming insolvent.
Critics blamed her for the demise, but Ivey’s defenders said she had no control over Wall Street and tuition costs.
As the Senate’s president and presiding officer as lieutenant governor, Ivey acted as a moderator who didn’t offer opinions on legislation but instead directed the procedural flow in her signature honey-dripping drawl, cutting off senators whose speeches have gone on too long or namedropping distinguished guests in the gallery.
Ivey spent her first day in office talking to staff and dismissed Jon Mason, the husband of the woman alleged to have had a romantic affair with Bentley. An investigation that began with reports about an alleged romance between Bentley and the woman resulted in Bentley’s resignation on Monday.
Eileen Jones, a spokeswoman for Ivey, said the new governor has asked all Cabinet and staffers to turn in letters of resignation so that she can evaluate everyone to decide who will stay and who will go.
“She knows there are going to be many people asking her for stuff right now. She is smart enough to hear both sides before making a decision,” said Retirement Systems of Alabama head David Bronner, who worked with Ivey in the James administration.
Ivey is Alabama’s second female governor, and the first to climb up the political ladder on her own.
Alabama’s first female governor was Lurleen Wallace, wife of four-term Gov. George C. Wallace. She ran as a surrogate for her still-powerful husband in 1966 when he couldn’t seek re-election because of term limits. She won, but died in office in 1968. Her husband regained the governor’s seat in 1970.