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Friday, September 22, 2023

Michael Morgan enters 2024 race for N.C. Governor

By Cash Michaels, Carolina Peacemaker / September 15, 2023

Michael Morgan, a former Associate Justice of the N.C. Supreme Court stands in the court’s hearing room.

Saying that he has a ‘better chance of winning the general election” race for North Carolina’s next governor, retired Associate State Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan entered the Democratic race Sept. 12th, setting up a primary confrontation with state Attorney General Josh Stein.

Stein announced last January that he was running to succeed outgoing Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is two-term limited.

Sounding quite declarative, Morgan told the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper, “I will be the most qualified, and the best qualified, and certainly the most electable to be governor on the Democratic ticket.”

Morgan, 67, made his announcement Tuesday in a video shot by a News and Observer reporter, not a campaign worker. He said he began thinking about running for governor once he decided not to run for reelection to his state Supreme Court seat because of the imposed age restriction.

“I feel as though that unique blend of what I bring as a judge, a longtime participant in, an observer of, the state government system — traveling the state, meeting people across the board, whether it was in my job or whether it was related to my own personal extracurricular activities — I just felt as though being in the executive spot and being able to make the greatest and most effective difference I could was where I should place my energies,” Morgan told the paper.

When the Democratic jurist left the High Court last week, it was bittersweet.

Morgan posted two pictures of himself on Friday, Sept 8th on Facebook in the hearing room of the state Supreme Court. He was neatly dressed in a dark suit, not the judicial robes he usually wears. In one picture, he was standing, facing the camera with the state Supreme Court judicial panel in the background, slightly smiling. In the other picture, Morgan is seen walking out the courtroom door, his back turned as he steps out. He is holding a black garment bag, presumably containing his robe, if not other garments.

Morgan was not looking back.

The caption over both pictures read, “North Carolina, thank you for the opportunity to serve you. See you soon!”

On a July 31st Facebook post, Justice Morgan posted, “August 2023 marks my 44-year anniversary of service to the people of North Carolina as a representative of our state government. I’m thankful that my abilities have grown with my experience. It’s an honor to serve!”

Even before Morgan, son of a prominent Eastern North Carolina political family, announced his intentions to run for governor, there were some in the Democratic Party who wished out loud that he wouldn’t.

Gov. Cooper, apparently in a bid to fire a rhetorical warning shot across the bow of Mike Morgan’s possible gubernatorial ambitions, publicly endorsed Stein on August 30th while Justice Morgan was still on the state Supreme Court.

“It’s been my honor to have worked shoulder to shoulder with [Stein] over the past two decades,” said Cooper in a video for social media. “And I am immensely grateful for his support of my campaign for governor to continue moving North Carolina forward.”

“Term limits prevent me from running again, but I know he [Stein] will double down on the progress that we’ve made,” the governor added. “With a record of results and a clear-eyed vision for our future, Josh is ready to do this job.”

Cooper was indeed expected to endorse Stein, given the close political relationship the two men have had in the past.

Why the governor felt it necessary to issue his glowing endorsement now, several months before any challengers to Stein could register as candidates in opposition, can only be a source of speculation.

But many question the political influence of the lame duck Democratic governor, who failed to save the job of the previous N.C. Democratic Party chairwoman during the last race.

Democratic political analyst Thomas Mills, the publisher of the weekly Politics N.C. newsletter, also thinks that Stein should be the next governor, and Morgan should look elsewhere for future employment.

In fact, in a recent column titled, “Run for AG, Justice Morgan. N.C. Needs You,” Mills said exactly that.

“Speculation is swirling in state-politics circles about the future of Mike Morgan,” wrote Mills before Morgan stepped down. “Morgan, a justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court, has announced his retirement from the post he currently holds and has proffered some indications that he plans to seek another office. Most of the earliest rumors have centered on the governorship, a position Roy Cooper’s vacating that will be open for new challengers next year. But more recently other observers have begun to speculate that Morgan may be encouraged to attempt a run at the Attorney General’s office. Consider me supportive of this proposition.”

Mills went on to cite Justice Morgan’s many years serving on various state courts over several decades, and the wealth of experience he would bring as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, an office Stein is leaving to run for governor.

Mills added that Morgan would “…bring a diversity to the ticket,” presumably running for state attorney general while Stein ran at the top of the ticket for governor.

But now, Mike Morgan has made it clear that he has his eyes solely on the top spot in state government. He admits that his campaign for governor will be “lean,” but he received over 2 million votes before to be elected to the state Supreme Court, and he believes he has what it takes to parlay those votes in a run for governor, especially against the likely Republican gubernatorial candidate, conservative culture warrior Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.

If the two were to face-off in 2024, then for the first time in North Carolina history, two Black men would vie for the top executive office of this state.

If Morgan can get past Josh Stein in the Democratic primaries next March, history could be made in 2024.


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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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