Kay Ivey Kay Ivey (1944- ) is the 54th governor of Alabama and the second woman to be governor. Prior to holding this office, she served as the State Treasurer from 2003 to 2011 and as Lieutenant Governor from 2011 to 2017. She ascended to the governor’s office after her predecessor, Robert Bentley, resigned from over alleged misuse of state funds and sexual improprieties, and completed his final year in office. Ivey, a former Democrat, was reelected to a full term in 2018.
Kay Ellen Ivey was born on October 15, 1944, in Camden, Wilcox County, to Boadman Nettles Ivey, an employee of the federal Farmers Home Administration and a farmer, and Barbara Elizabeth Nettles Ivey. She is an only child. Her father was a veteran of World War II who served with an artillery regiment in Europe and achieved the rank of major. Ivey attended local schools in Camden, winning the Wilcox County Junior Miss pageant and participating in the American Legion Auxiliary’s Girls State summer leadership and citizenship program. She would go on to teach in the program for some 30 years. She showed leadership skills early on at present-day Wilcox Central High School, serving as a state officer in the Future Homemaker’s of America, vice president of her senior class, and band president among other positions.
Kay Ivey at Auburn Ivey entered Auburn University in Auburn, Lee County, in 1963, where she quickly became involved in campus political organizations and joined the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority. At the time, women were expected to join the women-only student government association. But Ivey joined the campus-wide organization, the Student Government Association (SGA) as a senator and served all four of her college years, being class vice president in her senior year. She also was gubernatorial candidate Lurleen Wallace‘s campaign coordinator among AU’s student body. Ivey participated in a “black face” skit while at Auburn, an episode that came to light in 2019 after the governor and attorney general of Virginia were accused of a similar acts. She said she did not remember doing the skit and apologized to the news media. Ivey graduated in 1967 with a degree in secondary education and in August of that year married fellow student Ben LaRavia. The couple moved to Sacramento, California, and Ivey taught high school for several years. The marriage failed, and Ivey returned to Alabama in 1969 and took a job with Merchants National Bank in Mobile, Mobile County, where she served as a liaison to local schools teaching financial literacy.
Ivey’s political career began in 1979, when she served in the cabinet of Democratic governor Forrest “Fob” James during his first term. She began her tenure in the James administration as an executive assistant for social services and later served as assistant director of the Alabama Development Office (now the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs) and then was a reading clerk for the Alabama House of Representatives. Ivey launched a failed bid for the Office of State Auditor in 1982. She then served as director of government affairs and communications for the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.
In 2002, Ivey ran successfully as a Republican for the Office of the State Treasurer and served two four-year terms. She was criticized for her management of the state’s Prepaid Affordable College Tuition (PACT) program during her tenure because it continued to pay out more than it brought in. (In 2010, the legislature was forced to vote for an additional $548 million dollars in supplemental support for the program.) During the 2008 election year, she chaired Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign committee in Alabama. In 2009, Ivey announced her candidacy for the state governor’s office but fallout from the failures in the PACT program hounded her. She dropped out of the race after a poor showing in the polls and in fundraising and switched to the lieutenant governor ticket against incumbent Jim Folsom Jr. The two traded accusations over PACT, with Ivey placing blame on Folsom’s leadership in the Senate for the crisis, and Folsom accusing Ivey of poor management and citing the legislature’s bailout of the program under his leadership. Despite trailing in donations and support from the business community, Ivey won the office with 52 percent of the vote.
Working with the newly elected governor, physician Robert Bentley, Ivey presided over the Republican-controlled legislature that pushed through cuts to budgets and staffing of state offices and passed balanced budgets as the state was grappling with the aftermath of the 2008 Recession. During their first term, the state enacted one of the harshest immigration laws in the nation, including a virtual suspension of “probable cause” rules for questioning citizens. The state also implemented the Alabama Accountability Act, which allowed the state to use public tax funds for parents who want to move their public-school students to private schools. Bentley refused to expand Medicaid in accordance with the federal Affordable Care Act to provide health insurance to low-income and uninsured Americans. During this time, Ivey also served on the advisory committee of the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program, a $1 billion initiative that allocated funds for road and bridge projects in the state.
In 2014, Bentley and Ivey ran for second terms as governor and lieutenant governor. Ivey defeated Stan Cooke, head of a religious nonprofit, in the Republican primary, with 61 percent of the vote, and Democrat James Fields, a state congressman, in the general election, with 63 percent of the vote. Ivey was supported in her bid by the conventional business interests in the state, including the Alabama Farmers Federation, the Alabama Forestry Association, and the Business Council of Alabama. During this second term, jobless rates fell slightly in the state, and European aerospace giant Airbus agreed to construct a large factory in Mobile. But the administration generated controversy by using budget shortages as justification for closing driver’s license offices primarily in underserved communities and shuttering five state parks. Those decisions were later reversed.
In the fall of 2015, Bentley’s wife sued for divorce amid rumors of an affair with one of his staffers, and more details of the affair and possible misuse of state funds came to light in the press. In April 2016, Ivey expressed her disappointment with Bentley’s actions and began preparing to take over the governor’s office when and if he resigned. The state Ethics Commission released a report in April 2017 stating that Bentley had indeed violated state ethics and campaign finance laws, and he resigned on April 10. Ivey was then sworn in as Alabama’s 54th governor; the second woman after Lurleen Wallace.
During her first months in office, Ivey signed laws that decreased appeals times for prisoners on death row, barred the removal of monuments older than 40 years in response to a multi-state social movement to remove monuments celebrating the Confederacy, and allowed religious adoption agencies to refuse adoptions to gay couples. Notably, she scheduled the special election to replace Sen. Jeff Sessions, who had resigned in January 2017 to serve as U.S. Attorney General, for December 2017. Governor Bentley had controversially scheduled it for November 2018, which would have left political ally Luther Strange in the appointed position for another year. She also created the Governor’s Advisory Council for Excellence in STEM to help the state train 500,000 skilled workers by 2025. Ivey also continued her predecessor’s refusal to expand Medicaid even as rural hospitals were closing from financial strain because it would require the state to match a portion of federal funds. Alabama is among a minority of states that have not implemented an expansion.
In September 2017, Ivey announced her intention to run for a full term as governor. That November, the state held the special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat held by Strange. He had been defeated in a runoff by ousted State Supreme Court chief justice and political firebrand Roy Moore. Although Moore had been accused of improper conduct toward teenage girls while he was in his 30s, Ivey expressed support for Moore to keep the seat in the hands of the Republican Party. In a surprising upset however, voters elected in the Democratic contender, former U.S. attorney Doug Jones.
In the 2018 gubernatorial contest, Ivey defeated four men in the Republican primary, with 56 percent of the vote, and then Democratic opponent Walt Maddox, mayor of Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, in the November general election, with 59 percent of the vote. Maddox aimed to expand Medicaid and institute a state lottery while Ivey touted job growth and a restoration of trust in the government. Notably during the campaign, she refused repeated calls to debate the much younger Maddox prior to the election.
In her second full term as governor, Ivey signed into law one of the country’s most restrictive anti-abortion measures, the Human Life Protection Act. It would prohibit abortions even in the case of rape and incest and criminalize the performing of abortions under most circumstances. Quite controversial, even among national Republicans, the law has been challenged in court and was not implemented as scheduled. Ivey also made good on a campaign promise to increase funding for road and bridge construction by raising the gas tax, which went into effect in September. She backed an effort to replace the State Board of Education with a governor-appointed commission that was soundly rejected in a March 2020 vote.
Most recently, Ivey has grappled with how to keep the state and its citizens safe during the global pandemic cause by the Covid-19 virus. In mid-March 2020, the State Health Officer advised that a state health emergency be declared. Within days, Jefferson County prohibited certain public gatherings due to an outbreak there and the State Health Officer soon extended those prohibitions to surrounding counties. Later in the month, all educational institutions, senior centers, and beaches were closed; more restrictive social gathering prohibitions were ordered in late March. In early April, Gov. Ivey announced a “Stay at Home” order except for “essential” activities and issued a “Safer at Home” order at the end of the month while loosening some restrictions.