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John Morgan brings his “talking tour” to St. Pete

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Saying it was good to be back in “Charlie Crist country,” Orlando attorney/entrepreneur/celebrity John Morgan made an entertaining appearance at the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg on Wednesday.

There, he discussed what he says is the very real possibility that he will pull the trigger next year and run for the Democratic nomination for governor.

As salty as ever, Morgan said he was absolutely not on a “listening tour,” as some candidates describe the early months of a potential candidacy, deriding that concept as “so much BS.”

“I’m on a talking tour,” he told the audience who assembled at the St. Pete Yacht Club. “I’m going to tell you everything I think. I may say two or things today that disqualify me, and that’s OK.”

The 61-year-old Lexington, Kentucky native has said previously that he won’t make a final decision on his political future until next spring, and with his high name recognition thanks to the ubiquitous “Morgan and Morgan” television ads that constantly air across the state of Florida and a personal banking fortune estimated at more than $100 million, it certainly makes sense.

Rick Scott, after all, didn’t get into the gubernatorial race in 2010 until the spring, and the rest is Florida political history.

A Florida Chamber of Commerce poll released Wednesday shows Morgan currently to be the most popular Democrat in the field, leading former Congresswoman Gwen Graham by eight percentage points, 23 percent-15 percent.

However, 44 percent have yet to make up their mind for the Democratic primary, which won’t take place until slightly less than 11 months from now.

Referring to the tragedy at the North Hollywood assisted living facility which lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma, causing 10 seniors to perish due to excessive heat, Morgan blasted “tort reform” efforts by the state Legislature, where lawsuits at such facilities are capped at $250,000.

Morgan—the father of 2016’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment—said it’s inevitable that recreational pot will become legal from sea to shining sea in the future. The latest policy proposal that he’s working to get on the 2020 ballot would be a $14 hourly ‘living wage’ in Florida.

He’s also passionate about getting the right of nonviolent ex-felons to get their rights restored. When asked by a woman during the Q&A portion of the meeting why not even those who commit violent felonies pay their debt to society, Morgan said politics was about the art of compromise, and extending that proposal to include violent offenders will never pass in Florida.

He maintained that pragmatic stance when talking about guns, an incendiary issue between gun control advocates and most of the GOP-led Legislature in Florida, which continues to press for more unfettered access to guns, including on college campuses and airports (though to no avail in recent years).

“I’m not a gun guy,” he declared. “I don’t care about guns. Just don’t let crazy people have them.”

As part of his platform for criminal justice reform he derides private prisons, saying that their business model requires that they be filled up, so the companies that own them can make money.

He called public school teachers “heroes,” and blasted what he said was the Legislature’s war on public education. Morgan said the results from the charter school experiment were “terrible” and that it allowed the rich to prosper at the public’s expense.

Speaking of the rich, Morgan called himself the “ultimate capitalist” but also a “compassionate capitalist.” He said he believed in a separation of church and state, but said he didn’t believe that people could separate themselves from their beliefs.

“I believe that the God that I pray to lives not up there but in you and in you and in you. I believe that when I see somebody’s hungry, or begging, or without shelter, I’m not looking at a deadbeat, I’m looking at God, and that’s the only way that I can live and love God, to love people and love God.”

Morgan mused about some of the other candidates who have already declared their candidacies for governor. He joked that he needed Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala in the race. “I need someone bigger than me,” he said of the Clearwater Republican. “I can’t be the fat guy in the race.”

Morgan is off to his home state of Kentucky, where he’s been hired by Attorney General Andy Beshear to sue the manufacturers of opioids, an option that Florida lawmakers have yet to publicly consider.

Many political observers say that Donald Trump’s electoral victory in Florida and in the Electoral College last November is a blueprint that the politically incorrect Morgan could follow to the Governor’s Mansion. He addressed the comparison only once during his speech.

“Some people say ‘if Trump can do it, you can do it!’ ” he said, pausing dramatically. “I don’t take that as a compliment.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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