2022 Elections

“No Step Too High for a High-Stepper”: Gov. Kay Ivey Says She’s Running for Another Term

For those who wondered whether the oldest sitting governor in the United States would seek four more years in office, Kay Ivey has provided her answer.

Ivey announced Wednesday that she will seek a second full term in the 2022 gubernatorial election. The announcement came in a video posted on her campaign website, https://kayivey.com/, and on YouTube.

In her video, Ivey touted the accomplishments of her administration since 2017, with a handful of her famous homespun expressions thrown in for good measure, including one of her most famous lines: “There’s no step too high for a high-stepper.”

In scenes filled with sweeping vistas and familiar Alabama sights that are staples of many a campaign ad, she described Alabama as a place “where a red dirt road can take you anywhere, and the sky is never the limit.”

Ivey cited the creation of 44,000 new jobs and the lowest unemployment rate in the state’s history as reasons voters should elect her again. She spoke of how Alabamians got through the COVID-19 pandemic by using “a good ol’ bucket-load of common sense.”

If Ivey is re-elected and serves out a full term, she will have held the governor’s office for the longest continuous period in the state’s history and will be the only governor to run for re-election twice. Her tenure began on April 10, 2017, when she succeeded Robert Bentley, who resigned from office after a corruption scandal. If elected next year, her second full term would end in mid-January 2027 for a total of about nine years and nine months. That would surpass both Bob Riley and George Wallace, who each served two consecutive four-year terms. Wallace was governor for a total of 16 years in three separate stints, with breaks in between.

Ivey’s decision was not a surprise for Ryan Williamson, an assistant professor of political science at Auburn University.

“She’s relatively popular, consistently one of the most popular governors in the country,” Williamson said. “Thinking about the pandemic specifically, she walked that line pretty well. People in Alabama didn’t necessarily want some of the same restrictions that were in place in other parts of the country. I would say, in general, she handled the pandemic pretty well.

“There’s not any reason to think why she wouldn’t (run again) unless she felt like she had accomplished everything she wanted to accomplish. It’s hard to imagine anyone saying, ‘OK, I’ve done my time, I came here with a specific set of goals, and I’ve met all of them.’ I know education is a priority for her. There’s still an opportunity for her to continue to improve the educational environment in the state, and the pandemic may have put a lot of her other goals on the sidelines,” Williamson added.

Whether Ivey, at age 76, would run for re-election was a matter of speculation by political observers in recent months. While she has personally battled lung cancer and was declared cancer free in 2020, and she has dealt with the struggles of how to deal with the pandemic’s effects on Alabama, her political opposition within the Republican Party remains sidelined or otherwise occupied with the race for the U.S. Senate seat from which Richard Shelby is retiring next year.

“Increasingly, age isn’t that much of a factor,” Williamson said. “In the 2008 presidential race, the age discrepancy between (Sen.) John McCain and Barack Obama was really brought up, with some saying Obama was too young and (others saying) McCain’s too old. Donald Trump and (Sen.) Bernie Sanders were some of the oldest, and Joe Biden is one of the oldest (presidents). So, age doesn’t seem to have the negative consequences that maybe we would expect it to.”

The announcement by Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth last week that he would also seek another term — and his earlier declaration that he would not seek the governor’s office if Ivey ran again — was somewhat of a tipoff of Ivey’s intentions.

Ivey easily won re-election in 2018 over Democratic nominee Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox. So far, no Democrat has publicly announced they would take on the incumbent in 2022. Williamson said that Maddox is not likely to enter the fray again after losing by such a large margin, and other possible Democratic contenders might want to consider whether facing a similar defeat is worth the publicity one might gain.

“If you’re him (Maddox), you might want to think about whether you want to fight that same battle again.” Williamson said.

Democrats also will face an uphill battle across the country just because of the timing, as the midterm elections held halfway through a presidential term historically end with the party in power losing seats in Congress. With a very slim Democratic majority in the House that is vulnerable to falling into Republican hands, and a 50-50 Senate whose majority rests solely in the hands of Vice President Kamala Harris, things do not bode well down the ballot for a Democrat who wants to face off against Ivey.

In a statement issued by the Alabama Democratic Party, a spokesperson said, “Kay Ivey has had four years to improve our lives, but just like the Republicans who came before her, she has done nothing to improve anyone’s lives unless they’re a millionaire or a politician.”