Get free daily email updates
Search Story Archive

Backroom Briefing: Insurance commissioner staying put --- at least for now


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, October 29, 2015.......... Florida's top insurance regulator, who started the year with his neck on Gov. Rick Scott's chopping block, says he isn't going anywhere.

But if the offer is right, Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty said he'd listen.

"I'm planning on doing my job, for the time being," McCarty told reporters after a state Cabinet meeting Tuesday, before adding: "If there was an opportunity that came up, I would entertain that opportunity."

Industry insiders said they wouldn't be surprised to see McCarty, due to his extensive background on flood insurance issues, lead the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program or replace Ben Nelson, who recently announced he was stepping down as chief executive officer of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

McCarty "was talking about Florida taking responsibility for its hundreds of thousands of flood-insurance policyholders 15 years ago when it wasn't cool to talk about," one insurance lobbyist said.

McCarty, who has been with the state for more than a quarter century and has served as the appointed insurance commissioner since 2003, said he enjoys doing the $134,157-a-year job regulating an industry that is often in the state headlines.

"It's probably one of the most challenging insurance commissioner jobs in the country," McCarty said. "It might be one of the most challenging jobs in state government across the country."

McCarty has sort of been lingering since coming into Scott's crosshairs early this year.

In January, Cabinet members started to question the governor's removal of Gerald Bailey as commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Scott responded by reiterating support for the changes at FDLE and then proposed the possible removal of three additional agency heads: McCarty, Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Drew Breakspear and Department of Revenue Executive Director Marshall Stranburg.

Changes have since been made to the hiring and retention of Cabinet-level agency heads, including new performance benchmarks for each agency. McCarty, Breakspear and Stranburg remain in office.


Those who view the 2016 Republican presidential primary through a Florida-centric lens have been waiting --- some might even say anticipating --- the almost-inevitable clashes between former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who was once among Bush's political protégés.

After all, the two men's hopes for winning the GOP nomination are connected in two ways: Each has to stay alive until Florida, and likely win the Sunshine State's primary, to have a chance at the nomination; and both are vying to rally the party establishment, even if Rubio in particular is hesitant to say so in as many words.

While Rubio and Bush have thrown pokes at each other here and there, the sniping had been kept to a minimum. Until the last few days, when Bush took to referring to Rubio as a "Republican Obama" and then, during Wednesday's debate on business-news network CNBC, ripped the senator's lagging attendance at the Capitol.

The starting point was a question about the fact that Rubio has missed a sizable number of Senate votes as he's run for president, which prompted the Sun Sentinel in South Florida to call for Rubio's resignation.

Rubio responded by charging the newspaper with a "double standard" for not asking former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham to step down when he ran for president in 2004. The outlet's editorial board also endorsed former U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Barack Obama for president when they were missing votes, Rubio said.

Rubio had barely finished his answer --- to loud applause from the audience --- when Bush jumped in to lob his own attack at the first-term senator.

"I'm a constituent of the senator and I helped him and I expected that he would do constituent service, which means that he shows up to work. ... Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work," Bush said.

The former governor mocked what he portrayed as a light Senate workload (even without skipping votes) and said Rubio should either find a way to campaign while also carrying out his duties or resign.

In a response that drew more applause, Rubio shot back by bringing up Bush's soft poll numbers. He also pointed out that Bush has compared himself to former U.S. Sen. John McCain --- who won the GOP nomination in 2008 while missing quite a few votes, which didn't draw complaints from Bush.

"The only reason why you're doing it now is because we're running for the same position and someone has convinced you that attacking me is going to help you," Rubio said. " ... I will continue to have tremendous admiration and respect for Gov. Bush. I'm not running against Gov. Bush; I'm not running against anyone on this stage."

If Bush continues to view Rubio as a threat to his own ambitions, the clashes between the two men could become more pronounced, providing months of fodder for the Tallahassee chattering class.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: "Little Havana deserves a voice. That is why they left Big Havana #flapol #sayfie #fairdistricts"---Former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla (@AlexDLP40), on a portion of a Senate redistricting plan dealing with predominantly Hispanic areas of South Florida. Supporters of the plan say it would ensure that Miami-Dade County continues to have three districts that will allow Latinos to elect candidates of their choice.