Of the nearly 50 Alaskans vying to fill the state’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, only one hails from the small Southeast community of Wrangell. Commercial fisherman Otto “Ottie” Florschutz says he figures it’s the people’s seat, so why shouldn’t a small-town commercial fisherman run for Congress?
Florschutz, 64, was in Kodiak with his grandkids when Rep. Don Young died.
“I had been thinking about it and thinking about it,” Florschutz said. “I came home, and [my wife] Christina said, ‘Hey, you should run for Don Young’s seat.’ And I said, ‘You know, I’ve thought about it.’ A lot of thought and prayer went into it, and I just decided, well, let’s do it.”
He says he knows it’s a stacked field vying to fill the seat, and getting his name out will be hard — made harder because he usually goes by his nickname.
“My name is Otto, but most people know me as Ottie,” Florschutz said. “And in the commercial fishing industry, it’s Ottie on the Adeline. They don’t even know my last name. So here I am, I’ve got an unrecognizable first name and a nickname.”
But that isn’t what matters when it comes to serving in government, Florschutz says.
“It’s the people’s government, you know, it’s for the people by the people, and you don’t need to be a celebrity,” he said. “Name recognition helps, but it’s the people’s government, so I just thought I’d throw my hat in it.”
It’s not his first brush with public service, but Congress would be a larger ballgame. Florschutz has been elected multiple times to Wrangell’s Port Commission, and has served for decades on Wrangell’s Fish and Game Advisory Committee.
Florschutz, who is a registered Republican, says there isn’t a single issue that pushed him to throw his hat in the ring. He’s against abortion and says Alaska’s representative should be, too. But other than that, he says there aren’t a lot of causes or issues he’s attached to other than doing what’s best for Alaska.
“I’ve always been leery of people that had an issue that they’re running on,” Florschutz said. “Because it automatically disenfranchises some people that might not agree with that. So I’m just a conservative person who lives within my means, and I work hard as a commercial fisherman. I’d like to take those values with me and try to apply them on a national level.”
Florschutz has toes in a number of Southeast commercial fisheries on two vessels, the 47-foot Nephi and 35-foot Lehi. His main focus is halibut, he says, but he also holds troll and gillnet salmon permits and fishes for shrimp and Dungeness crab.
“They used to call me the quick-change artist up in Pelican because I could be doing one fishery one day and another one the next, but that was in my younger days. I’m not quite that energetic these days,” he said.
Court records show Florschutz has a couple of hunting and fishing violations: a conviction for an improper identification charge related to commercial fishing in 2010 — for which he paid $325 — and a season and bag limit charge for moose last year, for which he paid $120.
Florschutz grew up working on a tobacco farm in North Carolina, which he says taught him how to work hard from a young age.
“When I was 19, I went on a walkabout and hitchhiked all over the U.S., and I ended up in Sitka, Alaska,” Florschutz said. “I had a cousin there, and he was getting married and I ended up there at his wedding, and you know, just fell in love with Alaska. It was a young man’s paradise, and I stayed.”
Everyone fished in Sitka, so that’s what Florschutz started doing — first as a deckhand and then on his own boat.
Florschutz says he and his wife got some state lottery land in Wrangell in the mid-1980s. All four of their children were born and raised in Wrangell. He says he likes to stick close to home.
“I worked part-time with Alaska Airlines for, I think, 16 years, and retired from them, so I have flight benefits, but I find I don’t travel as much as I always thought I would,” Florschutz said. “I envisioned myself two weeks in Hawaii, two weeks in Wrangell. But I just don’t do that.”
Even if he might miss Wrangell, he says he’s committed to working hard and listening to everyone he represents in Alaska, if elected.
“I don’t know of any fisherman that’s ever backed away from the job because they thought it would be too hard, you know? So I just thought I’d do it and see what happens,” he said.
However, Florschutz says he won’t have much time for campaigning — he’s still got to go out fishing.
“So I’ll probably be available and unavailable, in and out of cell phone signal and just relying on people to keep passing my name around if I get into that top four,” Florschutz said.
Out of the 48 primary candidates for the special congressional election, only the top four from the by-mail election in June will advance. Alaska voters will then rank those four in order in a special ranked-choice contest held in August. It’s a new system approved by voters, who approved Ballot Measure 2 last year.
Florschutz says that he won’t be soliciting campaign donations, but asks that people pass around his website — which is still being built — so more people can learn about him.
“We’ll see if we can just do some grassroots politicking,” he said.
Florschutz says that his candidate website, OttoForAlaska.com, should be finished in the next couple of weeks.