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Scott, Atwater hire Altmaier as state insurance chief

Breaking an awkward political deadlock, Gov. Rick Scott and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater agreed Friday to promote deputy insurance commissioner David Altmaier to succeed his boss, Kevin McCarty as the state's powerful insurance regulator at the helm of the Office of Insurance Regulation.

The choice was a surprise on a number of fronts. Altmaier, 34, has a degree in mathematics from Western Kentucky, was the last candidate interviewed in public, and is a former Republican who became a Democrat in 2014 and switched to no party affiliation on March 29, shortly after he sought a promotion from a Republican governor and all-Republican Cabinet.

With the start of the 2016 hurricane season a month away, the leadership of the insurance department in the nation's third-largest state will soon move into the hands of Altmaier, who has worked for OIR for five years and has two years experience as an insurance agent.

"This guy is impressive," Atwater told reporters after the vote. "He is going to perform very well."

Altmaier was Atwater's third choice. Atwater made the motion to hire Altmaier at $165,000 a year with McCarty staying on for a 60-day transition period. McCarty, the only person to hold the post since its creation in 2003, offered to delay his departure to ensure that his successor has a steady transition. Scott rejected McCarty's offer but the governor relented Friday and agreed to the unusual arrangement under which Florida will have two insurance commissioners for a time. 

At a special meeting called by Scott, the governor and Cabinet members interviewed three new finalists for the job. All three candidates work for McCarty: chief actuary Eric Johnson and deputy commissioners Rich Robleto and Altmaier.

Atwater offered the post to Rep. Bill Hager, but no one seconded it. Atwater offered the post to McCarty's chief of staff, Belinda Miller, but Scott did not go along. Atwater moved to appoint Altmaier, which was quickly approved.

Only Atwater was physically present in the Capitol to make eye-to-eye contact and judge the candidates in person. The other three officials participated by phone.

By law, Scott and Atwater must agree on the choice of an insurance commissioner, who is hired with the support of at least one other Cabinet member. The other Cabinet members who supported Altmaier are Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.