By Zach Tyler

Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey became the 54th governor of Alabama on Monday evening, after Robert Bentley pleaded guilty to campaign finance crimes and resigned.

Bentley announced his resignation in a speech given not long after he'd been arrested Monday afternoon at Montgomery County Jail on misdemeanor charges, his arrest part of a deal that ended impeachment hearings. In the speech, the former governor said he'd spoken with Ivey, 72, about a "positive and peaceful" transfer of power.

The second woman ever to hold the post behind Lurleen Wallace, Ivey took office shortly after 6 p.m. Monday. Acting Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Lynn Stuart -- who also took over after a male predecessor, Roy Moore, was forced out -- administered the oath of office.

"I pledge to do my very best," Ivey, an Auburn University graduate who coordinated Wallace's campaign efforts there and has since logged a long career in government, said after the oath. "The Ivey administration will be open, it will be transparent, and it will be honest."

Efforts were unsuccessful Monday afternoon to reach Ivey through her staff. Her first priorities as governor, she said during a short televised speech, are to "steady the ship" and to improve Alabama's image.

Ivey took no questions from reporters Monday but swore no interruptions in state operations or services, saying she'd soon meet with members of Bentley's administration to ensure a smooth transition.

She characterized that transition as a "positive opportunity" for Alabama. It's also the final step on an unconventional path to the governor's office for the one-time schoolteacher and bank treasurer.

After a failed bid as a Democrat for state auditor in 1982, Ivey in 2002 became the first Republican since Reconstruction to be elected state treasurer.

After two terms, Ivey qualified to run for governor in 2010. She later agreed to switch races, eventually unseating then-lieutenant governor and Democrat Jim Folsom Jr.

As allegations swirled around Bentley last year, Ivey was characterized as a politician ready with a plan should she be asked to step up.

Ivey said Monday she'd been prepared to become governor since her first day as second in line, but "never desired" that.

Her roots lie in Camden, the tiny Wilcox County city of 2,000 where she grew up, and where friends who now find they have the new governor's personal cell phone number believe she's up to the task of tackling state troubles.

"It's still kind of hard to absorb," said Bill Albritton, vice chairman of the Wilcox County Commission. Ivey in 2013 wrote him a recommendation for the job. "Of course we are really proud," he said.

"She's going to have a full plate," said former U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, also a native of Camden. He led Ivey through her first oath of office in 2003.

Both men praised Ivey as being experienced and honest, patriotic and religious. Both acknowledged that she'll face big problems -- overcrowded prisons, budget negotiations and Medicaid expansion among them.

"She will prove more than capable," Bonner said.

Ivey enters office with detractors already, though, carrying over from her time as state treasurer. She was meant to oversee the Pre-paid Affordable College Tuition program, or PACT, and garnered much of the blame when it lost nearly half its value after the Great Recession.

"I'm a little concerned," said Suzanne Clemons, a high school math teacher in Alabaster. Clemons paid into the PACT program for her son and her daughter, and says that now she's "not getting what we paid for."

"I hope she doesn't do to the state what was done to that program," Clemons said.

(c)2017 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.)