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Friday, April 14, 2017
Ivey off to good start, Decatur Daily Editorial
Alabama, dragged down by the protracted scandal surrounding its previous governor, needs strong leadership from Gov. Kay Ivey. Her first few days have been promising.
Alabamians have been dragged through the muck. In addition to embarrassing revelations about House Speaker Mike Hubbard, who was convicted last year on a dozen felony ethics counts, and the suspension of Chief Justice Roy Moore, the state has had to endure more than a year of increasingly disturbing disclosures about former Gov. Robert Bentley.
The people of Alabama, rightfully proud of their state if not of their leaders, have had to listen to the national media express bemused astonishment that any state could humiliate itself so completely. As one national publication headlined Tuesday, the day after Bentley’s impeachment-evading resignation: “The state of Alabama has fully lost its mind.”
The consequences of the Bentley scandal, which implicated officials beyond the Governor’s Mansion, have not just been statewide embarrassment. It has interrupted the Legislature at a time when it desperately needs to focus.
Fatal stabbings have become a common occurrence in our crowded prisons. Many hospitals, struggling to treat the uninsured and facing the likely repeal of the Affordable Care Act, are teetering on the brink of closure. State and local infrastructure is deteriorating. The mentally ill have few treatment options, and increasingly are ending up in jails and prisons not equipped to provide care. Infant mortality and poverty rates are among the highest in the nation. Schools are poorly funded and the General Fund is no longer capable of providing essential services.
But legislators have been stuck dealing with one scandal after the next, which has derailed the efforts of those lawmakers willing to tackle the state’s immense challenges. Lacking the leadership that should come from the governor, they have struggled to find consensus on anything.
Into this mess comes Gov. Kay Ivey, who ascended from the lieutenant governor’s spot Monday when Bentley resigned.
It’s far too early to know whether she will be effective as she finishes out Bentley’s term, but she has gotten off to a good start.
She immediately asked all office staff and 22 agency heads to turn in letters of resignation, and she wasted no time in accepting Jon Mason’s. He is the husband of Rebekah Mason, whose relationship with the governor was the common theme in the scandal, and he had been appointed by Bentley to run the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Volunteer Service. Ivey also quickly gave the boot to Stan Stabler, who Bentley had installed as head of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. Stabler is alleged to have had early knowledge of improprieties in Bentley and Rebekah Mason’s relationship. Ivey also has accepted the resignations of or transferred other key staff members who were tainted by Bentley’s efforts to cover up the scandal.
Ivey also spoke in favor of a gas tax before it came up in the house Wednesday, suggesting she may have the political courage to resist knee-jerk opposition to all taxes in a state that desperately needs revenue.
Ivey has a huge job ahead. She needs to quickly address Bentley’s appointment of former Attorney General Luther Strange as U.S. senator by scheduling a special election as quickly as possible, as state law requires. She needs to help the Legislature find a prison plan it can agree on before the session ends.
Most of all, Ivey needs to bring transparency and ethics back to Montgomery. Alabamians need a leader who instills pride, not humiliation.