State Politics

Standoff worsens between Scott and Atwater over Florida insurance post

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

The standoff intensified Tuesday over hiring a new state insurance commissioner, as Gov. Rick Scott'slone choice failed to win support of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. 

AFter Scott and the Cabinet interviewed four finalists, Scott read a prepared statement in which he again nominated Jeffrey Bragg, a former federal official with expertise in flood insurance and terrorism risk insurance, as a "proven leader" to replace Kevin McCarty as director of the Office of Insurance Regulation.

A long and awkward silence ensued and Scott said: "It doesn't look like there's going to be a second."

Atwater has nominated Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, an arbitrator and expert witness in insurance cases, for the post. Scott opposes Hager.

With the start of hurricane season five weeks away, Scott said someone has to be in charge. He rejected McCarty's offer to extend the date of his resignation and said he didn't know about McCarty's offer, even though McCarty's office hand-delivered copies of a letter to all four officials last week.

Scott then called a special telephonic Cabinet meeting for 9 a.m. Friday at which he said the group would interview two new candidates, David Altmaier, 34, and Richard Robleto, 65, both of them top deputies in McCarty's office who were not proposed as finalists previously. Florida could choose its next insurance commissioner at a call-in meeting on three days' notice. 

"What do we have to do, 48 hours notice? Oh, is it 24?" Scott asked an aide. "We'll just do it by phone."

Attorney General Pam Bondi chided both Scott and Atwater for being inflexible on their choices.

"Gentlemen, 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 move on," Bondi said.

Atwater said the lack of a consensus on an insurance regulator shows that the system was working as intended. "This was what was actually meant to happen," said Atwater, whose agency works most closely with the insurance department. "I don't find after two meetings ... that we're doing anything other than serving the people of Florida just as this was designed to do."