Since not long after becoming governor in April 2017 upon the resignation of Robert Bentley, Gov. Kay Ivey seems to have been operating on cruise control. She has followed a flurry of needed political housecleaning with simply staying the course. Perhaps that is appropriate for a governor who assumes office after her predecessor was forced out in disgrace, but Ivey gives no indication that will change if she is elected governor in her own right.
Ivey has the benefit of a good economy, low unemployment and several high-profile industrial developments, for which sitting governors always get credit, regardless of their level of involvement. But she shows no inclination to take on the state’s structural problems, preferring instead to say she simply won’t stand in the way if others want to address them — for example if the Legislature and voters decide to enact a state lottery.
Alabama is not a state that can be content with the status quo, even in good times. Recessions will come, the Legislature will face budget crunches, and without preemptive action prisons will remain overcrowded and education and Medicaid will remain underfunded. Without aggressive leadership, Alabama will remain a poor state ranked at or near the bottom of most national rankings.
Ivey’s Democratic challenger, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, has plans to address state government’s most pressing issues, most of which come down to money. That includes expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income individuals and establishing a state lottery with proceeds earmarked for education in the form of expanded pre-K, scholarships and workforce development.
Maddox is not the stereotypical Democrat. He rejects the tribalism that leaves some Democrats feeling they must oppose anything the GOP supports. His campaign is issue-based, and he does not ignore the cost of policies he advocates.
When it comes to Medicaid expansion, he is quick to acknowledge a significant upfront expense. But unlike his opponent, he also factors in the financial benefits to the state of a massive influx of federal dollars that would bolster tax revenue and help prop up the majority of Alabama hospitals that are now operating in the red. He points to the experiences of the 34 states that have expanded Medicaid, many of which have enjoyed a financial benefit.
While Ivey has expressed passive concern about the lack of mental health treatment in the state, Maddox proposes action. Medicaid expansion would do much to close the gap in mental health care, and Maddox also would invest a portion of the revenue from his proposed lottery into community innovation grants to assist schools in serving students with mental health issues.
Maddox is focused on industrial recruitment, and recognizes the state’s ailing infrastructure is a deterrent to economic progress. He supports a gas-tax increase as a way to finance proper maintenance of deteriorating roads and bridges. That’s an idea many Republicans support, but it has failed to get the needed push from Ivey and her predecessors.
Ivey’s refusal to debate Maddox is strategic, but like most of her tenure as governor it’s a strategy grounded in timidity. Alabama needs bold leadership focused not on political consequences but on the state’s untapped potential.
Maddox has already been tested. As mayor of Tuscaloosa, he has helped oversee that city’s recovery from the tornado of 2011, which devastated the heart of the city.
The choice is between a candidate who seems content not to rock the boat and one who realizes the boat could do with a refit.
The TimesDaily recommends Walt Maddox for governor.