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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

John Morgan doesn't know if he'll run for governor. But he's talking like he will.

Orlando trial attorney John Morgan speaks to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club in Pensacola on Friday.

John Morgan / Facebook

Orlando trial attorney John Morgan speaks to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club in Pensacola on Friday.

13

January

Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan isn't a candidate for public office and says he's still not sure he'd ever be one. But he sure was talking like one Friday in a speech to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club in Pensacola.

In a half-hour speech during a club luncheon, Morgan -- who is considering a run for governor in 2018 -- spoke like a politician testing the waters and trying out a potential stump speech.

He recounted his youth in Lexington, Ky., his wealth and success owning multiple businesses from a billboard company to hotels, and his recent high-profile work to get Amendment 2 passed in Florida, which legalized medical marijuana.

He said he had hoped the Legislature would take action first and when lawmakers didn't, he was forced to step up to the plate.

"They wouldn't do it in Tallahassee," Morgan said. "You all ask yourselves a question: When is the last time in the last 10 years that Tallahassee's ever done anything -- anything -- to help you? That's benefited your life?"

Morgan said his "journey" to get Amendment 2 passed last fall was "kind of like a statewide race," in which he personally was targeted by opponents of his proposal. "I kind of ran a race almost like a candidate, because they made it personal with me," he said.

After Election Day, his Democratic supporters launched a "Draft John Morgan" effort, hoping to persuade him to run for governor.

"The honest truth is, I never thought about it in my life," he said. "It's the last thing I ever thought about. ... Where can you do the most good for the most people? I don't know."

Morgan listed off several Florida politicians, Republican and Democrat -- including the names of those also considering gubernatorial bids -- and called them friends and people he admired:

-- "Nobody's a greater friend to me" than Land O'Lakes Republican and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Morgan said.

-- He said Floridians "couldn't go wrong" with former House Speaker Will Weatherford if he were to run for governor. (Weatherford took his name out of the running last month.)

-- He said he doesn't know Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, "but in all the time I've been in Florida, I've never heard one bad thing about him."

-- He said he gets along with Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who's term-limited from seeking re-election next year. Morgan said Scott's focus on jobs and taxes "wasn't so bad, was it?"

-- Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham "has been a longtime friend" (and he called her father -- former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham -- "one of my heroes").

-- "You got this Bob Buckhorn down in Tampa. His case is this: 'Look at Tampa, look what I did.' Not so bad," Morgan said.

-- And Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine is "another good guy."

"So when I look at the kind of cast of characters who are out there thinking about running, I think we're almost OK," Morgan said. "I'm not terribly upset on either which way. The question is: Who is it that we want to be? What do we want to be?"

Then Morgan laid out what in any other context would be a campaign platform.

He offered a populist message, talking at length about the struggles of the middle class and the need for a fair, livable wage. He also discussed immigration, criminal justice, higher education, the "crooks" in the pharmaceutical industry and the "war on teachers."

"We have to find a solution to pay our people, and until we do it, it's going to get worse and worse and worse and worse," Morgan said. "If I don't run for political office, I know what I am going to do: I'm going to look into another constitutional amendment to have a living wage in the state of Florida."

He chastised those who complain that undocumented immigrants are taking American workers' jobs, calling that argument "a ruse and a lie."

"That is B.S.," Morgan said. "They're not taking our jobs; they're doing jobs none of us would do."

He said if lawmakers were so concerned, they could fix the problem by imposing stiff financial penalties on those who hire undocumented workers, but "we're not going to do it because we don't want to do it and -- I hate to say these words -- but because we kind of like this new economic slavery labor that we get."

He concluded his speech with still a measure of hesitation about whether he'd run in 2018: "I'm not necessarily fired up about this, and I don't know if I will do it."

[Last modified: Friday, January 13, 2017 3:02pm]

    

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