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Florida's insurance commissioner: the most important person in state government most people don't know

McCarty by Cohn BandIt is the most powerful job in state government most people can’t name.

Florida’s insurance commissioner has the unfettered ability to affect the cost of living in the state. From the property insurance policy of every homeowner, to the workers’ compensation plans of every employer, to millions of automobile, life insurance, medical malpractice and health care claims, the insurance commissioner has the final say on how much those rates will rise, and how much they fall — if at all.

The 262-person Office of Insurance Regulation touches nearly every aspect of life in Florida, from birth to death. It acts as the state’s financial sleuth, deciding if every one of those companies is financially sound enough to take on new customers, and when they are troubled enough to be shut down.

And with the stroke of a pen — and within the confines of the policies written by the Florida Legislature — the commissioner has the final say on which losses customers will pay — and which ones insurance companies must reimburse.

For the last 13 years, the job has been held by Kevin McCarty, a 27-year state bureaucrat, lawyer and graduate of the University of Florida, who steered Florida’s complex insurance market past so many obstacles he has become one of the most recognized experts in managing catastrophe in the country.

On Tuesday, McCarty, 57, will officially retire from the agency, to be replaced by David Altmaier, 34, McCarty’s deputy commissioner for Property Casualty Insurance. But for the last four months, the two Cabinet officials who by law must agree on McCarty’s successor — Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — were locked in an unprecedented feud over whose candidate will replace him.

The standoff underscored the political potency of the job, which not only impacts people’s pocketbooks but is a crucial cog in the state’s economic engine. More here.

Photo: Kevin McCarty, Florida Insurance Commissioner at a Miami Herald editorial board meeting, July 9, 2009. MARICE COHN BAND Miami Herald file photo

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