Once Alabama’s horrendous special election for the U.S. Senate is finally settled, it will be time for Governor Kay Ivey to earn her keep.
So far, Ivey has been able to surf on a wave of warm fuzziness, with her representing apparent stability, honesty and decency in contrast to the tawdriness of her predecessor. But she hasn’t really had to do much of anything, because she took office when most legislative business for the year had been completed, and she largely punted all leadership opportunities as the state school board beclowned itself all summer by inventing grounds to fire the superintendent it had hired less than a year earlier.
Ivey helped create the election mess we face by improperly re-setting the date of an election that already had been duly called, and she showed moral blindness by saying she will vote for Roy Moore for senator even though she believes Moore’s accusers. (It may be reasonable to disbelieve some or all of the accusers, but if a governor truly believes the story of the then-14-year-old girl is true, then there is no decent moral universe where that governor should publicly say the perpetrator should be elected to the Senate.)
Yet Ivey’s missteps, or lack of steps, can be forgiven if she shows effective leadership in the next six months. Alabama faces numerous challenges, but a fractious Legislature shows little proclivity on its own to do anything more for the next year than to try to muddle through it all. A governor can, and in this case darn well ought to, step in and forcefully set an agenda of problem-solving and reform.
Alabama’s prisons are almost criminally overcrowded and its mental health care almost criminally underfunded. The state keeps losing rural hospitals, with yet another announcing a week ago that it will be closing. State budgets remain balanced only by extravagant use of financial duct tape and bailing wire. State courts and law enforcement, particularly for juvenile offenders, are woefully shorthanded.
And Alabama’s national reputation is in the outhouse, with the series of scandals in all three branches of state government now joined by the allegations against Judge Roy Moore.
For all these reasons and more — and because Ivey has now had more than seven months to get her ducks in a row — the governor should be ready, immediately after this Senate race is finished, to start laying out an ambitious, reformist agenda for the legislative sessions that begins January 9.
Yes, January 9. That’s early. And considering the Legislature’s habit of futzing away its early legislative calendar with organizational housekeeping (necessary) and significant amounts of mere gamesmanship and power-jockeying (inexcusable), it will take a forceful governor to crack the whip early enough to ensure the chance for important reforms or solutions to wend their way into law.
In effect, Gov. Ivey must grab the agenda and the legislators by their proverbial lapels and shake them into seriousness.
If she doesn’t, she will have failed as a leader — and she certainly won’t merit re-election.
Yellowhammer Contributing Editor Quin Hillyer, of Mobile, also is a Contributing Editor for National Review Online, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.