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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Atwater 'uncomfortable' with prolonged search for insurance chief



Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Wednesday said that the "big decision" of hiring a new state insurance commissioner warrants a thorough evaluation of all applicants for the job, but he voiced concern if the annual hurricane season begins June 1 and the job is not filled.

"I would feel uncomfortable with a prolonged process that I did not think was going to have us someone there either on a permanent basisor that was skilled and is there today that would help us through hurricane season," Atwater said.

Atwater said he would not find it "alarming" if no decision is reached at next week's Cabinet meeting, set for Tuesday. If the standoff between Atwater and Gov. Rick Scott continues, he said, it may be time to ask outgoing Commissioner Kevin McCarty to stay on longer.

Atwater and Scott must agree on the same choice to be McCarty's successor.

Meeting with Capitol reporters, Atwater said his favorite for the job remains Republican state Rep. Bill Hager of Palm Beach County, a former Iowa insurance commissioner and a lawyer who specializes as  an expert witness in insurance-related lawsuits. Hager met briefly Wednesday with Scott and said as he left the Capitol that the meeting was "congenial." Scott's favorite for the job remains Jeffrey Bragg, who has a background in flood insurance and ran a federal terrorism risk insurance program.

Atwater said he was not troubled that Hager has solicited business from insurance companies that he would regulate as commissioner or that as a lawmaker he was affiliated with a statewide political committee, the Economic Freedom Foundation, that received money from insurance and title insurance companies. According to the state campaign finance database, that Hager cut ties to the committee on March 22, shortly after he applied for insurance commissioner.

To find a qualified candidate with no "proximity" to the industry, "I think that's going to be almost impossible," Atwater said. "We have to find someone who has either regulated (the industry) ... or you were in the industry."

McCarty has submitted his resignation, effective May 2. His office has said he's willing to stay on longer to have a smooth transition but that "he has not been formally asked to extend his resignation," spokeswoman Amy Bogner said.

[Last modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2016 2:41pm]


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