Note: On Feb. 25, Adam Morley falsely claimed on his Facebook page that “Flagler Live pretty much rewrote this entire article after it had passed it’s [sic.] peak exposure time…this article wasn’t all that bad lol.” The article below was never edited after its original publication just before 5 p.m. on Feb. 2. The only addition, four hours later, was the disclosure statement about Merrill Shapiro, below the article. Morley subsequently explained that he’d mistaken this article for another, and apologized.
No Democrat has represented any part of Flagler County in Tallahassee since 2002, when Doug Wiles was the last State House member to do so. Melissa Holland came close two years ago but fell short against Travis Hutson, who took the seat in a newly drawn district that includes all of Flagler County and enough of Volusia and St. Johns to tilt the district decidedly Republican.
The GOP candidates’ campaigns have also been significantly richer. That’s made their victories almost a lock—even when the candidate is a virtual unknown who’s just moved to Palm Coast to win a seat, as is the case with Paul Renner. Renner faced nominal opposition for the Republican primary from two candidates who couldn’t muster 30 percent of the vote between them. Renner, a Jacksonville attorney who’d lost his last primary by two votes last year, took no chances. He spent $190,000 in this primary. His two opponents combined spent $14,000.
Renner is just as unlikely to lose come the April 7 general. His Democratic opponent is 30-year-old Adam Morley, a St. Johns County idealist and boat captain who describes himself as an entrepreneur: he just sold a recycling business he started in 2008 and is devoting himself to the campaign for State House full-time. His total contributions to date: $1,600.
All non-recognition being equal—aside from his brief exposure during a primary in which fewer than one in five Republicans voted—Morley is as much of an unknown as Renner in Flagler. But a 90-minute get-acquainted meeting with his local Democratic supporters Monday pointed to the challenges he faces, starting with his own: sincere, well-meaning and often well-spoken as he is, Morley has little grasp of the issues, he is uncomfortable with questions of substance, and he portrays his campaign as an attempt to go outside the norms of money-driven-electioneering—the oft-repeated claim of candidates who have no money and, usually, no chance of winning.
“If we try to compete we’re going to lose,” Morley said, referring to the financial competition, “so we have to be more creative and do things with more alternatives whenever we try to get the word out.” Morley wasn’t clear beyond using social media, the web and word of mouth, particularly when it came to formulating a coherent strategy to get that done.
Morley’s problem went deeper: when asked repeatedly by some of the people around the table—ostensibly, his best political friends in Flagler, including the head of the Democratic Executive Committee and the head of the Democratic Progressive Caucus, as well as long-time party faithfuls—about his strategy, he could not formulate a clear answer. When asked what would convince the people around the table that they should campaign for him, he had just as much difficulty answering. He has no campaign manager. He considers “traditional advertising” inefficient.
The fact that there were just five people around the table, plus a reporter, was part of Morley’s challenge: short-notice though it was, the call to meet him went out by email and Facebook Sunday, but drew a minimal response. Morley, visibly uncomfortable at fielding the many questions he faced, did not appear ready to take on the sort of campaign that would inspire too many people to campaign for him or volunteer for him, other than because he is running as Democrat—and Merrill Shapiro, the caucus chief, made clear, Democrats are craving an alternative to the last decade and a half’s run of Republicans.
Renner did not return a call Monday.
Morley’s perplexing candidacy unraveled early in the discussion Monday morning, when he bristled at being called an environmentalist. “I try to stay away from the environmentalist label,” he said, describing the word as one that “doesn’t sit well with me.” Yet for all the haze surrounding Morley’s ideas and strategy, if there is one relatively clear marker that defines him, it’s his environmentalism—and the sort of environmentalism that would make a Greenpeace activist envious: he grew up on the Princess Place Preserve when his mother was its caretaker, he started a recycling business (which he insisted was a business, not an environmentally inspired venture), in August he just moved into a fully self-sustaining, solar-powered house, he describes himself as “100 percent solar.” One of his top priorities in the Legislature, said, would be to reduce regulations on the solar industry. Earlier today he chose to stand in the sands in front of the Flagler Beach Pier to make a video pitch about his candidacy.
“Not only do I not want my community to be used as a doormat by outside politicians looking to get entry into politics,” he said in an unveiled swipe at Renner’s recent move to Flagler, “I want my child and the children in the community to be able to grow up with dreams of their own and the resources necessary to make those dreams a reality—not just become part of the workforce building and protecting someone else’s empire.” (Morley was insistent with his Democratic colleagues today that he is not interested in negative, attack-style rhetoric, though his video clip shows him eminently capable at the sport.)
Several times Shapiro asked him explicitly: “What can we do to help?” And several times Morley could not formulate the sort of direct answer that would give his supporters something to work with other than generalities about needing people who “know the real world, to get out there and get the word out.” When Shapiro asked him if he wanted a campaign manager, “maybe” was Morley’s answer, an equivocation that reflected the irresolution of his campaign more than he intended. Shapiro asked the question again.
“You have to come up with a program that you can put forward so that people can gravitate to you,” Ivory Johnson, who at 80 has seen his share of underdogs in politics, told Morley. “I’m waiting for you to convince me that you’re the guy I can go out there and work for.”
“We need to have a Democrat win in this community,” Shapiro said.
Then Morley said something his supporters were not expecting to hear: “We need to have a win for the people no matter what the party,” Morley said.
“That’s idealistic,” Johnson said, “that’s idealistic.”
Morley rejected the characterization, saying his recycling business and his solar-powered homes had also been seen as impossibilities before he got them going.
He addressed leading issues, sometimes uncomfortably, sometimes directly: he’s for the de-criminalization of marijuana, he’s pro-choice, he’s against Common Core (the education standards), he’s for the expansion of Medicaid in Florida, in accordance with the Affordable Care Act, and he’s not ready to answer a question about his stance on a proposal before the Legislature that would allow students to be armed on Florida’s college campuses, though he slipped in that on Wednesday he had an appointment to get his concealed weapon permit.
Throughout, Ralph Lightfoot, the new head of the Democratic Executive Committee in Flagler, sat quietly listening, and when he spoke, lending Morley whatever support he’d ask for. But the candidate who, in that video this morning, also described himself as “the swing dancer, the captain, the dunk tank dude,” would revert, when asked for more specifics, to the sort of generalities that made him sound less the millennial-generation representative than a latter-day flower child of the 1960s: “I can plant seeds and mend bridges.” “We need to build working relationships with people.” “Stay positive.”
Disclosure: Merrill Shapiro chairs FlaglerLive’s Board of Directors.
Diana L says
Actually, he sounds like a breath of fresh air. One important thing to me, he didn’t just move here to win a seat. He has lived here, that means a lot.
Cold day in hell before I vote for some attorney type from Jacksonville. You’ve got my vote.
Aynne McAvoy says
Adam had some fresh new ideas, something badly needed in the tired and trite old world of politics. If something isn’t working after countless tries of doing it the same old way, continuing to do things the same old way is just asking for the same old results. It truly is time for new ideas, new approaches and fresh ways of looking at things. Many of us are tired of the same old political game and long for an end to the nonsense. Adam could be the April surprise. I sure hope he is.
Matthew Chapman says
I know Adam personally and while I don’t know exactly what way he responded, based solely upon what I read here, I have only the following to say:
The author who wrote this article is missing the point and the bigger picture.
Firstly, I don’t feel Adam was avoiding answering questions because he didn’t have the answers. More than anything, I bet it’s because he understood the trap that you guys were trying to set for him. This isn’t wishy-washiness or indecisiveness, it’s knowing how polarized our system is and how easy it is for people to dismiss him or lump him into a group all because he hits some bullet point list of items that ultimately don’t mean much of anything to the things that REALLY matter: how to govern, how to negotiate, and how to find solutions that equitably work for everyone.
Obviously, he’s going to have some positions that people will disagree with, but I don’t think Adam wants to be lumped in to some group and judged prematurely. Rather, I strongly feel he wants to get to the meat and potatoes of any issue and LEAD from it. You can’t do that with talking points and other manufactured non-issues our political climate seems to generate.
Secondly, I feel like asking a candidate for state representative for how they’re going to get things done is an asinine question. I mean, really, how in the world is ANY rational person capable of answering such a question? I have no doubt Adam has a direction he wants to go in and he feels the state should go in, but it would be incredibly dishonest of him to go in and say, “I’m going to make [X], [Y], and [Z] happen should you elect me!” when there are dozens upon dozens of factors pertaining to WHY our state isn’t going in this direction. I’m sure his opponent has answers he’s willing to offer his own but I would submit to you that’s all talking points or generalized, blanket statements that don’t amount to much but make for nice sound bytes.
What I would like voters to consider is that Adam is a very different breed of politician: He’s a man who has high ideals and genuinely wants to make things better. If he’s trying to do things differently, it’s because he’s trying to break the mold of a broken system that continues to manufacture mediocre leadership.
Adam is the genuine article. He doesn’t just talk the talk folks, he WALKS it, he LIVES it. I’m voting for Adam not JUST because I want things to be different, but because I want a politician who genuinely wants a better future for me.
Robert Lewis says
Since Mr. Moorley is absent minded on the issues. Hopefully he can explain why he was outside campaigning for Danielle Anderson. Was he hoping to have another absent minded candidate so this could be a fight of the wits? Mr. Morley has no more experience or place in representing Flagler as Danielle Anderson. Hopefully they can save their carpetbager rhetoric for the donors and actually talk about issues.
Surely a disappointment to the Democratic Party seeking a new star. He is simply an empty vessel.
Merrill Shapiro says
For the record, only 10 people were invited to this informal get-together, I don’t know about a Facebook invitation. Looking over our recent representation in the State Legislature and the current makeup of the Florida House of Representatives, I, for one, find only tweedle dee and more tweeddle dee–not even a tweedle dum. Not many are happy with our current legislature and if we keep voting for the same Republicans, different only in the color of their shirts, we can only expect more of the same. Adam is half the age of the average Florida Legislator. It’s time to move past what we have now into a new era!
Adam Morley is not a professional politician, which seems to be the problem folks are having with him. He does not have a Campaign Manager or a committee telling him what to say and do; he does not have a “platform” that some talking head has designed for him. He is running on his beliefs of what is right for this community, including the belief that the government should be run by, for and of the people and not the GOP political machine. If residents who care about this area and its future can’t get behind that, then you deserve what you get in Renner and the other hacks-for-hire the GOP has planted in your county to divert your money away from your county. Adam Morley is a breath of fresh air in my view, and I will be happy to help get the word out about him and his candidacy.
time for new ideas says
I find Adam Morley to be quite inspiring. Yes, he is idealistic but he is also extremely intelligent and realistic. He is the first candidate that I have been excited about in a long time. Look closer, he’s the real deal.
Donna Washburn says
This article makes “idealistic” sound like a sin! This is where we all start with ideals. Adam has the courage to stand up to these people who never answer a question honestly. He has confidence to do the right thing. I don’t see any other Democrats standing up for what is right in the area. Adam Morley is honest, hard working and needs the time, talent and treasure of the rest of us who want to keep our beautiful north east Florida a clean, viable home. I am proud to stand up with Adam.
Adam Morley has my vote, as he is for education, the improvement of our economy thru many different sources by promoting and helping the local small businesses and industries and for renewable energy.
As far is concerned helping Mrs. Anderson, finally someone that shows respect for a lady contender other than axing or insulting her like we have experienced in this county.
We had enough of destructive rhetoric, sarcastic “promise them anything” and low punch attacks on contenders…We need someone like Mr. Adam Morley with a conciliatory and less aggressive and realistic points! https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10204339010212929&set=a.10200283500347717.1073741825.1159788857&type=1&theater
Go get those voters Adam you got our vote!
Anna Machiz says
Adam embodies the true american spirit! It is incredibly refreshing to see a candidate who cares more about the people he strives to represent over the contributions. He is the type of person that acts on ideas instead of just talking about them. Making the unattainable attainable. Standing for what is right not just what is popular. I am incredibly excited about this candidate and the breath of fresh air he will bring to Florida! He has my vote all the way.
Shalah Romine says
Why is idealism portrayed as a negative trait ?
: the attitude of a person who believes that it is possible to live according to very high standards of behavior and honesty
I can only infer, that perhaps the author of this article is of the mindset that honesty and high standards of behavior and politics is an impossibility?
Just a little FYI Robert Lewis, I spent plenty of time talking about issues and in fact had the opponents adopting MY talking points to be more cohesive with the Flagler community. Adam supported me because between both of us we actually care about the people in our community and the issues important here. If you tried to understand what our community is about perhaps you wouldn’t have been snowballed by fancy mailers and prepackaged answers.
Robert Lewis says
Your campaign was laughable as a Republican. You are a far left Liberal who disguises themselves as a Republican. You support legalization of pot, same sex marriage, Medicaid expansion and fiscal irresponsibility. Your comprehension of issues was frightening. You and Mr. Morley are carbon copies.
You are a liberal democrat through and through.
Do you offer your support for Mr. Renner or Mr. Morley?
Your party and community deserves to know.
And spare me the rhetoric of reaching across the aisle or understanding the community needs.
No one wants to hear jibber josh. We want the truth.
Good luck says
Good luck Adam. Its not how much you spend, it’s how you package yourself. Personally, I don’t want an attorney as a politician. I want someone who can relate to every day people, and will work for us. What connections are there between Renner and Travis Hutson’s dad? I hear Renner running for this position was organized and part of the Hutson plan when Travis resigned to run for Senate.
Maria Pugliese says
Adam Morley is a local, born and bred in St. John’s County, that supports the community. This is what we need for a change! He’s got my vote!
Dan Hendel says
This man is constantly impressing me, his lack of specific “vision” is purely to his advantage, anyone who says they have all the answers is lying. He may not know what every step is before he makes it but he’s stepping up anyway, and I hope this is the future of our country. Brave souls who step up and say let’s do this, help me figure it out. Happily here in PA we have Tom Wolf pulling (easily) the seat out from under someone who care more about personal agendas than the people. Hopefully FL wakes up and this guy moves up in the world of politics.
Will (#1) says
One of the stories that circulated about Mr. Renner in the primary was that the Republican legislative leadership reached out and supported him as someone THEY want to groom for the House Leadership. Renner reportedly said to some locally that there’s a 9 1/2 year plan. That would mean a half year in this short term, followed by nine years in the House leading to a leadership position – like maybe Speaker.
If Renner has that momentum and backing, it will really be an uphill battle for Morley. Yet Morely has to fight the battle to say there IS an alternative to the status quo and the Republican lock on the House. I wish him luck.
Morley may not be a seasoned politician, but that certainly shouldn’t be held against him. We need more candidates like Morley—bold, championing new ideas, open to younger generations of voters. Trite, destructive and moneyed candidates abound, so rather than discouraging Morley we should rally around him. You’ve got my vote, Adam!
Phillip Page says
Does Florida really need another politician that was bought by the highest bidder? Or are Floridians ready for someone who has not been tainted by the corruption of money and inflated politics? Saying that Adam Morley cannot win because he doesn’t have a campaign manager or hundreds of thousands of dollars is like saying one cannot create a thriving international business without rich parents.
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, faced similar tremendous odds at his start. With very little funds, he entered the business world while his first wife was pregnant and the competition had all the advantages except the one that might matter the most: The desire for change and an idea for how to do it.
Given the chance, I think Morley can accomplish great things for Florida. He’ll represent the people because he is one of the people. He’s from the community and he’s not bringing in outside money, outside agendas, and outside loyalties.
Rick Gardner says
I believe Adam to be genuine. He not only talks the talk but walks the walk as well. This is truly a grass roots candidate.
Conrad Matt says
I’m a Republican and a veteran and I will vote for Morley. I don’t vote blindly…I see where the money is coming from. To Mr. Renner I say ‘thanks for your service. Now go back to Jax where you belong’ Unfortunately there are too many GOP automatons in Flagler. Do you like to fish? Are you a Republican? Then vote for Morley because he’ll do his best to keep our waters clean. That’s the kind of environmentalism local Republicans can get behind. Before he was on the Democrat ticket, Morley wanted to be an Independent, but the Democrats offered a support organization. Please God not another self serving lawyer to ‘represent’ me.
While I like the sound of the position Mr. Morley stated (not too many of them), I am concerned with the one about guns in schools. His stated advocacy for carry permitted publicly owned guns in schools will lead to more shootouts and more innocent fatalities, not less, I fear. Instead, arm the security guards and provide them the authority and the oversight to keep our students safe.
Renner won as expected as big money wins elections too and he just became The FL House Speaker also as planned . Are we all better now? Just give it a though…I believe we needed and still do Adam Morley elected. Hope Adam never gives up and runs again.