ST. PETERSBURG — The last time John Morgan addressed a Tampa Bay luncheon, the wealthy businessman, personal injury lawyer and would-be candidate for governor embraced his reputation as a man who likes a cocktail or three: “Let all the perfect people vote for somebody else, and let all the sinners and imperfect people vote for me.”
On Wednesday, addressing the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg, Morgan sounded more like a holy roller than a party animal. Repeatedly the Orlando-area Democrat mentioned God and how religious teachings would guide his compassionate agenda as governor.
“If I was governor I would ask that question every day: What would God do? And I know what he would do. He would be merciful and just. He would protect. We learn things in church and go out in government and do everything the opposite. We learn in church feed the hungry, shelter the needy and we go out and change those rules,” said Morgan, a Catholic who said he nonetheless strongly believes in the separation of church and state. “
“I believe when I see somebody who’s hungry or begging or without shelter,” he said, “I’m not looking at a deadbeat. I’m looking at God.”
Morgan, 61, is so well known across Florida thanks to decades of “For the People” TV ads and has so much personal wealth, that he has little need to start campaigning any time soon.
Morgan said he is undecided about running but sounded very much like a man preparing to do it. He said he has begun exploring how to divest or remove himself from of his ubiquitous and varied business interests.
Morgan told the crowd at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club that he remains “dead serious” about his ongoing exploration of running for governor in 2018, but realizes he would have to make decisions about his many business ventures -- entertainment venues, a bank, a mega law firm, a casino, advertising and tech businesses, among them — to serve as governor,
“I am the ultimate capitalist. I consider myself a compassionate capitalist, but I am a capitalist through and through. So part of my equation in doing this what I would have to divest myself of, what I would have to put in trust,” said Morgan, who at his wife’s urging has already brought in experts to guide him on that.
His governing philosophy? “Provide the most for the most, not provide the most for those with the most.”
The highest priorities as governor would be, first and foremost, raising Florida’s minimum wage, and then restoring the civil rights of non-violent ex-felons who have completed their sentences.
“We’re a country that believes in redemption and salvation and forgiveness. That’s what we talk about in church all the time,” he said.
Other Democrats running or looking at running include Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Winter Park businessman Chris King, and multimillionaire businessman and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine. Morgan clearly thinks he would be the strongest.
He grew up poor in Kentucky and knows what it’s like to have electricity and phones turned off and wonder about your next meal, he said. His blunt and sometimes profane style often invites comparisons to Donald Trump, and Morgan stressed that he does not consider that a compliment.
“What I would give the Democratic Party is a fighting chance because I’m a fighter.”
He also suggested he is fond of Republican gubernatorial prospects Richard Corcoran, the Florida House Speaker from Pasco County, and state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater.
“I need Jack Latvala in this race. I need someone heavier than me in this race. I can’t be the fat guy in this race.”