Mike Morgan meets and greets Hendersonians

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Jan. 31—HENDERSON — After stepping down from the state Supreme Court last September, Associate Justice Mike Morgan announced his bid for governor. On Tuesday night, he brought his campaign to Henderson for a meet and greet at Perry Memorial Library.

"We are grateful to have you all," Mayor Melissa Elliott began. She introduced the Honorable Judge Morgan by going over his bio, saying she was awed by it.

"I'm ecstatic, because he came from such humble beginnings and is such a great servant," said the mayor.

Born in Cherry Point, Morgan moved to Washington D.C. and later New Bern, where he became the first Black student at Trent Park Elementary School, integrating the formerly all-white school. In high school, he became the first Black drum major at New Bern Senior High School.

He broke barriers during his educational career, as Elliott said. When his father Leander became the first and only Black mayor of New Bern, Morgan administered his oath of office. He's a longtime member of the historically Black fraternity Omega Psi Phi, as well.

"Madame Mayor Elliott, thank you for an introduction that makes me sound better than I deserve," Morgan said. He also thanked her for her leadership and recognized her as a "history-maker." She is Henderson's first Black and female mayor. He also recognized former state Rep. Terry Garrison and Judge Henry Banks, one of Morgan's mentors on the bench.

With that, Morgan spoke his piece.

Morgan was chosen to be drum major, he recounted, for his willingness to step out and ability to "forge relationships at times when people weren't talking with each other but talking beyond each other and through one another."

"That's the kind of exemplary ability that we need in North Carolina," said Morgan. "Courage, leadership and forging relationships as people don't want to trust one another anymore. They want to have their own frame of mind in terms of what they think is right and anybody else is wrong. I know how to bring people together."

"I want you to know that I'm running for governor because state government is not what it needs to be," said Morgan. "I'm running against the status quo."

Something is wrong, he said, when you consider some numbers. School systems across the state are looking at 3,500 teacher vacancies. Setting an appointment with the Department of Motor Vehicles takes 45 days. Each day, 12 people die from fentanyl overdoses.

Morgan wants to lead the charge in getting needed services to North Carolinians.

The Leandro Case dictates whether children in North Carolina are given the sound, quality and basic education the state promises them. He was on the bench when the state Supreme Court ruled that all schools had to be given the proper funding and when the "wrong" Leandro was decided, "where the legislature said they couldn't be told what to do with their funds, even if it meant educating our young people properly."

Morgan advocates for full funding of the Leandro Plan and against public funds from going into private schools. Last year, the General Assembly doubled funding for universal school vouchers, expanding access to higher income families. Public schools are funded on a per-pupil basis, WRAL reported a week back, so when a student leaves the public school system, they take their parcel of funding with them.

"If families want to [send their kids to private schools,] that's fine," said Morgan. "But, leave the public money behind for those of us who support public schools."

His last word on education was supporting a wage increase for teachers.

As for healthcare, there's still a ways to go, even after the state expanded Medicaid.

"There are still too many people left behind," said Morgan. "You see, some people make too much to be able to qualify for Medicaid... but yet make too little to take care of their own healthcare needs."

He said he wouldn't forget about those who have fallen through the cracks.

"Speaking of affordable, affordable housing is also a bad need," said the judge. Some homeowners aren't able to afford to live even in their childhood homes, as property taxes increase and North Carolina's rapid growth prices lower-income citizens out.

On the topic of housing, the state has a homelessness problem, said the judge. Too many people are experiencing homelessness.

"We have to remember the least of these," said Morgan, "and make sure nobody is left behind."

Lastly, on affordability, he said the Republican-led legislature is "callous," and gives the free market too much freedom in setting prices for essential goods. The rising price of staple groceries, in turn, contributes to food deserts, areas with low access to nutritious and healthy food.

The judge supports criminal justice reform. Many people with criminal records are stuck in a "vicious cycle" — what with the record, they have more difficulty getting or keeping a job, and thus can't pay bills. Some don't have a license and can't get a new one, but still need to drive — eventually, they get caught, and the cycle continues, with compounding fines and fees.

"We've got to stop the vicious cycle of folks not being able to get ahead," said the candidate, "we need an increase in opportunity for people who have second chances."

Morgan plans to stymie gun violence as well, calling for more responsible background checks, waiting periods, red flag laws and banning the sale of assault weapons. Gun violence has touched Henderson too, he said, but allowed that Elliott's leadership is sure to help improve things.

Public safety, education and affordable housing and goods are his platform's main planks. He supports LGBTQ rights, fully respecting women's reproductive rights and abolishing any wage gap.

He's also running because state residents' dreams have been "slashed, dashed and bashed."

"So many people feel left behind," said the judge. "We have people in Raleigh picking winners and losers among us. We can do better when it comes to making sure that all citizens in North Carolina have a level playing field; so that as long as they're willing to put one foot in front of the other, live a lawful life and do all that they can, everybody can be who they want to be."

He's the most electable candidate, Morgan said. In 2016, he ran against Judge Robert Edmunds for Supreme Court Seat 2, losing against him in the primary but beating the odds and winning against the 16-year incumbent by nine% in the general election. He attributes his victory to his platform centered around fairness, equality and justice.

If given the opportunity, he'll beat Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson in November, he said, calling the candidate dangerous and backwards-thinking.

After his stump speech, he answered a variety of questions from the audience that nearly filled the Farm Bureau Room.

One crowd member asked for his take on high-capacity magazines for automatic weapons.

"That kind of ammunition has no place," said the judge. "That's what's turning our streets into war zones. That's why we're reading about these tragedies and travesties — it's got to stop. As governor, it'll stop with me."

Garrison asked about gerrymandering, the act of manipulating congressional district boundaries to favor one group or party. To a certain extent, it's lawful and thus permissible, said the judge.

Both parties gerrymander — to the victor go the spoils, he said. Winning parties get to decide where the lines are. Republicans, however, "go berserk," handling power irresponsibly. Excessive gerrymandering puts fair elections in peril — but added that shouldn't discourage voters from voting.

A Warren County resident asked what he would do to improve mental health among students, suicide rates and the lack of personnel equipped to deal with those topics.

"You're already helping me with my answer," he said. "We do have to get back to basics... funding our schools properly."

Funding goes beyond academics, he said, and wants to see the arts brought back. Hiring proper personnel like nurses and mental health specialists will improve health and safety as well.

Joseph Brodie asked what Morgan could do to improve mental health and suicide rates among veterans. Improving public awareness of mental health and resources that help with it would help everyone. The candidate floated some out of the box ideas as well, like medical marijuana. A closed mind wouldn't help, he said.

"Let's not have our heads buried like ostriches," he said. Legalizing marijuana, and allowing farmers to grow it, would be a big economic boon as well, in a time where farmers are struggling to replace the onetime king of cash crops, tobacco.

Elliott asked about human trafficking — North Carolina is ninth in the nation in the number of human trafficking case. The state is a hotbed for the crime, he said — acknowledging that spreading awareness and education would help. Giving victims or witnesses the safety to come forward are as important. Human trafficking is both a legal and moral travesty that should no longer exist.

City Councilwoman Geraldine Champion said all counties need a rent cap.

"How could anything be done to address high rent," Champion said. "Some of the rent we have in Henderson is outrageous, truly outrageous."

Historically, Morgan said, rental caps are better when tailored to local communities, adjusted based on a variety of factors. Henderson has a different average salary than Charlotte, he said, adding there needs to be a "harmonious, across-the-state" look at rent control. He would encourage the legislature to empower municipalities to get the state involved in rent control.

"There could be more partnership on this, and more input on this," Morgan said.

Quoting General Statutes, Champion said neither cities nor counties can enact or enforce rent control. She asked how he could bring the idea forward.

Morgan said he'd have an open mind, but wants to make sure he knows what he's talking about. He floated the idea of town halls and working with local liaisons to get citizen's opinions. His campaign manager, David Bland, said that a Gov. Morgan would be the first to get citizen's help in answering questions like Champion's.

Morgan is the second Democratic gubernatorial candidate to visit Henderson after Attorney General Josh Stein's event a week back.

"I think that speaks well for Henderson," said Terry Garrison. "There is some focus on Vance County and surrounding areas."

"Morgan said we are a pivotal county and city," said the mayor afterwards. "Henderson is waiting to happen... we have gubernatorial candidates that know that, and so they're coming out to show us who they are and why we need to vote for them, so they can support us moving forward, progressively, to have a wonderful community for all of us."