At high noon today, Monday, January 14, 2019, Alabama will swear in the Honorable Kay Ellen Ivey as our 54th Governor. Governor Ivey has selflessly dedicated her entire life to public service. In this guest editorial, we will travel down memory lane of her resume; however it is my goal to talk about the Kay Ivey I have known for 30 years. For those looking under every rock for motivations of an article like this; you can relax; I am not looking for a job, a political appointment or running for any office. This is a good will piece for a very deserving lady.
After being appointed by Governor Guy Hunt in 1989 as Alabama’s Small Business Advocate for the State of Alabama; and being new to state government, I was making the rounds getting familiar with all functions of government. I was seeking resources and how we might work with other agencies to benefit small businesses. I was scheduled early one morning to meet with Dr. Sutton, Executive Director of the Alabama Commission of Higher Education. The moment I introduced myself to the receptionist; popping out in the hall from one of the back offices was this lady with a bright smile, a glowing personality and a strong southern Alabama accent. She reached out to shake my hand and said, “Hello John Giles, I am Kay Ivey, we have been looking forward to your visit, could I get you a cup of coffee?” As one can imagine; a first impression like this last for decades.
Kay Ellen Ivey was raised on a farm in Camden Alabama. After graduating from Auburn University, she began serving the public as a school teacher and then a local banker. She was Reading Clerk in the Alabama House of Representatives serving under the infamous Speaker of the House, Joe McCorquodale. She then learned to recruit industry as Assistant Director of the Alabama Development Office.
Her first election was in 2002 statewide as Alabama’s first Republican State Treasurer since reconstruction. She served there until 2010, when elected as Lieutenant Governor. On April 10, 2017, with a notice of three hours, she ascended as Governor of the state after Governor Bentley resigned. I recall her statement as if was yesterday, “We are going to steady the ship of state.” Her new public service assignment was on the heels of a turbulent ride with Bentley and steady the ship of state she did.
Working for two governors, I realized the inherent characteristics of the state’s Chief Executive Officer is to be a consistent coalition and consensus builder, have clear communicated priorities, maintain a high ethical and moral ground, stern, gracious, humble yet tough. Also, you are Alabama’s number one Ambassador and under her leadership we have had banner industrial investments and job creation. Like most, I am on the sidelines now observing the news on the internet, but I can tell you, Kay Ivey, even though she is 74 has all the right stuff for the job. She has more titanium steel in places I only wish some male public officials had in place; know what I mean Vern. Her leadership is admired by Alabamians because she was recently ranked the 3rd most popular governor in America.
My dad always taught us; there is your side, their side, find what is right and don’t budge. Here are three recent examples when she was under tremendous pressure and did not budge. The Republic establishment in DC wanted her to abandoned the state GOP party nominee for U.S. Senate in the 2017 special election for U.S. Senate, Chief Justice Roy Moore, she did not waiver one click. She held fast to the notion that the Trump tariffs would hurt some Alabama industries; even though she loves Trump but did not budge. Then the Pardons and Parole Board got on a path of insanity and she wasted no time reeling them in and put them in checkmate.
I would be remiss in not mentioning three key men who are also my friends that have helped her immeasurably over the years. Will Sellers, who is now an Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court has been with her from the get-go when running for State Treasurer. Steve Pelham has been with her since she was elected Lieutenant Governor and serves as her Chief of Staff. And last, but foremost is her long time pastor, Jay Wolf at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, who has been her spiritual pillar for years.
On a lighter note, she is always authentically friendly, easy going and fun. I love her signature Wilcox County Strong Alabama Southern accent. I have always loved hearing her talk. Listen next time when she says State Treasurer; you will count at least four of five syllables in Treasurer. I trust you are smiling with me on this one.
In conclusion, Alabama is O-KAY with Kay.