January 15, 2015

Is Kevin McCarty Scott's next target? Atwater, Bondi & Putnam say they haven't discussed it

Kevin McCartyBy Jeff Harrington and Mary Ellen Klas

Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty has survived sitting on one of the hottest seats in state government for more than a decade. 

Since becoming the state’s first appointed insurance commissioner in January 2003, he’s endured a string of governors and Cabinets. He’s sidestepped controversy over soaring property insurance rates, a rash of insurer insolvencies, the ever-changing mission of state-run Citizens Property Insurance and how the state’s health insurance model should integrate Obamacare.

But there’s growing signs that Gov. Rick Scott may want his tenure to come to a close, just as he sought to end the career of FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

Sources inside and outside the insurance office acknowledge McCarty is under pressure to resign, after 26 years in state government. 

As head of the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, McCarty is responsible for setting rates and regulating insurance companies throughout the state.

McCarty could not be reached Thursday. His office said he was traveling to a National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ gathering to assign committee posts and would not be available for comment.

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz would not respond to questions about McCarty but insisted we print her statement indicating she was not dismissing it either.

"Government too often gets stuck in a rut and doesn’t like to change,'' Schutz said in a statement to ther Herald/Times. "But, just like in business – it is good to get fresh ideas and new leadership, especially as we move into a second term.  Executive office positions are not lifetime appointments and for the same reason there are term limits in elected office – it is important to search for the best and newest ideas whenever possible.  In regards to OIR, we have no announcements at this time.”

She did not respond to requests for an explanation of whether they thought the state's insurance regulation was "stuck in a rut."

McCarty's deputy chief of staff Monte Stevens said he could not address reports that the insurance commissioner may be stepping down.

“Commissioner McCarty is focused on doing his job,” Stevens said. “He has spent this week speaking to hundreds of corporate executives and investors, encouraging them to bring their capital to Florida.  He has also met with Legislative leaders to discuss what may be on the horizon during the 2015 session.”

Removing or replacing McCarty will take a majority of the three-member Cabinet, or a vote of the governor plus one other member. That didn't happen this week, when Scott unilaterally asked former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey to resign or be fired.

After Scott admitted to forcing Bailey out, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he had been misled by the governor’s office, which had falsely told him that Bailey had agreed to step down. 

He and other Cabinet officials told the Herald/Times they have not discussed McCarty's fate, and now appear to be more careful in handling the governor's manuevers.

"Transparency and measured deliberation about the changes of those in leadership positions is important,'' said Ashley Carr, spokeswoman for Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. She said Atwater had "absolutely not" been consulted by anyone about a reported "deal" to replace McCarty.

Attorney General Pam Bondi has "absolutely not" been contacted about replacing McCarty, said her spokesman Whitney Ray. 

Erin Gillespie, press secretary to Putnam said he also "has had no discussions regarding Kevin McCarty in the second term.” 

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January 11, 2015

How Marco Rubio could run for president then governor and what that does to other pols

@MarcACaputo

Marco Rubio is expected to run for president.

All that’s really in doubt is the year: 2016, 2020, 2024?

What’s not uncertain is that the U.S. senator has a tough decision to make: does he make a longshot bid and give up his seat or does he run for president and then seek reelection?

Either way, there’s increasing political chatter that Rubio is well-positioned to run for governor in 2018.

And then, if he wins, there’s a good chance Gov. Rubio will run for president — 2020 would be attractive if a beatable Democrat is president. The next presidential year, 2024, an open-seat year, would be more likely. He’ll only be 52.

Rubio is offering few public clues about what’s next.

“At the end of the day, it’s a very personal decision,” Rubio told reporters last week when asked about a presidential bid. “You don’t make this decision on the basis of political advisers. You make it on your own.”

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December 02, 2014

Consumers still most annoyed by violators of the Do Not Call List

Violators of the statewide Do No Call List, problems at the gas pump and motor vehicle repair problems were the top three complaints received in November at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The majority of the 2,965 complaints received concerned the pesky calls consumers want to avoid.

The agriculture department added 12,396 telephone numbers to Florida's Do Not Call list in November -- bringing the number of consumers on the list to 737,000, compared to the 71,460 phone numbers on the statewide list in 2012.

It's now free to add your name to the list but that wasn't the case two years ago when the legislature, prompted by Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam, dropped the $10 registration fee and $5 annual fee for individuals to sign up for the statewide Do Not Call list during the 2012 session.

The top calls to the agriculture and consumer services department's hotline in November were related to cable companies, the solicitation of contributions from charities and the Do Not Call list, said agency spokesmanErin Gillepsie. The agency recovered $487,934 on behalf of Florida consumers in November, she said.

To report fraud, call the agency's consumer protection and information hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352) or, for Spanish speakers, 1-800-FL-AYUDA (352-9832).

 

October 01, 2014

New Putnam ad takes aim at Washington

With just five weeks until Election Day, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam's re-election campaign is kicking into high gear.

The former U.S. congressman has a new TV spot that takes aim at Washington.

"Every day, Washington finds new ways to meddle with our dreams," he says. "And every day, as commissioner, I'm making sure they don't."

Putnam also talks about the need for better schools and technology so Florida's students can "compete with the world and win." That's somewhat outside of his duties as agriculture commissioner, though the department runs some school-based education programs.

The incumbent has raised $2.7 million for his campaign, state elections records show.

His Democratic challenger, longtime U.S. Department of Agriculture employee and environmentalist Thad Hamilton, has collected about $20,300.

Putnam's large haul may be a sign that he is looking to the future. He is already considered a strong candidate in the 2018 governor's race.

 

February 10, 2014

Scott laps Crist four times in January fundraising

@TBTia

Gov. Rick Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” committee raised $3.4 million in January, but, for the first time, he got an additional boost from his own campaign account, according to finance reports due Monday.

Scott reported raising $734,036 in January, giving his candidacy a combined $4.1 million for the month. It’s the first month his personal campaign account raised money and it’s four times what his rival, Charlie Crist, managed to raise.

Crist raised $636,800 through his "Charlie Crist for Florida" committee. Combined with the $374,767 his own campaign raised, Crist brought in $1,011,567.

Lagging behind Scott is hardly good news for Crist, considering that Scott has already raised $32,262,936 through January, while Crist, who announced his run in November, has raised a total of $5,048,031.

But at least Crist is slow to spend what he’s got, blowing through only $380,237 of his total through January. But Scott has been miserly as well, spending about $519,569.

Attorney General Pam Bondi continued to outpace her three rivals, raising $10,000 in her "And Justice for All" committee and another $178,000 from her "Justice for All committee". Of course, you already read that in this blog post.

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January 29, 2014

Putnam wraps up trip to Panama

While Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and lawmakers addressed reporters during the annual AP Legislative Planning Session on Wednesday, state Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam was wrapping up a four-day trip to Panama.

His traveling companions: PortMiami Director Bill Johnson; Plant City strawberry grower Gary Wishnatzki; Robert Behr and Joel Sellers, of Florida’s Natural Growers; and Richard Gaskalla of the state agriculture department.

The purpose of the trip was twofold, Putnam explained before leaving on Sunday.

For one, Putnam wants to help Florida growers expand their footprint in the Panamanian retail market.

"We think that because of our proximity [to Latin America] and our quality product, we can be on the leading edge of opening up these Latin American markets," he said.

The delegation also intended to explore ways Florida could capitalize on the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Said Putnam: "Florida is betting big on being the first stop for these giants ships after the Panama Canal has doubled in size."

The group was scheduled to meet with Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano and Minister of Agriculture Oscar Osorio, among others. 

The trip was Putnam's first trip abroad as agriculture commissioner.

January 14, 2014

'Complete rewrite of Florida's charity laws' proposed by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam

@tbtia

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Wednesday will propose "a complete rewrite of Florida's charity laws," aiming to increase state oversight and transparency in direct response to investigative reports published last year in the Tampa Bay Times.

Putnam, whose duties include protecting Florida's consumers, said the changes will help Floridians make more informed choices about the charities they patronize. The legislation will also grant the state additional powers to regulate nonprofits and the professional solicitors who raise money for charities.

"We are introducing a complete rewrite of Florida's charity laws so that Floridians will be protected from having their hard-earned money go to deceptive charities and Florida will not be a safe haven for bad actors from other states," Putnam said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with the Times/Herald.

State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, will sponsor the bills and have been working with Putnam for months. The "America's Worst Charities" investigation by the Times and The Center for Investigative Reporting studied thousands of charities that paid for-profit companies to increase donations and highlighted the 50 worst that spent the most on outside fundraising.

Brandes said he was upset by what he read in the newspaper, especially since many of these organizations were based in Florida. He reached out to Putnam, who agreed to make charities reform one of his priorities for the 2014 session.

Read more here.

October 07, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New appointments at the Department of Agriculture

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam has named five appointments in his department.

Alan Edwards has been named director of administration for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Edwards, who has served with the agency for more than 20 years in various roles, was previously the director of policy and budget. Prior to joining the department, he was the controller for a multimillion dollar construction company and sole proprietor of a CPA firm.

Derek Buchanan, who joined the department in 2008, has been named director of policy and budget. He held several positions in finance and accounting and policy and budget, and previously served as a senior auditor for the Florida Auditor General’s Office. 

Brooke McKnight has been promoted to cabinet affairs director. She was previously in the deputy director position. She also served as a senior legislative assistant for Putnam when he was a U.S. representative for Florida's 12th Congressional district.

Jessica Field started working as deputy cabinet affairs director on Oct. 1, afer working with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection since 2008. She was most recently  an environmental consultant.

Jon Rees has been named deputy legislative affairs director. He recently served as the legislative assistant to Rep. Ross Spano.He's a former governmental and political affairs coordinator for Associated Industries of Florida. 

DCF press secretary moves to the Attorney General's office 

Whitney Ray, who had been press secretary for the Department of Children and Families for about five months, has joined Attorney General Pam Bondi's office as press secretary.

Before working at DCF, Ray was a TV reporter for the Capitol News Service.

Ray replaces John Lucas, who has become press secretary at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

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August 06, 2013

Scott, Cabinet OK health care forms despite claims they 'mislead'

An excerpt from a story in Wednesday's paper:

Gov. Rick Scott and the three-member Florida Cabinet have signed off on a controversial new disclosure form that critics say is intended to poison Floridians against the health care law.

The Florida Legislature passed a law requiring the form after Republicans argued that policyholders need to know how federal reforms will affect their premiums. Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — all Republicans — on Tuesday approved the disclosure forms unanimously and with no debate.

In recent weeks, critics have said the forms are useless and any efforts to compare policies that comply with the health care law to those that don't is "fuzzy math."

"It's totally about politics, and, probably more importantly, it's an incredible waste of money," said Bill Newton, executive director of Florida Consumer Action Network, which supports the federal health care law.

Prior to a vote, Putnam referred to the Office of Insurance Regulation's report that said individual plans would have an average increase of 30 to 40 percent under the federal law. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has questioned those estimates.

"Across the country we have seen press announcements by state insurance commissioners that consistently indicate substantial increases in premiums to the consumer, especially in that individual market," Putnam said after the meeting.

Read more here.

March 14, 2013

Scott, Weatherford, Rubio celebrate "non-partisan" James Madison Institute

If Ayn Rand were alive and living in Florida, she would have paid $125 for a ticket and attended The James Madison Institute’s 25th anniversary gala Wednesday night.

Most of the state’s conservative heavyweights were there: Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, House Speaker Will Weatherford. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a televised greeting to the institute. Attorney General Pam Bondi was scheduled to show but had to cancel for a funeral. 

They were there to celebrate property rights, free markets, states rights and deregulation and other causes that JMI, founded in 1987, has championed. As JMI’s influence as a “non-partisan” think tank has grown, so too has the Republican grip on power in Tallahassee.

In telling closing remarks, former House Speaker Allan Bense, who is chairman of JMI and Weatherford’s father-in-law, explained why the think tank matters so much for conservatives.

“There are so many times when there are tough bills you have to vote for,” said Bense. “A tort bill, whatever it may be, where the press is just pounding you on the other side, the Tampa Bay Times, the Miami Herald, the Palm Beach Post, whatever, they’re just killing you, and what James Madison was able to do was present to members the other side. Here are the facts. So you could debate those facts on the floor, and JMI didn’t go lobby members, it was, ‘here’s the other side of the coin.’ And I can’t tell you how important that is if you’re a member of the Florida House or the Florida Senate or Cabinet member, to hear an objective, bipartisan, we’re a little conservative, agreed, but here’s our side.”

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