At this point, why would anyone apply to be Florida’s Insurance Commissioner?

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A seven-hour Cabinet meeting ended this week with Gov. Rick Scott declining to second the motion made by CFO Jeff Atwater to appoint Rep. Bill Hager the state’s next Insurance Commissioner. Instead, the governor declared he would like to reopen the application process to solicit new candidates.

As FloridaPolitics.com reported last month, 55 candidates applied for the position during the first go-around. That list was narrowed to the final two contenders, Jeffrey Bragg and Hager.

My question now is: Why would anyone in their right mind apply given what we have seen transpire over the past few weeks?

With Florida’s Sunshine Laws, anyone who applies is opening themselves up to a whole world of public scrutiny. From the moment you hit “submit” on your application, rest assured someone is Googling your name to see whether you’re a viable threat to their preferred candidate. A source who has followed the process tells FP that one of the 55 candidates who applied was unaware of Florida’s broad public records laws and dropped out because of the effect on his current employment.

The two candidates who came before the Cabinet have roughly 100 years experience in the insurance industry. Bragg and Hager have impressive credentials and are no doubt both tried-and-true professionals. But that hasn’t stopped the mud from flying in every direction for the past months.

As the Cabinet members mentioned this week, insurance is a hot industry in Florida and the position of Insurance Commissioner is a highly politicized one, much more so than in other states. The way this process has worked so far you would think these two were running for something much more glamorous than Insurance Commissioner, which pays much less than comparable positions in the private sector.

Then you have the actual appointment process. With Sunshine Laws, the Cabinet members can’t speak to each other except at the actual Cabinet meetings about official business. Both Bragg and Hager were presumably left to reading tea leaves after finding out they were the final two candidates, trying to determine if they would in fact be the next Commissioner.

When the two received a round of hard-hitting questions from the Cabinet, Bragg hit a few stumbling blocks; not knowing about PIP fraud or Obamacare for example. Hager appeared to ace the interview, detailing his credentials and answering the Cabinet’s questions with relative ease.

At that point, it seemed like a no-brainer. But Scott thew many for a loop and re-opened the application process, failing to second Atwater’s nomination of former insurance commissioner and current Representative Hager.

Florida, as the third largest state in this country, should be creating the conditions to attract the best and brightest for its top jobs, a task  the governor has fumbled several times during his tenure. Certainly, as it relates to the position of Insurance Commissioner, that should require a baseline understanding of “navigators” and specific policy ideas for Florida’s auto market.

While it was evident to this humble blogger that the most qualified candidate was undoubtedly Hager, I must express my respect and admiration for Bragg, whose résumé is nothing to sneeze at.

Anyone who submits themselves to this public and sometimes painful process should be applauded for their bravery and professionalism. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there publicly and deal with mudslinging and a public interview by the top four officials in the third largest state.

And in Florida, it may be time to revisit how we do some things to ensure that top talent, who could likely be paid more in any position but as a department chief, is not scared away from competing for our top positions. At the present time, though, I am still left to wonder, why in the world would anyone else put themselves out there for this position given the current circumstances?

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.