As he moves to a job at Florida Atlantic University, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater said Tuesday his more than 16 years as a Florida lawmaker and Cabinet member have been "an honor of a lifetime."
Following his final Cabinet meeting, Atwater, a former Senate president, cited efforts by the Department of Financial Services to fight insurance fraud, improve the unclaimed-property process and bring more "transparency" to government spending as accomplishments during his tenure as chief financial officer.
But Atwater, a 59-year-old Republican, said he will miss his interaction with the public developed over 10 years as a legislator and more than six years as one of three independently elected Cabinet members.
"I know I have been enriched by their stories, and I know I have been enriched by their prayers and best wishes," said Atwater, who had the highest statewide vote total, with 3.35 million votes, in the 2014 election.
Atwater, first elected to the statewide post in 2010, also credited the more than 2,000 employees that work with him in the Department of Financial Services.
"I feel for seven years, I've walked out on the field every day with all-stars," he said.
Atwater announced in February that he will leave the Cabinet post to become chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic, with his responsibilities including strategic planning and oversight of the university's budget. Gov. Rick Scott will name Atwater's successor on the Cabinet, with the new appointee serving the remainder of the four-year term through 2018.
Atwater's last day as a Cabinet member is still somewhat up in the air, with his promise to remain in office until the conclusion of the 2017 legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn on May 5 but could spill over into an overtime session.
Scott surprised Atwater with a special recognition at Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, calling him "an unbelievable pleasure to work with."
Scott gave a Florida flag to Atwater, a fifth-generation Floridian with deep roots in the state, including a great-grandfather, Napoleon Broward, who served as governor in the early 1900s.
"That's wonderful," Atwater said, clearly moved by Scott's gesture.
Attorney General Pam Bondi, who gave Atwater a coffee mug for his nightly milk and cookies, called him the "epitome" of an honest and ethical public servant. She also cited the fact that he owns six dogs.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam gave Atwater an orange-juice decanter and recalled his leadership in the Florida Senate as the state struggled through the aftermath of the recession and a deep drop in state revenue in 2009 and 2010.
"It's pretty easy to make decisions when things are going well," Putnam said. "But when things went south, he really took on some very, very difficult issues and Florida is better for it."
Atwater also showed off a new Florida Atlantic University license tag for his vehicle with the word "OWLIN," a reference to FAU's owl mascot.