FL Cabinet Selects New Insurance Commissioner

Apr 29, 2016

New Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.
Credit Florida Channel

In a hastily arranged meeting Friday morning, Florida’s Cabinet members interviewed three more insurance commissioner candidates, promoting deputy commissioner David Altmaier.  In the two previous hearings, the governor and CFO have clashed over nominees.

On its third attempt Friday, the Florida Cabinet reached an agreement on the state’s next insurance chief.  Deputy Commissioner David Altmaier will be stepping into the role.  The Cabinet favored the darkhorse candidate in part because of an impasse between Governor Rick Scott, who backed Jeffery Bragg, and CFO Jeff Atwater, who backed Rep. Bill Hager (R-Delray Beach).

The stalemate derailed the search because Florida law requires both officers agree on the appointment—a statutory check meant to ensure commissioners are prized for competence rather than connections. 

That gridlock persisted as fellow cabinet members Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam refused to put a thumb on the scale for a favored candidate.  

“I would hope that once you two gentlemen come to an agreement,” Bondi said at a meeting earlier in the week, “unless I believe someone is woefully inadequate—which I hope I won’t, based on the two of you and your great experience in this field—but I think the two of you need to come to an agreement first.”

Friday morning, the Cabinet room was nearly empty during interviews with three senior officials from the Office of Insurance Regulation.  Only CFO Atwater was on hand—the other three officers called in on the phone instead.  David Altmaier was the final interview.  His expertise is in property and casualty insurance, and Atwater pressed him on the rise in water damage claims. 

“So I would say that yes there does appear to be an increasing trend in the frequency and severity of water losses in our property market,” Altmaier says, “It is a concern.”

Insurers have been sounding the alarm that water claims are rising despite more than a decade without a hurricane.  Those insurers point the finger at assignment of benefits—it’s an agreement where the property owner signs over insurance benefits to the company cleaning up or making repairs after damage.  Rightly or wrongly, those companies are often able to extract larger claims from the insurer, and in recent sessions a number of GOP lawmakers have made an effort to undermine the process. 

But Altmaier stopped short of rejecting assignments.

“The root of the problem there is that the assignment of benefits mechanism is being taken advantage of by a small number of market participants,” Altmaier explained, “and so I think the best way to move forward with that is to look at the assignment of benefits mechanism, determine where there is opportunity for people to take advantage of that system and look for ways that we can eliminate those opportunities while keeping intact the ability for consumers to utilize the assignment of benefits mechanism in situations in which it was intended to be used for.”

The hearing concluded with a strange dance between Atwater and Scott.

“I think it makes sense if we could go ahead and move on to the candidates we have here today,” Scott said.  “I think both Rich and David are both extremely qualified and would do an outstanding job.”

Rich and David are Richard Robleto and David Altmaier—the two deputy commissioners the Cabinet interviewed Friday.  But Atwater first reiterated his support for two earlier candidates—Rep. Hager and OIR Chief of Staff Belinda Miller—both times with no response. 

On his third motion he proposed Altmaier.

“I would make this motion,” Atwater proposed, “that we extend the position of commissioner to the Office of Insurance Regulation to David Altmaier with a salary of $160,000.”

But in an odd postscript, the session may come with a significant price tag.  Scott misheard Atwater’s motion, and instead Altmaier’s salary will be $165,000.