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After Several Tries Florida Finally Gets New Insurance Chief

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

After a contentious and bumpy process that saw Florida's top Republican officials deadlock several times, the state has a new insurance commissioner just weeks before the start of hurricane season.

During an emergency meeting on Friday, Gov. Rick Scott and the three members of the Florida Cabinet voted to elevate Deputy Commissioner David Altmaier to the top post. Altmaier, 34, will be paid $165,000 a year - $50,000 over his current salary.

Scott and the Cabinet agreed on Altmaier only after Scott refused to support two other names initially suggested by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. The governor and the three members of the Cabinet must vote on the position, but an arcane state law allows Scott and Atwater to individually veto the choice.

Altmaier, a former Kentucky math teacher who started out as an insurance examiner with the state in 2008 and quickly rose through the ranks, will succeed current commissioner Kevin McCarty.

Atwater heaped praise on Altmaier even though he wasn't his initial pick for the job, saying that he displayed a good knowledge of Florida's complex insurance market.

"This guy is impressive," Atwater said. "I think people can rest comfortably there is a real talent here."

The job of insurance commissioner in Florida is crucial because the person regulates an important industry in a hurricane-prone state. Hurricane season starts on June 1. The selection of a new commissioner triggered a furious behind-the-scenes lobbying effort among those aligned with various parts of the industry.

McCarty had been on the job for 13 years, including a time when the homeowners' insurance market nearly collapsed following a two-year period when the state was hit with eight storms. Right after being re-elected in 2014 Scott said he wanted to replace McCarty, but Atwater didn't support the move at the time.

Both Scott and Atwater had offered up rival candidates in two previous meetings, but were unable to reach an agreement.

Altmaier, who oversaw the state office that deals primarily with property insurance, emerged as a possible compromise candidate for the job in the last week. Altmaier once taught algebra and geometry before he moved to Florida. He worked briefly in an insurance agent's office before taking his first position with the Office of Insurance Regulation. Voter records show that he is a registered independent. He changed his party affiliation from Democrat in March of this year.