Wrangell commercial fisherman Otto “Ottie” Florschutz is running to fill Alaska’s sole seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

Of the nearly 50 Alaskans vying to fill the state’s House of Representatives seat, 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?

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64-year-old Wrangell fisherman Otto Florschutz was up in Kodiak with his grandkids when Congressman Don Young died. 

“It just crossed my mind [to run],” Florschutz told KSTK Friday (April 8). “I had been thinking about it and thinking about it, 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, ‘Oh, let’s do it.’”

He says he knows it’s a stacked field vying to fill Alaska’s sole seat in the House of Representatives, and that getting his name out will be pretty hard. Made harder because he usually goes by his nickname. 

“My name is Otto, but most people know me as Ottie,” Florschutz explains, “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 says. “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 ball game. 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 says, “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, or at least for this, representing the state of Alaska.”

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,” he says with a laugh, “But that was in my younger days. I’m not quite that energetic these days.”

Court records don’t show Florschutz having much of a criminal history except for a few minor hunting and fishing violations, which he paid fines for: a conviction for an improper identification charge related to commercial fishing from more than a decade ago (2010), for which he paid $325, and a more recent minor charge from last year for a season and bag limit charge for moose ($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 US and I ended up in Sitka, Alaska,” Florschutz relates. “I had a cousin there, and he was getting married and 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 bought his own boat, “And it’s been a good life ever since,” he says. 

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 says. “I envisioned myself two weeks in Hawaii, two weeks in Wrangell. But I just don’t do that. I’m a projects guy, I just like working on projects: We’ve got a garden, we have a couple of greenhouses and I just realized that when I leave that I long for home, so I come back.”

But 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 says.

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 says.

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 his values. 

“We’ll see if we can just do some grassroots politicking,” he adds.

For now, the site has some of Florschutz’s info, but the picture isn’t him – it’s just a stock headshot. Florschutz says that his candidate website, OttoForAlaska.com, should be finished in the next couple of weeks. 

Get in touch with KSTK at news@kstk.org or (907) 874-2345.