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Chief of Agency for Health Care Administration resigns, may seek Cabinet post

TALLAHASSEE — One of Gov. Charlie Crist's top health care advisers abruptly resigned her state job Thursday, a strong signal that Republican Holly Benson plans to run for attorney general.

If, as expected, Benson seeks the Cabinet post, she will be challenging Jeff Kottkamp, the man Crist picked as his lieutenant governor in 2006.

Benson, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration since February 2008, sent her employees an e-mail in which she announced her resignation. She cited "some opportunities that lie ahead, and I regret that because of those opportunities I will no longer be able to serve as your Secretary. I have submitted my resignation."

Benson, 38, a lawyer from Pensacola, served in the state House from 2000 to 2007, and played an instrumental in writing an overhaul of Florida's laws governing the Medicaid program and the operation of the state court system. She was initially hired by Crist to run the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

There are signs the Benson-Kottkamp race could intensify quickly. Kottkamp's political adviser, Rocky Pennington, last month sought all of Benson's official e-mail correspondence at AHCA, which is public record under state law. Such requests are common in campaigns as each side vacuums the record for damaging political information.

The agency told Pennington on Thursday he must pay an up-front fee of $20,000 before the agency will review all 48,000 e-mail messages, at a rate of one minute per e-mail. (Messages to health care officials could contain personal medical information that is exempt from disclosure.)

Kottkamp had underwhelming fundraising results last quarter, in which he raised $180,000, less than either of the two Democrats running for the post; state Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach.

Chief of Agency for Health Care Administration resigns, may seek Cabinet post 10/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 6:25pm]
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