The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Before the abortion ban, Gov. Kay Ivey tested a deeply conservative agenda in Alabama

Kay Ivey, the first female Republican governor in Alabama, signed the nation’s most restrictive antiabortion bill into law on May 15. (Video: The Washington Post)
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With a quick scribble of her pen Wednesday afternoon, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) essentially made abortion in her state illegal in all circumstances, with zero exceptions for rape or incest. Doctors who perform the procedure face a penalty of up to 99 years in prison.

As other Republican-controlled states are rubber-stamping abortion restrictions in a legal gambit to challenge Roe v. Wade, Alabama’s new law has left even some staunch abortion opponents tepid. On Wednesday, televangelist Pat Robertson called the bill “extreme” and said Alabama politicians had “gone too far.”

But it’s also no surprise the nation’s most stringent abortion law came out of Alabama. Since 2010, the state’s Republican Party has had a supermajority in both houses of the legislature. Republicans also control all statewide offices. Ivey’s reelection in 2018 to her first full term continued the GOP’s easy grip on the state’s levers of power.

And under Ivey’s watch, Alabama has been at the forefront of conservative legislation, passing laws that would face tougher opposition in states with a more robust Democratic presence.

From guns in schools to gay rights to the death penalty to Confederate monuments, the governor has signed laws from the conservative movement’s wish list, turning the Alabama into a test kitchen for an unopposed GOP agenda. The track record has turned Ivey, a quiet veteran of state politics who eschews the carnival barker-antics that typically land governors in the national spotlight, into a front-line figure in the culture war.

“I’m a tough-as-nails straight shooter who is cutting through political correctness and corruption,” Ivey, 74, wrote on Twitter during her 2018 reelection, introducing a video featuring the governor blasting away at targets on a gun range. “There’s nothing ‘DC’ about me. Because of our strong conservative leadership, Alabama is working again.”

Ivey’s Alabama is not the first state where near-total GOP control has led to boundary-pushing ideas out of the legislature.

In 2012, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and the GOP-controlled state legislature executed a round of provisions that represented a test of conservative trickle-down economics. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson wrote that the plan “slashed the state’s already-low tax rates, eliminated state income tax for most owner-operated businesses and sharply reduced vital government services.”

The “real-live experiment,” as Brownback called it at the time, was actually one-party politics at work, a moment when a single agenda could be enacted with no opposition. But rather than jump-start the state’s economy as intended, the cuts caused deficits to explode and growth to stall. By 2017, the legislature had dialed back many of the measures, and the political fallout cost the Kansas GOP in last year’s midterm elections, including a loss in the gubernatorial race to Democrat Laura Kelly.

Alabama’s recent history under Ivey is a similar experiment in unfettered one-party governance, albeit one that won’t be as easy to assess as deficits and growth.

According to a 2017 profile in the Montgomery Advertiser, Ivey was raised in Camden, Ala., a town of around 2,000 southwest of Montgomery. After graduating from Auburn University and working as a teacher and a bank officer, she first entered politics in 1979 with a cabinet position under Alabama Gov. Fob James. Beginning in 1982, Ivey was the reading clerk for the state House of Representatives, and from there jumped around to a number appointments within the state government.

In 2002, Ivey rose to a higher political rung with a successful run for state treasurer. She held the position until 2011, when she successfully campaigned for lieutenant governor. Although there were rumblings about a later gubernatorial run, Ivey finally made the jump to the top job in April 2017 when Gov. Robert Bentley resigned amid a sex scandal.

“She’s not a pushover,” a childhood friend told the Advertiser in April 2017. “She’s a Christian and a lady, but she’s not soft. People better be on their toes with her.”

Ivey herself was humble about the opportunity.

“I did it with thanksgiving and also the recognition that this is not my administration,” Ivey said after she was sworn in. “This is the people’s administration, and it is my job to provide them with honesty, openness and transparency.”

Ivey quickly got the wheels turning on an agenda that tracked right, driving directly into issues prompting fierce debates in other states.

In May 2017, she signed a bill that cut down the time death-row inmates had to file appeals. Anti-death penalty groups opposed the legislation, as did the American Bar Association, the Advertiser reported at the time.

“While the ABA respects the importance of finality and judicial efficiency, quicker resolution of cases where a life is at stake should not take priority over ensuring the fundamental fairness and accuracy of those convictions,” the ABA wrote in a letter asking Alabama politicians to reconsider.

That same month, Ivey signed legislation that allowed faith-based adoption organizations to refuse to place children with gay parents, according to the Associated Press. Critics blasted the measure as discriminatory.

“This bill is not about discrimination, but instead protects the ability of religious agencies to place vulnerable children in a permanent home,” Ivey fired back in a statement at the time.

Also in May, as calls roared across the country to tear down Confederate monuments, Ivey shored up her state’s link to its rebel linage.

She signed legislation prohibiting the “relocation, removal, alteration, renaming or other disturbance of any architecturally significant building, memorial building, memorial street or monument located on public property which has been in place for 40 or more years,” the Washington Times reported.

“You say we are protecting history,” Democratic state Sen. Hank Sanders of Selma, an opponent of the bill, said at the time. “We are not protecting history. We are protecting monuments that represent oppression to a large part of the people in the state of Alabama.”

Last year, as she campaigned and won a full term as Alabama’s governor, Ivey continued to enact a conservative agenda.

When the Parkland school massacre in February 2018 energized a national debate about gun control and school safety, she signed an executive order allowing school administrators who were properly vetted to carry firearms in the classroom.

Ivey’s administration has also waded into the national debate over tying welfare to work. According to the Hill, Alabama petitioned the Trump administration last September to allow the state to require Medicaid beneficiaries to work or train between 25 to 30 hours a week.

Because the state refused to accept the Medicaid expansion provided under the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act, Alabama’s proposal would disproportionately hit “mothers, African Americans, and families living in rural communities,” according to an analysis by the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families.

Ivey has also been open about her opposition to allowing abortion access. During her 2018 campaign, she was endorsed by the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion activist group, according to

Also, last August, when the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed an earlier lower court decision knocking down an Alabama law looking to curtail abortion, Ivey was vocal about her feelings — and perhaps hinted at her plans.

“I am disappointed in the court’s ruling today; however, we should not let this discourage our steadfast commitment to protect the lives of the unborn, even if that means taking this case to the U.S. Supreme Court,” the governor said in a statement, reported.

“This ruling clearly demonstrates why we need conservative justices on the Supreme Court, and I look forward to the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh.”

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