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The million dollar Insurance Commissioner question

in Peter/Top Headlines by

About a month ago, when FloridaPolitics.com offered “The Good, the Bad and the Interesting” of the applicants for the next Insurance Commissioner, we highlighted the legal requirements for the job.

They’re high … on purpose.

HB 3, passed in Special Session E in 2002, implemented a 1998 constitutional amendment that merged the jobs of Comptroller and Treasurer into the Chief Financial Officer position, shrinking the number of statewide elected officials serving on the Cabinet. The Offices of Financial Regulation and Insurance Regulation would now be led by appointees — nominated and approved by the Cabinet — and requiring the concurrence of both the Governor and the CFO.

It was at a time, not too different from the present, where both positions were filled by strong leaders, then-Governor Jeb Bush and then-CFO Tom Gallagher.

The legislation required that any political appointee have five years relevant private or public sector experience. The intent was to depoliticize these positions by making them appointed, requiring a super-duper vote by the Cabinet, and also by creating a high bar of qualifications for consideration, preventing any “fix” or purely political favor.

As FloridaPolitics.com also pointed out last month, many of the applicants did not meet the legal hurdle for the job of Insurance Commissioner. Last week, Nancy Smith of the Sunshine State news picked up on that in “How will Scott’s insurance pick [JeffBragg survive scrutiny?”

As Smith correctly pointed out: “in the public sector, the applicant must be a senior official at the state or federal level regulating companies or agents. Bragg was a senior official in Washington at the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program (TRIP). However, despite his assurance before the Cabinet (“I regulated the program,” he said) TRIP itself doesn’t regulate anybody or anything. Insurance executives insist TRIP operates basically as the Florida CAT fund does.”

Smith reached out to the Cabinet members and got a variety of slightly dodgy answers about Bragg’s qualifications — except the Governor’s office, who did a complete dodge.

Presumably, state Rep. Bill Hager‘s work at his expert witness insurance practice qualifies as full-time private sector employment, which he outlined in an addendum to his application.

Despite the noticeable difference in caliber between Bragg and Hager, as evidenced during their interviews — a subject I touched upon in March — as well as the Governor’s inexplicable behavior following the interviews, the real million dollar question is this: What happens if the Cabinet appoints a legally unqualified person? Can it actually happen? Would that person’s actions have the force of law? Would the legal issues surrounding a potential Commissioner Bragg mire his authority?

Smith’s article also insinuates that Scott is trying to pull exactly the kind of fix that HB 3-E was supposed to prevent.

While the palace intrigue of the appointment process after the Gerald Bailey scandal has been at an all-time high, the theater of the interviews and public statements (or lack thereof) regarding the final two candidates is enough to rival Hamlet in the minds of many Tallahassee insiders. At the very least, this topic is at least worth a response from the Governor’s Office, if they are, in fact, continuing to push Bragg.

With Pam Bondi and Jeff Atwater continuing to flex their Cabinet muscle in support of Hager, the only unknown is Adam Putnam. Will he finally show his cards?

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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