January 18, 2011
Governance, Economic Development
Retired Tuscaloosa dermatologist Robert Bentley took the oath of office to become Alabama's 53rd governor Monday, noting that the state has significant challenges, vowing to create jobs, and taking aim at the federal government.
Bentley taking the oath of office to become governor was the highlight of a day full of events that included a parade, a family friendly event at Riverwalk Stadium, the swearing in of other state officeholders, a variety of receptions and parties, and the inaugural ball.
The Bentley inauguration was intentionally a more low-key affair than some previous events, which his staff said was due to the economic climate.
While he admitted the state and its people are struggling financially, Bentley struck an optimistic tone during his speech at the Capitol following his swearing in.
"Working together, we're going to get through these tough times," he said. "We're going to put Alabama back to work. And I truly believe Alabama's best days are ahead."
Bentley, who was also a two-term Republican state legislator, said he has always been an optimist -- maybe from his time as a doctor. Doctors, he said, cannot cure every disease.
"Working together, you can come up with solutions," Bentley said.
Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb, a Democrat, swore in Bentley. Following his swearing in at the Capitol and before he delivered his address, the 117th Field Artillery Unit of the Alabama National Guard fired off a booming 19-gun salute. The 19 shots are commensurate with the rank of governor.
Bentley succeeds popular two-term Republican Gov. Bob Riley, a former congressman and businessman from Clay County.
Bentley thanked Riley and his wife, Patsy, who did not attend the inauguration. Bentley said that Riley and his staff made for a seamless transition of power between the two administrations.
After Monday's celebration, Bentley begins his first full day of work today. His schedule includes him swearing in his staff.
Bentley won the four-year term in office in November at the top of a ticket that Republicans dominated. All of those statewide officers sworn in with him Monday were Republicans and, for the first time in more than 130 years, the Legislature is controlled by Republicans.
Bentley said the new Legislature already passed ethics reform, allowing lawmakers to focus on helping people "instead of arguing about getting our own house in order."
He said people are tired of business as usual, tired of partisan politics and most of them are tired of the federal government.
"We will work with the federal government when we can, but they will not dictate our every move," Bentley said with most of the state's congressional delegation in attendance.
Bentley told state employees he now expects them to find ways to help the state create jobs, saying they needed to do whatever could be done to help businesses. He said he would order state agencies to make job creation a priority.
"I want you to know I will work every day to create jobs in the private sector," Bentley said.
Existing businesses, he said, should receive the same tax breaks and tax incentives as new industry the state is trying to recruit.
And Bentley repeated his popular campaign promise not to take a paycheck as governor until Alabama reaches full employment, which he has said is 5.2 percent unemployment.
House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R- Auburn, agreed with Bentley that they need to pull together to create jobs. He said they are looking at incentives such as tax credits and tax cuts that could help small businesses create jobs.
House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, said he appreciated the tone of Bentley's speech, with him asking public officials to serve the people and to work together to solve problems rather than worry about the next election.
"I hope he keeps that tone for the next four years," Hammon said.
Hammon, an outspoken proponent of immigration reform, said he liked Bentley's stand against intrusion from Washington, which he said is overstepping its bounds.
He also agreed with Bentley's plea for public officials to be honest, ethical and to work for the people.
Hubbard believes it will help Bentley that he served two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives. He said Bentley knows how the system works.
Hubbard, a strong Riley supporter, appreciated that Bentley was very gracious toward the outgoing governor in his speech.
Bentley, a candidate many political observers counted out of the governor's race from the beginning, finished a tight but surprising second place in the Republican primary, forcing a runoff with former two-year college Chancellor Bradley Byrne.
Since squeezing into the second slot in the primary, Bentley was the frontrunner. He easily won the runoff and easily defeated agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks in the general election.
Bentley said during his speech that Alabama was a great state, allowing him as a man of humble beginnings to grow up and become its leader.
Bentley said he felt like he had been on a job interview for the past 18 months, a time in which he spent much of his own money and dipped into his savings and retirement to stay on the campaign trail.
"I now work for you, the citizens of Alabama," he said.
Bentley, even though he ran as a conservative Republican, also vowed to be the "governor of all Alabama."
Bentley admitted he was taking office at a difficult time.
"I know these are challenging times for many of our citizens," he said. "I've looked into the eyes of those who've lost jobs and can't feed their families."
Southern Governors’ Association (SGA), founded in 1934, is the oldest and historically the largest of the regional governors' associations. SGA uses the power of connection, collaboration and communications in a bipartisan manner to solve regional problems, improve quality of life and secure an economically vibrant and prosperous American South.