The Final 2: Bragg, Hager Last Men Standing for Florida Commissioner Job

By | March 25, 2016

For the first time in 13 years, Florida is preparing to appoint a new insurance commissioner. The pool of 55 candidates has been whittled down to just two.

Per recommendation of the Florida Cabinet, Jeffrey Bragg and Florida State Rep. Bill Hager will be interviewed publicly at the next Cabinet Meeting scheduled for March 29.

Current Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty will leave his long-term position in May after announcing his resignation in January. The Florida Cabinet, which consists of Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, will appoint the next commissioner with Atwater and Scott having veto power.

Both Hager and Bragg have insurance experience, apparently enough so that Putnam supported the recommendations of his fellow cabinet members. Scott recommended Bragg, Bondi backed Hager on March 23 – and neither offered any additional candidates. Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater held 11 of his own interviews, including with Hager and Bragg, and said on Thursday that he is ready to begin the process of Cabinet-directed interviews with Hager and Bragg but did not indicate his favorite.

Lisa Miller, a former deputy insurance commissioner and current CEO of government and regulatory affairs and business development firm Lisa Miller & Associates, headquartered in Tallahassee, said both candidates offer the state the experience necessary for the position.

“They are both seasoned professionals that understand that Florida is like no other regulatory environment in the world,” Miller said. “The 20 million residents in our state want a commissioner who listens to all stakeholders and comes up with solutions for them to have available and affordable insurance products – both of these candidates are able to do that.”

Hager, whom Insurance Journal was the first to report as a potential candidate back in January, previously served as insurance commissioner for Iowa from 1986-1990. He is also a past president and CEO of the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) and served as general counsel and chief lobbyist for the American Academy of Actuaries.

Currently in his seventh year with the Florida Legislature, Hager represents House District 89, which runs from Bookertown to Palm Beach, and has spent all of his legislative tenure in Florida on the insurance committee, most recently serving as vice chairman.

He has been vocal in his support of privatizing the flood insurance market in Florida, an issue that has also been a top priority for McCarty. In an interview with Insurance Journal last fall, Hager talked of the state’s efforts to “turn up the heat” on the NFIP program and address what he said was flood insurance rate-gouging of Floridians.

“Our goal is pretty simple in all of this – we want a robust market. We want to unleash competition. We want relief for homeowners,” Hager said.

A recent article from Politico, however, called out Hager’s soliciting of insurance companies that he would be regulating if chosen. The article said Hager sent correspondence from his business, Insurance Metrics Corp., to insurers “advertising his availability in cases involving bad faith lawsuits.”

Hager defended the action to Politico Florida, saying that he is a small business owner and he sends out “periodic newsletters with information relevant to the industry – in my case the insurance industry –as it relates to my services.” He said that if chosen, he would close his other business.

Jay Neal, executive director for The Florida Association of Insurance Reform (FAIR), said they oppose Hager for the position. Neal said despite sponsoring a consumer-friendly bill on life insurance this session, which ultimately passed, he has not put forth any legislation that favors consumers.

“He generally has stuck close to the people he’s done business with – the insurance and reinsurance industry,” Neal said. “We do think it should be someone familiar with Florida, but you can be familiar with an issue and just be wrong and that’s what Hager is.”

Bragg, the top choice of Scott, was appointed as the first director of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program (TRIP) in 2003 and served in the position until he retired in 2014. Prior to that, he was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as administrator of the Federal Insurance Administration where he managed the federal flood insurance program. He also previously served in a senior position with Zurich.

FloridaPolitics.com noted that Bragg’s private sector experience required by statute was not in the last 10 years. Five years or more of experience as a senior examiner or other senior employee of a state or federal agency having regulatory responsibilities over insurers or insurance agencies in the last 10 years is also listed as a required qualification for the job.

There has been debate over whether his experience with TRIP would satisfy that requirement, but Miller says the federal government experience is as relevant as state government experience.

“[The cabinet] wants someone who has federal regulatory and private experience or state experience and legislative experience – that’s the decision point,” Miller said. “Both are qualified and capable candidates and they can take our state to the next step carrying on Kevin McCarty’s legacy.”

Neal said FAIR supports Bragg for the position and sees his experience as a positive. He said Bragg has also reached out to those who are key to the Florida insurance market, including FAIR.

“He made it clear he is open to input from all sorts of different groups. He wants to know the history and has brought the right people in to teach him,” Neal said.

The Cabinet said in January its goal is to have the new commissioner in office before the hurricane season starts and before McCarty leaves office on May 2.

The Cabinet has increased the salary range for the new commissioner from the current amount of $134,000 up to $200,000. The final amount will be decided based on the chosen candidate.

A total of 55 candidates applied to the position that was posted in January on the Florida Cabinet’s website. The application was available until March 11 with candidates to be selected by March 23. Interviews will be held publicly during the March 29 Cabinet meeting at 9 am EST. It is expected the cabinet will decide on the next commissioner at the meeting, though it is possible they do not reach a unanimous decision and delay making a choice.

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About Amy O' Connor

O'Connor is associate editor of MyNewMarkets.com. More from Amy O' Connor
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