Kay Ivey on Wednesday said she would seek a second full term as governor of Alabama in an announcement that stressed her reaction to the COVID-19 outbreak and pro-business policies.
"Here in Alabama, our government will always reflect your values," the governor said in a video accompanying her announcement. "Life, liberty and freedom of opportunity for every single corner of this state."
Ivey's announcement did not come as a surprise, but will almost certainly clear the field of Republican challengers. Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth said earlier this year he would not run against Ivey if she sought another term.
No Democratic candidates have announced a gubernatorial run yet.
Ivey was nearing the end of her second term as Alabama's lieutenant governor in April, 2017 when then-Gov. Robert Bentley, enmeshed in a year-long scandal over his relationship with an adviser, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of campaign finance violations and resigned from office. Ivey easily won a term in her own right the following year, taking 59 percent of the vote.
The governor has operated in the GOP mainstream during her tenure, signing a bill that banned nearly all abortions in Alabama in 2019 (the law has been blocked by a federal court) and legislation this year banning transgender teens from playing sports of the sex with which they align. But Ivey's announcement video soft-pedaled those issues, referring to them obliquely near the end.
The governor also won a major victory in 2019 in getting the first gas tax increase through the legislature.
Ivey broke with some of her neighboring southern governors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has taken nearly 10,000 lives in Alabama. Though she ended a stay-at-home order in mid-May of last year, she put a mask order in place last July as COVID-19 cases skyrocketed in the state. Ivey stuck with the order through April, even as states like Florida and Mississippi rushed to lift theirs, saying that she wanted to see progress on vaccinations before doing so. The state's emergency orders expired on Tuesday.
Like the rest of the country, Alabama took a major economic hit in the early part of the pandemic. But the economy recovered over the course of 2020, and the state's two budgets for 2022 are the highest in nominal terms in state history.
The governor has urged Alabamians to get COVID-19 shots, but the state lags the nation in overall vaccination rate. Only 36 percent of Alabamians have gotten at least one shot, compared to 51 percent in the nation.
Ivey has also struggled to address a long-term crisis of violence and overcrowding in state prisons. The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state last year, saying conditions in men's prisons violated inmates' Eighth Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment. The suit followed several reports detailing physical and sexual violence against male inmates. If successful, it could mean the state losing control of all or part of its corrections system.
The governor for two years pushed a "build/lease" program to get around legislative opposition to new prison construction. But the proposal faced skepticism from prisoner advocates and in communities where the prisons were slated to go, and was hurt by the withdrawal of two key underwriters in April.