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.” 

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

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.”

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

December 01, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Smart move:  Ryan Smart started a new job on Monday as president of 1000 Friends of Florida, the state's advocacy organization for livable communities, working in the group's Tallahassee office.

Smart "will jump start our reinvigorated focus on managing our state's water resources, including our springs, and strengthening the resiliency of coastal infrastructure," 1000 Friends Chairman Tim Jackson said in a statement.

Smart has recently managed the Florida Conservation Coalition and he was previously a program and special project director with the Consumer Credit Housing Services of Delray Beach.

Leaving the bench: Miami-Dade County Judge Gladys Pérez is joining Shutts & Bowen as a partner in the firm's  class action and mass litigation defense practice group,

Before becoming a judge, she served in Tallahassee as assistant general counsel to former Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist; as an assistant attorney general in the Civil Rights Division of the Florida Office of the Attorney General; and as a senior staff attorney for the Fourth District Court of Appeal.

In CFO Office: Michelle Dahnke, the governor's former deputy communications director, has been appointed the deputy chief financial officer of the Florida Department of Financial Services by state CFO Jeff Atwater.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

October 07, 2014

CFO Jeff Atwater's new ad casts him as money-saving crime-fighter

@MarcACaputo

Even writing the title "Florida Chief Financial Officer" can make a reporter's eyes glaze over or a reader skip to another story.

So what's a CFO to do when he runs for reelection?

Jeff Atwater's solution: run as the guy who busts fraudsters and therefore saves consumers money. It's the theme of his new campaign ad, which means it's the main message of his campaign that dovetails with the endorsement of him by the Florida Police Chiefs Association (press release is below the ad):

 From a press release:

TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Florida Police Chiefs Association (FPCA) today announced its endorsement of Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater in the upcoming election for Florida’s Chief Financial Officer. The FPCA applauded Atwater’s history of supporting Florida’s law enforcement, specifically his efforts to eliminate the fraud that increases the cost of living for Floridians and protect the state’s most vulnerable citizens from financial harm and abuse.

“In just four years, CFO Atwater has made thousands of insurance fraud arrests and has shut down more than 150 organized crime rings,” said Amy Mercer, the FPCA Executive Director. “He has demonstrated his strong support of Florida’s law enforcement, and we are fortunate to have his leadership and commitment to our state’s safety.”

CFO Atwater is dedicated to investigating and arresting criminals involved in financial fraud in Florida. Thanks to his efforts, Florida’s Division of Insurance Fraud has served as a national leader in the fight against insurance fraud, continuously ranking in the top five among all states’ fraud bureaus and divisions.

The FPCA is the fourth largest state police chiefs association in the nation and is composed of more than 750 of the state’s law enforcement executives. FPCA serves municipal police departments, airport police, college and university police, private business and security firms, as well as federal, state and county law enforcement agencies. The FPCA has members representing every region of the state. Learn more athttp://www.fpca.com.

September 30, 2014

Democrat Rankin challenges CFO Atwater to a debate

@tbtia

RankinlettertoatwaterDemocrat William Rankin has challenged Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to a debate, but just like nearly everything else with Rankin's campaign the idea is not gaining much traction.

In a letter dated today, Rankin said he is willing to debate his Republican opponent "anytime and anywhere on the issues." Because they are both from South Florida, he suggested Palm Beach as a location and floated the ideas of a TV station or a local university as the setting.

"While you may find it more politically advantageous to publically attack the Democratic Governor of New York and the Democratic nominee for Governor of Florida, the people of Florida deserve something more; a CFO candidate that is focused on the relevant issues at home such as safe keeping of the state’s assets and solvency of public employees retirement fund, jobs and economic prosperity, human dignity issues, and lower insurance rates for the people of Florida and their families," Rankin wrote.

Atwater's campaign seems less than enthusiastic about the idea. Spokesman Brian Hughes would only say the candidates may "share a stage" at some point on the campaign trail, a far cry from a structured debate that Rankin proposed.

"Jeff Atwater is busy traveling the state to lay out a strong record of success as CFO," Hughes said. "With public events and forums yet to come, I imagine there would be an opportunity for Jeff and his challenger to share a stage if schedules allow."

Rankin is considered a long shot to unseat incumbent Atwater, who has raised $2.7 million as of Sept. 19. Rankin has less than $16,000 in cash in his account.

The Florida Democratic Party has also kept Rankin at arm's length, and he has not campaigned alongside other statewide candidates for office.

September 17, 2014

After flirting with FAU, Jeff Atwater says he is loyal to CFO job

@tbtia

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater met with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board today, where he talked about achievement during his first term office as he runs for re-election. Atwater touched on effects of no-fault auto insurance reform, new policies that allow his office to monitor state contracts and even the environment.

But he also explained the story behind his decision to apply for the presidency at Florida Atlantic University and why he believes voters should elect him to a second term without wondering if he is still looking for greener pastures elsewhere.

The search firm FAU hired to help them find a new president, William Funk & Associates, first contacted Atwater in September and suggested he would be a good fit for the job because of his decades working in the region, political experience and ties to the school as father of three FAU graduates.

(We'll note here that Bill Funk was the same consultant initially hired for Florida State University's presidential search. He stepped down abruptly when the school decided against taking up his recommendation to make state Sen. John Thrasher the sole candidate. CORRECTION: FAU used Funk's firm in 2009 when they were looking for a replacement for Frank Brogan, who Funk's firm had also helped recruit to the state university system chancellor post. FAU used Parker Executive Search Firm in its 2014 presidential search, although Funk was among the companies interested in the contract.)

"The recruiter kept coming to me and visiting with me," Atwater said. He and his wife didn't decide until December to seriously consider the opportunity after hearing many times from Funk and others.

Continue reading "After flirting with FAU, Jeff Atwater says he is loyal to CFO job" »

August 13, 2014

Jeff Atwater dials up social media on campaign trail

@tbtia

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater is already way ahead of his competition as he seeks reelection. For every $1 his Democratic challenger collected in campaign cash, Atwater has raised $166.

Tia_jeffatwater.jpg

Still, Atwater is campaigning in earnest. In recent weeks, he has taken advantage of the power of the incumbency by traveling the state to talk about fire prevention and unclaimed property -- part of his official duties -- in between campaign stops. He chronicles everything on his Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages.


Last week, Atwater stepped it up a notch by launching a smartphone app to allow even more direct contact with voters -- and their cash if they so chose. The app links to his social media accounts, allows voters to send the campaign a message and has a donation button.

As far as we can tell, none of the other candidates for statewide office have smartphone apps. Attorney General Pam Bondi launched one recently, but hers is an official resource of her state office and not a campaign resource.

Meanwhile, Democratic CFO candidate William Rankin started tweeting just today. 

July 24, 2014

State: Haitian American cancer awareness group founder bilked Florida taxpayers

@DavidOvalle305

Jacques Calixte ran a much-lauded publicly funded organization purporting to help Haitian American women detect cancer.

Florida authorities on Wednesday pronounced it a sham, saying Calixte billed the state for nearly $400,000 — but arranged hardly any actual breast cancer screenings for at-risk women.

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater, called Calixte’s actions “unconscionable.”

The alleged scam led to Calixte’s arrest on charges of grand theft, aggravated white collar crime and communications fraud. The 44-year-old previously had been hailed for his work as founder and operator of Miami’s Haitian American Association against Cancer, which was supposed to arrange and pay clinics to perform breast cancer screenings for women.

According to state investigators, Calixte provided phony bank statements, payroll checks and healthcare reports to Florida’s Department of Health, which had given the group hundreds of thousands of dollars between January 2011 and June 2013.

But a review of his finances showed Calixte spent as little as $16,000 on actual client screenings in 2011. In 2012 and 2013, there was no evidence of expenditures for clinical screenings or testing for Haitian American woman “as required by the contracts,” according to Florida Department of Financial Services.

In all, Calixte is accused of stealing at least $287,000 in state money.

More here.

July 21, 2014

FL CFO Jeff Atwater blasts NY Gov. Cuomo as 'huckster' over ad campaign

@MarcACaputo

Florida's top finance official, CFO Jeff Atwater, is accusing New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of running a deceptive TV ad campaign designed to lure businesses to the Empire State.

“We know a huckster when we see one,” Atwater, who dashed off a letter about his concerns, told the New York Post about the Cuomo Administration's $113 million TV and radio "START-UP NY" ads in Florida and other states that promote New York's business climate and tourism.

Cuomo's office fired back, saying Atwater was misconstruing the incentives that the ad campaign is promoting.

"For a CFO, he must be pretty bad at math if he doesn’t understand that the zero in StartUp’s zero-tax zones means no state taxes for new businesses,” Cuomo spokesman Matthew Wing said in an email response.

In his July 18 letter, Atwater says the ads contain "glaring errors and misstatements" about New York as a place to work. And Atwater needles the number of New Yorkers who have moved to low-tax Florida, a job-creation leader. 

"These advertisements portray an image of New York that simply cannot be supported by facts, particularly in comparison with Florida,” writes Atwater, who is running for re-election this year and faces little-known Democrat William Rankin.

"The reality is that New York boasts the highest taxes in America, the highest costs of living in the country, and one of the worst business climates in the nation. Conversely, by every objective measure, Florida continues to be one of the best states in which to start a business and raise a family." 

This isn't the first time Cuomo has drawn the fire of an elected Republican from outside New York. In April, Texas Gov. Rick Perry visited New York in an effort to lure jobs to Texas and challenged Cuomo to a debate.

Cuomo declined the offer from the Republican, who plans to run for president in 2016.

"I don't think so," a grinning Cuomo said, according to USA today.

Download Atwater

January 10, 2014

Atwater no longer in the running to become next FAU president

The committee tasked with choosing Florida Atlantic University’s next president turned down state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Friday.

Former U.S. Senator George LeMieux and two academics were named as finalists for the job.

The surprising decision ended days of speculation over who Gov. Rick Scott would choose to replace Atwater in the Florida Cabinet.

“As I said to my staff about accepting an invitation to apply, my passion for serving as Florida’s CFO and my commitment to working with my great colleagues for years to come remains undiminished,” Atwater wrote in a statement Friday.

The FAU selection committee had doubts about including a politician among the finalists.

“The perception out there might be that this is a politically arranged deal,” said member Dick Schmidt, president and CEO of Schmidt Companies.

Schmidt said an experienced politican would bring “baggage” to the university, and might struggle to win over the faculty and philanthropic community.

But FAU Trustee Abdol Moabery said experience in Tallahassee would be an asset.

“For 20 years, I have watched all the funding go to UF [the University of Florida] and FSU [Florida State University], and later USF [the University of South Florida] and UCF [the University of Central Florida], and frankly I’m tired of it,” Moabery said. “We do need a powerhouse. We need someone who knows this legislature.”

The other two finalists are John Kelly, vice president for economic development at Clemson University, and Christopher Earley, dean of the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University.