FORT LAUDERDALE, FL. March 29, 2016. Florida Gov. Rick Scott made it known Tuesday that his choice for the next Florida insurance commissioner would not be State Representative Bill Hager.
“I won’t second it,” was Scott’s quick response to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater’s motion to appoint Hager to the soon to be open post at a salary of $190,000.
Hager, R-Delray Beach, was one of two of the 55 applicants chosen to be interviewed by the Florida Cabinet on March 29 to replace current Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty, who will leave his long-term position on May 2.
The Cabinet, which consists of Scott, Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, announced plans back in January to select the next commissioner at the March 29 meeting. The goal, they said at the time, was to have someone chosen before McCarty left office and in time for the start of hurricane season. The Cabinet needed to reach a unanimous decision with Atwater and Scott’s votes carrying the most weight.
Per recommendations by the Florida Cabinet, Jeffrey Bragg, former head of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program, and Hager were the last two candidates standing from the application process. Scott recommended Bragg and Bondi backed Hager on March 23.
Both candidates answered several questions from all four Cabinet members about their leadership styles and experience with all aspects of the insurance market. Bragg championed his development of the Write-Your-Own Program as part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), but stumbled when asked by Bondi about the Affordable Care Act and the role of navigators, saying “I am not sure what you mean.”
Each candidate was also asked to address criticism that has been raised about them personally.
Bragg mentioned a local news report of a lawsuit brought by shareholders over the initial public offering of a company he ran back in 2000.
“[Lawsuits] are an unfortunate aspect of American business,” Bragg responded.
Hager said that the only criticism he has heard about himself is that he participates in the insurance marketplace. He is a former Iowa insurance commissioner and has served as CEO of an insurance company. He also works as an expert insurance witness for bad faith lawsuits and a reinsurance arbitrator.
“I do business in the insurance marketplace — which is also a statutory qualification necessary for the job,” he said.
Despite Atwater’s post-interview statement that they had just heard from “two of the most talented insurance minds I’ve had a chance to be around,” the group couldn’t reach a unanimous choice. Instead, the Florida Cabinet opted to reopen the application process until April 15 and appoint someone at the April 26 Cabinet meeting.
“I appreciate today’s important conversation with the Governor and Cabinet, and look forward to continuing those discussions. I respect the process and the Cabinet,” Hager said in a statement to Insurance Journal on Tuesday night.
“CFO Atwater and Gov. Scott are great leaders for our state. Their gentlemen’s disagreement over the selection for insurance commissioner will ultimately give the Cabinet more time to deliberate and find the right candidate for the position,” said Lisa Miller, former deputy insurance commissioner and current CEO of government affairs and business development firm Lisa Miller & Associates, headquartered in Tallahassee.
Jay Neal, head of the Florida Association of Insurance Reform (FAIR), has been vocal against Hager as the choice and said he was relieved that Scott has “essentially vetoed” him. He said he supports the open and transparent process, but this was an example of how open government works — and it isn’t always pretty.
“I think it’s extraordinarily difficult for a board of directors of four people to operate in an environment where they can’t talk to each other except in a public meeting,” Neal said. “I give both candidates credit for going through this — it can’t be easy. I’m grateful for the Cabinet buying some time and now they know where each other stands.”
Miller said since McCarty has held office for the last 13 years, the Cabinet understands the gravity of their decision and didn’t want to choose someone unless they were comfortable it was the right person. Atwater told reporters afterwards that both Bragg and Hager could apply for the position again, if they so choose.
“This has never happened in the history of our state. This is unprecedented waters for Florida. I look forward to the Governor and the Cabinet continuing their deliberations for this very important job,” Miller said.