TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Kevin McCarty, who helped guide Florida’s fragile insurance market in the wake of eight hurricanes a decade ago, announced Tuesday that he is resigning as the state’s insurance commissioner.
During his 13-year tenure, McCarty dealt with the near collapse of the state’s homeowners insurance market, major changes in health insurance and contentious legislative battles over auto insurance, medical malpractice and the state-created Citizens Property Insurance.
McCarty, the first person appointed to the job after it stopped being an elected position, was placed in the post in 2003 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush and other elected members of the Cabinet. He held onto his position despite numerous calls from legislators – and even Gov. Rick Scott last year- that he should resign.
McCarty, who earns more than $134,000 a year, was able to hang onto his job because of the unique structure that requires both the governor and the state’s elected chief financial officer to agree on whether to fire the commissioner.
He said he wasn’t being pressured to resign, but is stepping down on May 2 to pursue other jobs. He did not say what that job may be, but his lengthy time as a state regulator could help him to move to positions at the national level.
“I am leaving on my own accord,” said the 56-year-old McCarty, who said he talked to Scott last month about the possibility of seeking a new job. “There has recently come some opportunities that I think I’m interested in personally and professionally that I think would tap into my skills and abilities.”
Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, who had resisted Scott’s efforts to force him out, said in a statement that McCarty had served with “upmost integrity.”
“Throughout his years of service, he’s propelled and ushered in reforms across multiple facets of the industry including workers’ compensation, medical malpractice, health, and auto,” said Atwater. “He helped navigate consumers and the industry through the hardships and tumultuous effects of natural disaster.”
When appointed, McCarty became one of the only openly gay people in a top state position. His sexual orientation only became known because a Florida insurance company opened an investigation into his private life, hoping it would cause then-Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson to fire him. A private investigator followed McCarty and illegally tapped his phone. McCarty sued the St. Petersburg-based Bankers Insurance, which in 2000 agreed to pay him a $2.55 million settlement.
McCarty’s biggest challenges as commissioner came after the state’s insurance market shriveled after eight hurricanes pounded the state in 2004 and 2005. Some insurers left the state and rates started soaring, leading then-Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Legislature to approve a dramatic expansion of a state-backed reinsurance fund in order to lower costs for private insurers. They also agreed then to freeze rates for Citizens Property Insurance and help it compete for business.
Crist at the time openly clashed with one of Florida’s largest insurers, State Farm, and legislators charged that McCarty was helping suppress rate hikes to help Crist politically. McCarty, however, managed to survive a transition to Scott, who pushed to have the state move homeowners out of Citizens and back into private carriers.
Scott, however, after his re-election in 2004 pushed to get rid of McCarty, but would not give a specific reason for doing so.
Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, said Tuesday “we appreciate his service to the state and we wish him the best of luck in his next endeavor.”