Debate: Morgan Goes on Attack in Defense of Record as Sheriff

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By Duwayne Escobedo

Two-term incumbent Sheriff David Morgan wasted little time in going on the attack in a debate Monday at the downtown public library against his challengers.

In his opening remarks, Morgan fired the first shots at why he’s running for a third term when he promised to just serve two. “We need more than cowards behind keyboards,” he told a standing room only crowd. “Stay the course. Stay with me.”

The Escambia County Republican Party sponsored the sheriff’s candidate debate that featured an angry Morgan, who rebutted challenges and innuendos of his record like a Gatlin gun. Also attending the debate on the night of the major college national championship showdown were Doug Baldwin Sr., a Pensacola Police Officer for 35 years, and former longtime Drug Enforcement Agent John Johnson. Both lifelong Democrats have become Republicans within the past year.

Morgan also made it clear he was never disciplined during his U.S. Air Force service, has been a registered Republican since becoming eligible to vote, defended his decision to stop cooperating with federal law enforcement agencies and scoffed at the Escambia County Commission power grab of the jail after a budget battle with Sheriff Morgan. The commissioners asserted “we can run a better jail than you are and, boy, they’ve done a bang up job haven’t they?” Morgan said.

Baldwin said he can oversee large budgets, pointing out he has run three “successful” businesses. He was the only one of the three running for sheriff opposed to an open carry gun law in Florida. Plus, he said he supported decriminalization of marijuana for personal use but not legalization. Baldwin explained marijuana users would still be cited and be prosecuted by the courts but not be automatically thrown into jail.

Baldwin accused the sheriff’s office of losing touch with the community, pointing out Pensacola is currently ranked the No. 6 most violent small city in the United States. He also alluded to clashes between law enforcement and communities across the nation over policing.

“We’ve abandoned community policing,” Baldwin said. “We’ve gotten into this mindset of militarization after 9/11.”

Johnson also hammered Morgan over crime rates, insisting Pensacola had higher violent crime rates per capita than Jacksonville, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Miami-Dade.

Johnson asked debate onlookers if they felt safe in their community and would let their wives or daughters go shopping at Walmart at 9 p.m. The overwhelming answer from the crowd was: “Yes” “You’re the first people to ever say, ‘Yes,’” he said. “It’s not safe.”