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Impasse Remains Over Insurance Commissioner

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
State of Florida
The Florida Channel
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

Palm Harbor resident Jeffrey Bragg and state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, have been asked back to interview again with the Florida Cabinet for the state insurance commissioner job next week.

But there still doesn't appear to be a consensus between Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who must jointly recommend the replacement for outgoing Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty.

And Atwater, who may name an additional finalist or two from the list of 71 applicants by the end of Thursday, said with the hurricane season a little more than a month away he's "not sure" the job will be offered at the Cabinet meeting next Tuesday.

"I think it might take us a little bit longer, but I don't find that particularly to be alarming," Atwater told reporters Wednesday. "I don't want it to drag out. I don't want it to be unproductive time and for us to be dragging our feet, but I don't think that's the case."

As the two men seek a consensus, McCarty on Wednesday wrote letters to Scott and the Cabinet --- Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam --- extending his departure date from May 2 until mid-June.

"I take this action to honor my commitment to facilitate a smooth transition as the 2016 hurricane season approaches," McCarty wrote.

Scott and Atwater failed to agree between Bragg and Hager on March 29. At that time, there were 55 applicants.

Atwater recommended Hager, a former insurance commissioner in Iowa who is currently the vice chairman of the House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee, for the job at $190,000 a year. Scott, who put forward Bragg for the job, rejected Atwater's recommendation.

Atwater maintained Wednesday that he still favors Hager over Bragg. But Atwater also continued to interview other applicants Tuesday and Wednesday.

Scott, meanwhile, continues to support Bragg, a former executive director of the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Terrorism Risk Insurance Program.

"Without the governor and the CFO being on the same page, we're not going anywhere," said Rob Johnson, Bondi's Cabinet aide, during a meeting Wednesday among aides for Gov. Scott and Cabinet members.

Hager had an interview Wednesday afternoon with Scott. But the governor's Cabinet aide, Kristin Olson, told other Cabinet aides Wednesday morning that Scott would like to "interview Mr. Bragg again and have him considered."

Hager, saying he remains "100 percent committed" to landing the job, simply called the brief talk with Scott in the governor's Capitol office "very congenial."

"There is no mystery as to who I am. I've been an elected official in this state since 2002," Hager said. "My support of the governor and all of his programs is observable and that support is 100 percent unconnected to this job."

Atwater was scheduled to hold telephone interviews Wednesday with Carla D'Andre, the founder of an independent insurance agency in Miami; James "Jim" Wrynn, a former superintendent of the New York State Insurance Department who recently worked as a managing director for New York-based reinsurance broker Guy Carpenter LLC; and Denise Engle, a former deputy insurance commissioner in Oklahoma.

On Tuesday, Atwater held phone interviews with Raymond "Ray" Blacklidge, who was general counsel for American Traditions Insurance Company in Pinellas Park, and Chlora Lindley-Myers, a deputy commissioner with the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.