MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Saying it is time to build the foundation of a better future, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey began her first full term as governor Monday with a call for more investment in state infrastructure.
Ivey in her inaugural address did not offer specifics of the gas tax proposal expected to come before lawmakers this spring, but the governor said Alabama must improve infrastructure to move the state forward.
"If we want to compete in a 21st century global economy, we must improve our infrastructure by investing more in our roads, our bridges and our ports," Ivey, a Republican, said in her inaugural address on the steps of the Alabama Capitol.
Ivey had been lieutenant governor but automatically became governor 21 months ago when then-Gov. Robert Bentley suddenly resigned in the midst of an impeachment investigation partly centered on his relationship with an aide. She won a term in her own right after defeating the Democratic nominee, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, in the November election.
"Today, I stand before you filled with optimism and eager with anticipation of what's yet to come," Ivey said.
"More good paying jobs. Better education for our children. Roads that are the envy of the nation. ...Today, all Alabamians - regardless of party affiliation - have the chance to stand together, united, to help build a brighter future and guarantee that our best days are still in front of us."
Ivey, 74, is the state's second female governor and the first Republican woman elected to the position. The governor said she grew up in rural Alabama at a time when little girls didn't dream of being governor one day.
Ivey left an empty chair on the inauguration platform to honor the state's first female governor, Gov. Lurleen Wallace, whom Ivey called one of her childhood heroes.
In her 2018 campaign, Ivey largely focused on her brief record as governor and emphasized the state's recovering economy and her work to restore trust to state government. She told voters she had "steadied the ship of state."
She began her second term with references to coming initiatives, including some that bring political waters that could be difficult to navigate.
Ivey called for more investment in state infrastructure. Ivey has been in discussions with legislative leaders about a possible gas tax increase, but did not disclose any specific proposal in her inaugural address.
The state has not seen an increase in the statewide gasoline tax since 1992. An attempt to raise the state gas tax failed two years ago in the Alabama Legislature.
Ivey also said she would be announcing a prison initiative in the coming days, including "replacing costly, at-risk prison facilities."
The Alabama prison system has come under criticism for crowding, understaffing, and violence. The state also faces a federal court order to improve care for mentally ill inmates.
"The poor conditions of our prisons create a risk to public safety and are placing a heavy burden on taxpayers," Ivey said.
Former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who grew up in Wilcox County with Ivey, attended the inauguration. Ivey joked that if you are from Wilcox County, you'll never know where you will end up.
Four former Alabama governors attended the inauguration, including Bentley, former Gov. Don Siegelman, former Gov. Bob Riley, and former Gov. Jim Folsom, Jr.
Ivey's first swearing in ceremony was a hastily done affair in the Alabama Capitol after Bentley gave Ivey a few hours of notice that he was resigning. Her second swearing in ceremony had the full pomp of inauguration day. Red and white banners hung from the columns of the Alabama Capitol to form the image of the state flag. A parade in downtown Montgomery followed the ceremony.
Standing on Montgomery's Dexter Avenue, not far from the Montgomery church King once pastored, Ivey said: "We are reminded of two different chapters in Alabama history: a time when the Civil War raged and 90 years later when the Civil Rights movement was inspired."
"It is important for all of us to acknowledge our past," Ivey said. "After all, it was at a pulpit just down the street that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so powerfully taught us how to confront struggles with honesty, courage, and love."