Fla. insurance chief finalist: Bankruptcy with $6 cash ‘bump in life’

Ray Blacklidge

Ray Blacklidge

One of four finalists for Florida insurance commissioner set to appear before the state Cabinet Tuesday filed for personal bankruptcy in 2005 with $6 cash on hand, months before joining his current employer, public records reviewed by The Palm Beach Post show.

Ray Blacklidge told the newspaper over the weekend he has not been asked about that in interviews with Cabinet officials so far, but he did not mind addressing it.

“What I’d like the citizens of Florida to know is that I hit a rough bump in life and perservered through it and with hard work and determination was able to overcome it,” Blacklidge said. “The experience was humbling and educational. I realize we all hit bumps in life.”

Blacklidge, who went on to become executive vice president and general counsel for American Traditions Insurance Co. in Pinellas Park, has impressed many in interviews with an approachable and disarming style. His application lists a law degree but he calls his background in many ways “blue collar.” His company has put a heavy focus on products designed to be more affordable for mobile-home residents, for example.

The Cabinet could pick the state’s first new appointed insurance commissioner in 13 years as early as Tuesday, though arriving at a consensus choice has not come quickly.

Should a personal bankruptcy matter for the job? On one hand, perceived skill in managing financial affairs is unavoidably tied up in the process. Florida’s insurance commissioner oversees one of the world’s largest insurance markets, charged with making sure companies are solvent and rates are adequate but not excessive. Floridians pay well over $100 billion in premiums, a critical part of their own budgets and financial well-being. By itself, Florida is a bigger insurance market than all but nine foreign nations, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has calculated in recent years.

On the other hand, his experience arguably puts him in touch with what many Floridians go through, often on the way to future success and prosperity.

The June 2005 Chapter 7 filing showed Blacklidge and his then-wife listed assets of $223,615 and debts of $340,188.10. About 150,000 was reported as unsecured debt. The couple listed a $220,000 Wesley Chapel home, a 1998 Oldsmobile Silhouette and 1994 Jeep Cherokee and $6 in cash on hand among their possessions.

“We were able to start American Traditions and there have been no problems since,” he said.

In his state application, Blacklidge said his tenure at American Traditions started in December, 2005. He also mentions stints as sole proprietor in a law practice since 1985 — licensed in Florida since 2002 — and as an independent agent since 2001.

Blacklidge joins Belinda Miller, chief of staff at Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation, as new candidates invited by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater to appear before the full Cabinet Tuesday. Also returning are two finalists from a March deadlock: Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, whom Atwater also requested, and Gov. Rick Scott’s choice, Jeffrey Bragg, a Tampa-area former insurance executive and federal administrator.

Under Florida’s rules, the governor and CFO must be part of a majority in the four-member Cabinet to pick a new insurance commissioner. If there is no agreement Tuesday, the Cabinet would have another chance May 10. After that, there is no scheduled Cabinet meeting until August.

With hurricane season approaching June 1, outgoing commissioner Kevin McCarty has pledged to stay past an announced May 2 departure until 45 days after his successor is appointed. Scott’s office began publicly pushing for McCarty’s replacement last year.

At last month’s Cabinet meeting, Hager was questioned on soliciting business from insurance companies for his private-sector work as well as policy stands in his lawmaking role. Bragg faced inquiries about a story in The Palm Beach Post involving a lawsuit, later settled, claiming that he misled investors in a past Florida flood insurance venture.

In his state application, Blacklidge wrote, “I have over fourteen years of senior management working as the right hand man and General Counsel for the President of a group of insurance related companies and over 29 years experience as a practicing attorney. I would bring energy, enthusiasm and the ability to work on my own to this position.”

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