MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Gov. Kay Ivey gave her first State of the State address Tuesday evening. As she took the stage, she recognized the transformation in the state's government since the early days of 2017.
"Most governors have three months to prepare," she said. "I had three hours."
Ivey said when she became Alabama's 54th governor on April 10, after the resignation of former Gov. Robert Bentley, "the ship of state government" was adrift. It's a ship she believes she's steadied. She said an effective leader does four things: listens, learns, helps and leads.
"Throughout July, August and September, I embarked on my Listen, Learn, Help and Lead tour where I visited communities across the state," Ivey said. "I spent an entire day in these communities, meeting with local leaders and visiting their businesses and schools. I wanted to learn about their successes and their challenges. I wanted to hear from everyday people, not just from the politicians and lobbyists in Montgomery."
Ivey said Alabama's economy is on the rise, referencing a new Kimber Firearms production facility opening in Troy, which was announced Tuesday. The $38 million facility will bring in 366 new jobs.
"This announcement and countless others like it make one thing clear: what we are doing is working, and as a result, the people of Alabama are working and providing for their families," she said.
Ivey invited a special guest to the State of the State address: Caryn McDade. McDade, Ivey said, has suffered from learning disabilities since she was a teenager, and on Oct. 30 she attended the Governor's Disability Job Fair. After an interview with staff from Southern Hospitality Home Health Care of Fultondale - and a second follow-up interview - she was employed full time as a home health care aide.
"Caryn, thank you for being with us tonight," Ivey addressed McDade. "You are a perfect example of the intrinsic value we all have, and a reminder that what we do as public officials affects the lives of real Alabamians."
Ivey emphasized the need for effective education during a child's formative years. She said she is proud to have become known as the governor focused on education, and she is devoted to her role as president of the State Board of Education.
"In less than two years, Alabama has had four different K-12 superintendents. That is nothing to be proud of," she said. "The members of the State Board of Education must ensure continuity to see progress. Board members must set goals and adopt strategies to achieve student learning at high standards. Our central focus must be on our students, not on personal agendas or political maneuvering."
Ivey addressed the state budgets. She says she is working closely with the senate and the house budget chairs to draft fiscally responsible budgets and move the ship of state in the right direction.
"I am proposing strong, manageable budgets that responsibly fund state government without raising taxes on the people of Alabama," she said, to a resounding round of applause.
Ivey talked about the issues with the state prison system, referencing the federal court order to fix the overcrowding and under staffing.
"Correctional professionals work diligently to provide security, medical, mental health and rehabilitative services in a challenging environment," Ivey said. "They deserve our attention and support."
Ivey said the state must also work to provide appropriate care to the Department of Corrections prisoners.
For rural Alabama, Ivey said she will work to bring broadband to communities, propose funding for loan repayment for dentists and physician's assistants who work in underserved areas, and take care of veterans and businesses owned by veterans.
Ivey, also to a round of applause, proposed a pay raise to all teachers and state employees.
"Every day, we depend on state employees. Whether it's a state trooper patrolling our highways, a teacher staying late to help a struggling student, or a social worker rescuing an abused child, quality state employees are essential to good government. It is long-past time for us to honor their service with better pay," Ivey said.
In addition to raises for teachers, Ivey said her proposed budget fully funds the K-12 request for $144 million, with an additional $50 million for higher education.
Ivey announced the formation of the Alabama School of Cyber-Technology and Engineering in Huntsville, which will prepare students for careers in those fields.
As Ivey neared the end of her address, she posed a question to the lawmakers in the room: Why do we serve, and why have we chosen this path of public service? Ivey referenced a quote from composer Johannes Bach, who, when asked why he wrote music, said it was for the glory of God and the good of mankind.
"You may have been motivated by certain issues, causes, philosophies or individuals to seek office – and those are good reasons to serve," Ivey said to the lawmakers. "But when our efforts, actions and accomplishments are evaluated, will we leave a legacy like Bach? Are we motivated by pride, power or greed? Or are we moved by an innate desire to make a difference in our state and world?"
To read the full transcript of Ivey's address, click here.
In response to Ivey's address, senate minority leader Billy Beasley said he was pleased with her speech, saying he agreed with her stances on education, pay raises, and improving the prison system. He said he, like Ivey, is a proud Alabamian.
House minority leader Anthony Daniels also responded to the speech.
"I'm very optimistic about the message," Daniels said. "But for me it's all about the details and the follow through."
Also on Tuesday, Ivey announced she will be seeking her first full term as governor during the 2018 gubernatorial election and the 2018 legislative session began at noon. The session will be dominated by two major budgetary issues: prisons and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Alabama is facing a court order to improve mental health care in prisons. The state will have to pick up some of the cost of the insurance program if Congress does not renew funding.
Lawmakers and state offices are up for election in 2018.