For John Morgan, There's a Sucker Born ...
Around the State
John Morgan still insists his medical marijuana motives are strictly personal and born of compassion.
Maybe. But you have to give the man who may be the reincarnation of P.T. Barnum more credit than that.
This is one of the smartest businessmen in America, not just in Florida. Underestimate him at your peril.
Like the famous American showman and entertainer of the 19th century, Orlando lawyer-entrepreneur Morgan is big on self-aggrandizement and wealth-building and short on humility and inertia.
Barnum was an author, a philanthropist and for some time a politician; Morgan is an author, a philanthropist, an investor in Democratic politicians and owner of two of them -- Florida gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and Kentucky Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo. And though Barnum incorrectly gets credit with coining the phrase, "There's a sucker born every minute," he easily could have said it, and so could Morgan. It fits like a glove.
Both were smart as a whip and rode to great riches on an uncommon capacity for hard work and a drive that wouldn't quit.
Read their stories. The similarities, even across more than a century, are incredible -- but the thing that will blow you away is their mutual attraction to the bizarre, the freak side of science -- most of it out-and-out "humbug" stuff -- and how they not only made it all pay off, they let it teach them what makes people tick -- how they think, what they like and what they want.
Barnum didn't launch his first traveling circus, "P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome" -- the business that led to the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus -- until he was 61. But before he did, he'd made his fortune promoting elaborate hoaxes, everything from a creature with the head of a monkey and the tail of a fish, known as the "Feejee" mermaid, to a "dwarf" named Tom Thumb, who was billed as 11 years old but was only 4.
Barnum created America's first aquarium and expanded the wax figure department. His "Seven Grand Salons" demonstrated the Seven Wonders of the World. Then he created a rogues gallery of wax figures. The collections expanded to four buildings said to include 850,000 "curiosities."
More than 100 years later, Morgan's first job -- as a teen living with his transplanted family in Orlando -- was working in costume, one of the Three Little Pigs at Walt Disney World. He loved it, loved show business. Later, he didn't just pursue and rise in multistate personal injury law, oh, no. He opened WonderWorks and Magical Midway on International Drive in Orlando, bringing in favorite, weird-science attractions like a bed of nails, a "bridge of fire" that makes visitors' hair stand on end, and a "hurricane hole" that simulates a Category 5 storm. And he launched other attraction-related businesses from county fair management to VIP portable bathrooms with piped-in music and portable sinks.
Nor is this stuff all in Morgan's past. In 2009, in the depth of the recession, he announced plans to spend $32 million opening three new WonderWorks attractions -- one in Panama City, one in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and one inside a New Jersey Meadowlands shopping mall. The idea was to double his portfolio of small attractions.
“We have figured out the secret for our sauces," Morgan told the Orlando Business Journal at the time. "We're going to roll these things out. Boom, boom, boom.”
I mention this now because suddenly here Morgan is again, claiming to The Miami Herald after an old poll linking medical marijuana to heavy Democratic voter turnout, no, no, I wasn't scheming to get Charlie Crist elected governor, I was driven to get medical marijuana on the ballot because of the pain and suffering my father Ramon endured -- made easier only with marijuana -- during his life-ending struggle with cancer.
His father, incidentally, died in 1993. OK, that was 21 years ago, but now marijuana is easing the pain of his paralyzed brother Tim. Morgan tells the world he held onto this desire to give medical marijuana to the people for just the right time. How could anyone think it has anything to do with the fact that he's bought himself a governor who can add to his fortune?
Morgan's similarity to P.T. Barnum is uncanny. Like the ultimate American showman, he knows how to make people do what he wants. He had it all figured out from the time he hired an affable career-flattened former governor without a party and put his face on billboards from one end of Florida to the other. It's exactly how Barnum would have played it. Find a way to get the people to vote for the man who owes ya. "For the people" all the way.
Medical marijuana. Who needs a poll to tell you that's a winner for Democrats?
As Roger Stone pointed out in his Sunshine State News column earlier in the week, if the amendment passes and the Legislature has done nothing, "the state Department of Health will set up a potentially lucrative system to dispense the medically prescribed marijuana. ... The next governor will control the distribution scheme and John Morgan is betting that will be a grateful Charlie Crist, who will give him (or a client) a franchise, the profits of which would dwarf his personal-injury law firm."
And in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson explained his own theory: "It's so smart of (Morgan) to attach himself to Charlie Crist. I think this is about getting the Supreme Court justices that John wants appointed because they would be good for his own pocketbook.'' Wilson expects the next governor could appoint as many as four justices, who would have an enormous say in how Florida restricts lawsuits.
The ultimate elaborate hoax. They're fooled but entertained and you get rich.
Barnum said of himself, "I am a showman by profession ... and all the gilding shall make nothing else of me." His personal aims, he said, were "to put money in my own coffers."
Morgan's methods, his means, his well-learned lessons in what people want at any given time, are pure P.T. Barnum. And quite brilliant, actually. What a weird cosmic connection these guys have.
Medical marijuana, Charlie Crist, money rolling in. Boom, boom, boom.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.