Why a former Republican is backing Democrats’ run for legislature

By Paul Gattis

Democrat Marilyn Lands announced her candidacy for Alabama House District 10 outside the Madison County Courthouse on Sept. 12, 2023. (Paul Gattis )

For 20 years, Mike Ball served in the Alabama Legislature as a Republican.

“It’s because, quite frankly, I joined the party of Reagan and I left the party of Trump,” said Ball, who described himself Tuesday as an independent. “I mean, it’s a different tone … everything’s different.”

And so it is that he’s supporting Marilyn Lands, a licensed professional counselor who received 45 percent of the vote last November in a race won by Republican David Cole. That victory touched off a criminal scandal in which Cole pleaded guilty to a felony for voting in a district where he knew he was not registered. Cole resigned his seat Aug. 31 – the same day he entered a plea agreement in Madison County.

Cole did not live in the Huntsville-area district in which he won his seat. Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday set a special election to replace Cole for March 26, 2024, preceded by the primary election on Dec. 12.

The open seat is in District 10 – which is in southwest Madison County and includes parts of Huntsville and Madison. Lands is the first candidate for any party to announce their candidacy for the special election.

If she wins, Ball says, it will be for the good of Alabama.

“We’re at the point that I wish the Democratic Party was a stronger minority because it would make the majority better,” he said. “And I have lots of friends in the Republican Party. I have lots of friends who are Democrats. And nowadays, I’m a guitar picker. I’m an old philosopher. I ain’t nothing. But that being said, friendship has always been more important to me than politics.”

And Ball said he and Lands have long been friends – she ran his first campaign for the legislature in 2002.

The Republican supermajority in Montgomery, however, has essentially unchecked power, Ball said. And he said that needs to change.

“At the time I got into politics, Alabama was a one party, Democrat state. And we did a real good job of changing that except it’s gone so far the other way. You know, we have a system of checks and balances that we need. And you have to have a majority party and a minority party, and the minority party is supposed to be able to slow them down and say, ‘Wait a minute, let’s think.’ And a viable two-party system is incredibly important to our republic. And having political dialogue instead of the food fights that we have now is very important.”

Lands, Ball said, is a candidate that can begin reversing that course.

“She would make a great representative,” he said.

Lands made her announcement on the steps of the Madison County Courthouse in downtown Huntsville, introduced by Violet Edwards – the only Democrat on the county commission.

“Marilyn is a mother, a wife, and perhaps most importantly, most importantly, most importantly, she is a resident of District 10,” Edwards said in taking a shot at Cole.

Lands was unopposed in the Democratic primary last year before finishing second to Cole in the general election. Cole received 51.6 percent of the vote to Lands’ 45 percent and Libertarian Elijah Boyd’s 3.4 percent.

Standing in a group of supporters behind Lands as she spoke was Randy Kelley, a Huntsville pastor and executive director of the Alabama Democratic Party.

“I grew up here, raised my family here and go to church here,” Lands said in brief remarks from the podium. “Today, I am proud to announce my campaign for District 10 because this is my home and I am your neighbor. District 10, you know me. I will be your voice and Montgomery. I will find solutions to our common problems and work to build trust and unity.”

Off stage, asked about swinging a Republican district to a Democrat, Lands said, “I think this being a special election will be very different. Democrats tend to fare better in specials. And we’ve got some momentum with having run a campaign and I feel like we can turn our people back out this time.”