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Wednesday, 12 April 2006 00:00

Morgan runs to win: Swannanoa candidate says he’ll beat Shuler in Democratic primary

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Michael Morgan sits at a table near the back of Malaprop’s Bookstore Café in Asheville eating from an unlabeled can of applesauce, his 6-foot plus lanky frame casually folded, one leg across the other. He’s dressed in khaki pants and a natural colored striped polo shirt, a short necklace peeking out from its open collar and a small diamond stud earring in his left lobe.

From the meeting at Malaprop’s he plans to head next door to the Buncombe County Library for a Democratic candidates forum — where it will later be seen he is the only 11th Congressional District candidate to appear — amongst a crowd comprised predominately of local sheriff candidates.

He’ll hand out homemade yellow flyers summarizing his key platform issues, take a moment to encourage the 30 or so voters at the forum to get involved in the election, and wait his turn to speak and receive questions. This is how his campaign works — going at it from the grassroots level.

In addition to having given out more than 65,000 flyers, he’s using what he calls the 20-20-20 plan — emailing 20 voters and having them contact 20 voters and in turn those voters contacting 20 voters.

“If that goes three levels that’s 168,000 votes,” Morgan said.

He’ll hold a rally at a farm in Mills River near the Asheville Airport on April 22. He’ll be at Sylva’s Greening Up the Mountains festival April 29.

It suits his personality — again, there’s that word, “casual.” And while his largely self-run, hand-to-hand, low-budget campaign may not seem like that of a contender in one of the country’s most high-profile congressional races, Morgan, 52, truly believes that he not only can beat his Democratic challenger, Waynesville’s Health Shuler, he can take on incumbent Rep. Charles Taylor, R-Brevard, and win.

Shuler, he says, is truly a Republican in Democrat’s clothing. Taylor’s failure to bring more significant funding to the district most likely will cost him votes.

“They’re beating themselves,” Morgan said.

And Morgan says that he would bring a unique combination of Christian values, historical knowledge, business sense, and good temperament to the leadership of the 11th District.

He’s against the Road to Nowhere, the proposed sale of U.S. National Forest land, the war in Iraq and illegal immigration. He’s pro-choice, supports increased environmental protections and legalizing marijuana.

If elected, he would quit his job as a builder and housepainter to serve as a full-time congressman.

“I have the right issues,” Morgan said.

Of course, Morgan doesn’t fit the traditional profile of a congressman — period. He grew up on what he calls “literally the wrong side of the tracks” in Swannanoa. His parents were native to McDowell County, and his ancestors took part in the first campaigns against the British.

“It’s bred in me to fight for freedom and revolution,” Morgan said.

He grew up an avid reader, using the local library to learn about the Alaskan wilderness, the Civil War, and the great explorers and national leaders.

“I just thought it was great adventure stories. I didn’t know I was learning history and philosophy,” Morgan said.

His varied interests have grown over the years, encompassing everything from emergency medical training to becoming a private pilot. He likes to keep learning. If he were to pick up something new now, it would most likely be continuing to expand his knowledge of the law.

“Well when I was in jail, I almost became a paralegal,” Morgan said.

Morgan brings it up — jail. It’s a story that honestly he wishes would just go away. It was more than 20 years ago. He’s moved on. But, unfortunately for Morgan, the story bears repeating.

Morgan briefly attended East Carolina University, but quit to spend years on the road. Morgan returned to the Swannanoa area to open Y’all Come Back Saloon. On Sept. 13, 1984, Morgan — who’s full name is Clyde Michael Morgan — says a friend of his, David Anthony Harvey, was in the bar playing pool. Morgan went to the grocery store and when he got back, Harvey was gone. The next day Harvey turned up in Pisgah National Forest dead of a gunshot to the head.

Morgan was arrested. Investigators believed that he became jealous because he suspected that his girlfriend and Harvey had spent the night together at a motel. He was charged with murder, but was acquitted after the Transylvania County Superior Court judge found insufficient evidence to make a conviction.

A second trial in U.S. District Court found Morgan innocent of first- and second-degree murder, but a voluntary manslaughter charge stuck.

“They just tried to make a compromise or something, I guess,” Morgan said.

The case bore no physical evidence, no witnesses and no murder weapon, he said. However, Morgan was sentenced to 10 years in prison, only part of which was served.

“I wound up serving six years for something I did not do,” Morgan said.

It is a story that Morgan — who describes himself as “hyperactive” and “zoomy” — slows down to tell, his elbows on his knees, his hands clasped in front of him, as he stares out the window. However, his passion returns with each reassertion that he is not to blame for Harvey’s death and that the government held his proclivity for filing legal appeals against him, as his petition for credit for time served for the 606 days he spent out on bail was denied.

Morgan feels the denial was unfair because while in prison he was “a model, model prisoner,” earning his Associate of Arts degree and helping lead two fellow prisoners to Christ.

Taking Morgan’s assertion of innocence as gospel, it’s hard to understand why he is not more angry about the ordeal than he seems. Morgan says that it is a matter of the past being the past.

“When I walked out that door I said, ‘It’s over,’” Morgan explained. “That’s history, you can not change that.”

Soon after being released, Morgan enrolled at the University of North Carolina-Asheville to study mass communications, in which he earned his bachelor of arts degree in 1996.

“I’m hillbilly to the bone, but I’ve got a good vocabulary,” Morgan said.

Having overcome adversity, Morgan has learned that perseverance and faith in the future are key — both in personal life and politics.

“If I didn’t think change was possible, I’d be sitting at home,” Morgan said.

The Bush administration has wreaked havoc on the country, from economic policies and environmental controls to health care and international relations, Morgan said.

“I can’t think of one thing I approve of,” Morgan said.

It would be best to wipe the slate clean, just undo the past eight years, and go back to the way things were during the Clinton era — not that he was the best president ever, but he did pay more attention to the environment, Morgan said.

Morgan particularly wants to support efforts to preserve local watersheds and incorporate green power into residential and commercial construction. He wants to control development, possibly taxing the high-end, second-home market at a higher rate.

“When everybody has a house, then people can have four or five,” Morgan said.

Tax rates also should be orchestrated so as to preserve multi-generation homesteads and help make housing more affordable, as the current trend is pricing the average income family out of the market.

“The Monopoly game is over, someone’s got Boardwalk and Park Place and the rest of us are out of luck,” Morgan said.

And those who can afford high-end homes should have green power, and more efficient construction built in, as they’re the ones who can afford it. For example, creating cisterns to absorb rainwater so that it is less of a shock to the water system during storms not only would help prevent erosion and flooding, but also would create jobs for those needed to put such green features in homes, Morgan said.

Meanwhile, local schools, community colleges and universities should make teaching about green power — from waterwheels to windmills to solar panels — a larger part of their curriculum to draw students here.

“I don’t want to be somebody, but somebody’s got to stand up and fight — we’re getting screwed,” Morgan said.

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