David Altmaier's quick rise to state insurance commissioner

Published April 29 2016
Updated April 30 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Ten years ago, David Altmaier was coaching track and teaching algebra to 9th graders in southern Kentucky.

Now at age 34, he is becoming the top insurance regulator in the nation's most complicated market.

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott and the three other members of the Florida Cabinet settled on Altmaier to be Florida's new insurance commissioner.

Elected Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater scoffed at suggestions that Altmaier, who will make $165,000, might not have the experience to replace Kevin McCarty, who is resigning as commissioner after 13 years.

"This guy is impressive," Atwater said after his first two choices were rejected by the Cabinet.

Atwater said Altmaier knows all lines of insurance, and has a great background in property insurance in particular, arguably the trickiest and most impactful part of the job.

Altmaier's insurance knowledge all comes from fewer than 10 years in the profession. He graduated from Western Kentucky University with a bachelor's degree in math in December 2004. He then spent a year-and-a-half as an algebra teacher in Bowling Green, Ky., where he also was the head track and field coach.

His teaching career ended in 2006, he said, because his wife, Catherine, was offered a teaching job at Florida State University.

"So we took that opportunity and we relocated to Tallahassee," Altmaier said.

Upon moving, Altmaier took his first insurance job, working for the Peggy Browning Insurance Agency in Tallahassee where he was an insurance account representative.

Since March 2015, Altmaier has been a deputy insurance commissioner under McCarty. In that role, Altmaier directly oversaw the Bureau of Property & Casualty Financial Oversight and Product Review. That role is the culmination of a quick rise through the Office of Insurance Regulation's bureaucracy, where he rose from low-level insurance examiner to director of Property & Casualty Financial Oversight in just six years.

"Not only did he grasp property and casualty, he understood the consequences of markets," Atwater said of Altmaier. "He understood the challenges that are coming with workers' comp laws. He understood the challenges that are coming with health care."

Altmaier said one of his roles as a deputy commissioner was to help stress-test private insurance carriers to make sure they are capable of handling claims should Florida have a hurricane season like it had in 2004 and 2005, which decimated the state's insurance market and left many homeowners struggling to get claims paid. Florida has not had a hurricane hit since Katrina and Wilma in 2005.

"There are a lot of market conditions that are present today that gives us some optimism that if we were to experience a catastrophic season similar to '04-'05 that our insurance companies would be in a better position to handle those losses," he told Scott and the Cabinet on Friday.

Altmaier said he's watching other insurance issues, too. He said he is closely monitoring workers' compensation insurance costs on small businesses after a key Florida Supreme Court ruling on Thursday. And he said he's concerned over "signs of stress" in the auto insurance market caused by personal injury protection laws that may require attention.

McCarty praised Altmaier's appointment. Pro-consumer insurance groups like the Florida Association for Insurance Reform also like the pick. Jay Neal, president of the group, said he's not concerned that Altmaier has a light background in the private insurance market. He said he'll benefit from having McCarty staying on as an adviser for 60 days.

Altmaier may have helped his case for the position in March after he first applied. Election records show he switched his party affiliation from being a Democrat to "no party affiliation" on March 29, 18 days after he applied to become the insurance commissioner. All four Cabinet members are Republicans.

Though it was short, Altmaier said his private sector time is a big part of his life as a regulator now. Asked by Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam about his private experience, Altmaier said he carries memories of hearing people talk about their insurance needs and budgets on the job now.

"I keep those conversations in mind on a daily basis," Altmaier said.

Contact Jeremy Wallace at jwallace@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @jeremyswallace.

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