Bousquet: John Morgan, candidate or not, is reshaping Florida politics

John Morgan is determined to leave his mark on Florida, one way or the other. 
[CHERIE DIEZ   |   Tampa Bay Times]
John Morgan is determined to leave his mark on Florida, one way or the other. [CHERIE DIEZ | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Feb. 7, 2017

John Morgan is determined to leave a political mark on Florida, one way or the other.

The Orlando personal injury lawyer, famously familiar from his ads on TV, buses and billboards, is traveling the state and getting a feel from voters about whether he should run for governor in 2018.

In so doing, he's teasing Florida Democrats with the notion of something they have never had: a well-known candidate with name recognition who's wealthy enough to fund his own race, just like Rick Scott or Donald Trump.

Morgan says he's on a "talking tour." When politicians say they're on a listening tour, he says, "It's a bunch of bull----."

That's exactly what he said, as TV cameras rolled, last Friday to the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee. It's that kind of talk that could attract a following because it's different and it's not boring.

Morgan is brash, funny and a little profane. His hourlong talk, with key points scrawled on a yellow legal pad, was a political speech, stand-up routine and a lawyer's closing argument all rolled into one.

He made fun of his own TV ads that helped make him insanely rich.

He said he likes to lie in the sun because "brown fat looks better than white fat."

He says the word "s---" about as often as Gov. Scott says the word "jobs."

He says for-profit prisons — seven of which are in Florida — are scandalous and should be abolished.

Charter schools? They're for "rich people" and public school teachers are underpaid and underappreciated.

He calls a Trump-led attack on illegal immigration "the biggest hoax that's ever been played on America," because corporations depend on their cheap labor and everybody knows it.

Morgan, who just won a successful statewide campaign to legalize medical marijuana, wasn't joking when he said it's a travesty that so many people make so little money in Florida, where the minimum wage just went up a nickel — to $8.10 an hour.

He said he will consult with Jon Mills, the University of Florida law school professor and former House speaker, about crafting a ballot measure to give voters the chance in 2018 to put a higher minimum wage — at least $12 an hour — in the state Constitution.

That's a potential political game-changer in Florida on at least three levels.

First, if such a proposal reached the ballot, it could greatly increase voter turnout in a midterm election where Democrats have a dismal track record of getting their base out to vote.

Second, as the ultimate pocketbook issue, a "living wage" campaign would force every candidate for every office to take a position that could cost them votes.

Third, it would force the business community to spend millions of dollars on ads opposing Morgan's crusade, and that's money that otherwise would be lavished on pro-business candidates for statewide office and the Legislature.

Scott himself, already a leading potential GOP candidate for U.S. Senate next year, is in court in Miami-Dade, trying to strike down a citywide living wage ordinance in Miami Beach as unconstitutional.

Voters in four other states (Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington) approved minimum wage hikes in November, to at least $12 an hour by 2020. So it's an issue that's popular all over the country in red and blue states.

And if low-wage workers in Florida's service- and tourist-driven economy find out they can vote themselves a big pay raise, it just might start a movement.

Morgan and his money have already changed the Florida Constitution once. Why should people doubt that he could do it twice?

Contact Steve Bousquet at Follow @stevebousquet.