Updated: Florida Gov, CFO at a Standstill Over Next Insurance Commissioner

By | April 27, 2016

For the second time in a month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater could not reach an agreement over who will become the next insurance commissioner for the state.

At the April 26 Florida Cabinet Meeting, Cabinet Members Scott, Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam interviewed a total of four candidates from the 71 applicants who applied to the position. The spot will soon be vacated by current Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, who announced his plan to resign earlier this year.

Former head of the Terrorism Insurance Program (TRIP) Jeffrey Bragg and Florida State Rep. Bill Hager were re-interviewed after failing to be appointed at last month’s meeting. In addition, Belinda Miller, current chief of staff for the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR), and Raymond Blacklidge, EVP of American Traditions Insurance Co. and Modern USA Insurance Co., were also interviewed at Tuesday’s meeting.

McCarty said back in January that he would resign effective May 2. The Cabinet then opened up an online application with the goal of appointing a successor at its March 29 meeting, before the start of hurricane season. However, at the March meeting, Scott refused to second Atwater’s nomination of Hager. The Cabinet needs to reach a unanimous decision on the choice with Atwater and Scott’s votes carrying the most weight.

This time it was Scott’s turn to have his choice for McCarty’s replacement rejected. After hearing again from Bragg on Tuesday, Scott praised his experience and moved to appoint him to the position. A 22-second silence followed, to which Scott responded, “It doesn’t look like there will be a second. Where do we go from here?”

Scott said with the June 1 start of hurricane season right around the corner, the Cabinet needs to select a permanent insurance commissioner.

He also seemed to reject current Commissioner McCarty’s offer to stick around a little longer than he had originally planned. McCarty notified the Cabinet April 20 he would delay his departure until 45 days after his successor was chosen. But Scott said Tuesday that he didn’t know about McCarty’s “gracious offer to postpone his resignation,” despite OIR having sent letters to the offices of each Cabinet member. Bondi said she read about McCarty’s offer in the newspaper.

Scott reemphasized the need to appoint someone new, saying McCarty’s “interest is in moving on and I think we need a permanent replacement.”

Scott then asked the Cabinet to reconvene on Friday, April 29, in a special session that will be held via phone to discuss the matter and publicly interview two additional candidates – Richard Robleto and David Altmaier, the current deputy commissioners for OIR.

Atwater responded by reiterating the relationship the Department of Financial Services and OIR have, and asked his fellow Cabinet members to offer their viewpoints of the candidates who had been interviewed so far.

Bondi and Putnam agreed if the CFO and governor can reach an agreement they would back their choice. However, both Putnam and Bondi urged Atwater and Scott to get to that point sooner rather than later.

“This process needs to be thorough but we need to start eyeballing the runway here,” Putnam said.

Bondi suggested that before Friday, Atwater and Scott should make a decision about Hager and Bragg.

“I think, gentleman, if you’re not going to budge on one of these candidates then you need to say that so we can strike them off the list and we can move on,” she said. “We are entering hurricane season and we need to all work together on this. This is a very important appointment, especially for our state.”

Insurance groups in Florida hope a decision will be reached soon so the business of running the state Office of Insurance Regulation will continue uninterrupted.

“The process to select Florida’s next Insurance Commissioner appears to be at a stalemate and [Tuesday’s] Cabinet meeting confirmed this,” Jeff Grady, CEO of the Florida Association of Insurance Agents said in an e-mail statement to Insurance Journal. “FAIA has no formal position on who should ultimately be chosen to succeed Commissioner McCarty. We can only trust that this process will result in the best qualified candidate being appointed by the Florida Cabinet.”

“PCI believes that it’s important for the Florida Office of Insurance regulation to continue to be a strong and effective advocate for state based regulation. We are hopeful whoever is appointed will continue to maintain a healthy and competitive market for insurance consumers,” said Logan McFaddin the Property Casualty Insurance PCI’s Regional Manager.

McCarty told Insurance Journal his successor doesn’t necessarily have to be someone with experience in the Florida insurance market, though that would be an advantage for them.

“I don’t think anyone should be discounted, either in the state or outside of state. I think what’s important is to have somebody who can strike the balance between protecting consumer issues, and understand[ing] the importance of a robust and competitive market,” McCarty said. “Every decision you make can affect millions of people directly or indirectly.”

Update: CFO Atwater announced he would interview David Altmaier, Richard Robleto, and Eric Johnson, chief actuary and director of OIR, by phone on Wednesday.

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About Amy O'Connor

O'Connor is the Southeast editor for Insurance Journal and associate editor of MyNewMarkets.com. More from Amy O'Connor

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