Speculation is swirling in state-politics circles about the future of Mike Morgan. 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.
Now, a gubernatorial run by Morgan would be eminently credible. Morgan has the stature of a Supreme Court Justice and the prestige of the judiciary on his side. His former colleague, Cheri Beasley, led the Democratic ticket as U.S. Senate nominee in 2022 and put in a remarkable effort given how little support she received from the national Democratic Party. Morgan would bring a diversity to the ticket that current frontrunner (and Attorney General) Josh Stein would not, and he would represent the fulfillment of Black aspirations as leader of the state in the event that Morgan won the seat. Democrats could also benefit from a competitive primary.
But despite all his credibility, Morgan would enter the governor’s race as a significant underdog. Stein is far better known and will almost surely enjoy a large financial advantage. I would imagine Morgan’s name recognition across the state amounts to 20% or less, while Stein, though not a universally known figure, boasts name I.D. approaching 60% in recent surveys. Stein has the support of establishment leaders in the North Carolina Democratic Party, including many prominent African American leaders. Morgan could do far more for the state by entering a primary in which no leading Democrat has yet to make a run.
That race would be for Attorney General. Currently, the only Democrat running for that office is a nearly anonymous Fayetteville lawyer named Tim Dunn. Democrats are growing apprehensive about the bare cupboard that’s manifesting itself in the race for the state’s second-most important executive office. But if Morgan were to run, the race would be transformed. Mike Morgan would be one of the most highly-qualified candidates ever to run for Attorney General in North Carolina. He has served as a jurist at every level of the state courts, culminating in a tenure on the High Court during one of the most significant progressive terms in recent state history. Attorney General would not necessarily be a step down the prestige ladder for Morgan, either; in Texas, now-Senator John Cornyn served as state AG after being a Supreme Court Justice in that state. Morgan is supremely qualified and boasts the campaign experience to run a strong statewide race.
Furthermore, Justice Morgan would provide an historic service to North Carolina by seeking and winning the AG’s seat. That’s because the Republican nominee for the office will almost certainly be Dan Bishop, a far-right Congressman from the Charlotte region. As I have written before, Bishop represents the most pernicious strand of politics that exists in America. While it would be very strong to employ the descriptor “fascist,” Dan Bishop has allied himself with genuine forces of neo-fascism in national politics. He started his AG’s campaign by stoking lurid fears about crime in “Asheville” (decoded: gay) and “especially Charlotte” (decoded: multiracial). At a minimum he would create a climate of hysteria among many whites that seemed to justify an extreme response by law enforcement to an imagined epidemic of urban disorder.
In my assessment, Dan Bishop poses a more severe threat to democracy in North Carolina than almost anyone since the Jim Crow era. Perhaps even since the White Supremacy Campaigns. And here we arrive at the historical poetry. The White Supremacy Campaign was led by the son of an enslaver from New Bern, NC, one Furnifold Simmons. Simmons boasted at the end of his career that he had ensured “no black man could ever beat a white man for political office in North Carolina.” Mike Morgan, it turns out, was raised in New Bern, too. As the story of democracy comes full circle, perhaps a Black statesman from that swampy river town could do for North Carolina what white people failed to do in the days of white supremacy. Run for Attorney General, Justice Morgan. Your state needs you.
Edit: A commenter has accused me in this piece of being “unwilling to vote for a Black man for governor.” This is completely false. I once literally wrote a piece about how Democrats had a moral obligation to nominate Black candidates for top offices such as Governor and United States Senator because of the need for representation and racial justice. Allow me to note also that I have worked for Black candidates for Lieutenant Governor and U.S. House. Much of my body of work at PoliticsNC has been dedicated to combating ascendant racism in North Carolina, and this very article said that Morgan’s candidacy would be credible and historic if he chooses to run for governor.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.