Scott and Cabinet break deadlock on insurance commissioner, promoting deputy as a compromise

Altmaier
Altmaier

On their third attempt at reaching a consensus, Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet agreed Friday to promote insurance regulator David Altmaier to the post of state Insurance Commissioner — while keeping his outgoing boss, Kevin McCarty, on board for an additional 60 days.

Altmaier’s selection came after another deadlock ensued between Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Scott over the selection. Atwater on Friday again recommended Delray Beach Republican Rep. Bill Hager, a former Iowa insurance commissioner, for the post but, as in two earlier meetings, Hager was a no-sale with Scott.

Scott’s own favorite applicant, Tampa-area Jeffrey Bragg, a retired insurance industry executive, was already rejected by Atwater. The governor and chief financial officer, who oversees the insurance commissioner’s office, must agree on a selection, under state law

Friday’s meeting was as awkward as the earlier attempts to settle on a candidate.

After Hager failed, Atwater’s fallback candidate, Deputy Commissioner Belinda Miller, also didn’t win Scott’s OK. So Atwater turned to Altmaier, who has worked at the Office of Insurance Regulation since 2008 and was among three applicants interviewed Friday by Scott and the Cabinet.

Altmaier impressed the governor and Cabinet — with all but Atwater joining Friday’s meeting by conference call — with his grasp of insurance markets,his ability to respond to a decision Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court seen as threatening to the workers’ compensation system, and his focus on the consumer.

“This guy is impressive,” Atwater said.

Altmaier will get a $165,000 annual salary. McCarty, the state’s insurance commissioner since 2003, was set to step down May 2, but earlier agreed to stay on to assist with the transition as hurricane season nears.

Scott and the Cabinet agreed to that offer Friday, but made the point that Altmaier is in command.

 

 

As hurricane season nears, search for insurance commissioner still up in the air

CFO Jeff Atwater talks about search for Insurance Commissioner.
CFO Jeff Atwater talks about search for Insurance Commissioner.

Signs of a break in the deadlock over choosing a new Florida insurance commissioner still were not evident Wednesday, although there were some developments at the state Capitol.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater told reporters he was sticking by his choice for the post, Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, who is a former Iowa insurance commissioner.

But Rick Scott’s Cabinet aides also made it clear during a meeting Wednesday that the governor still favored Jeffrey Bragg, a former Tampa-area insurance executive and federal terrorism and flood insurance administrator.

Scott and the Cabinet last month failed to reach consensus on who should replace outgoing commissioner Kevin McCarty, who is set to step down May 2. It basically came down to Hager or Bragg.

The all-Republican panel will get to try again next week.

“I feel very good about Rep. Hager’s application and his life experiences that I think make him a real well-qualified candidate for the position,” Atwater said. “I think it’s likely that as the conversation continues that I still feel very good about that candidate.”

While Atwater spoke in the Capitol rotunda following a news conference in which he unveiled a new program aimed at helping domestic violence victims deal with finances, Hager was just down the hall meeting with Scott.

Hager sought the meeting. And he got little more than the 10 minutes scheduled by the governor.

Following the sit-down, Hager told the Palm Beach Post that it was “congenial, constructive and positive.”

“I was very pleased to have a portion of the governor’s time,” Hager said, although he declined to go into detail on his exchange with Scott.

Hager did say it was “less (about) touting,” his skills than a chance for the two men to get to know each other better. He also said that he was not asked to present himself “in contrast with anyone.”

Hager declined, however, to say whether Bragg’s name came up.

For his part, Atwater defended the extended search for a new commissioner, saying it was a critical position and that the state has been flooded with qualified candidates. He’s still interviewing applicants and didn’t rule out the possibility that other names could still be brought into the mix at next week’s Cabinet meeting.

McCarty is leaving after 13 years in the job and his departure is slated a month before the start of hurricane season. If his successor isn’t chosen soon, Atwater said McCarty could be asked to stay on a little longer — or an interim could be picked.

“I’ll visit that when the times comes,” Atwater said.

Asked whether he’d feel comfortable entering hurricane season without a commissioner, Atwater offered a nuanced answer.

“I would feel uncomfortable with a prolonged process that I did not think was going to have us someone there on either a permanent basis or that was skilled and there today who could help us through hurricane season,” he said.

UPDATE: McCarty in a letter Wednesday told Scott and the Cabinet that he will stay on 45 days after his successor is chosen “to facilitate a smooth transition” with hurricane season approaching.