Monday, September 01, 2014

Former lawmaker switching parties

By DYLAN LYSEN, Herald Staff Writer | 4/14/2014

LEROY — A former lawmaker who never shied away from expressing his opinions is switching parties, but not values, he said.

Former state Rep. Bill Otto, LeRoy, who represented parts of Franklin County before redistricting in 2012 and losing his seat to state House Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, announced he will switch political affiliation from Republican to Independent.

LEROY — A former lawmaker who never shied away from expressing his opinions is switching parties, but not values, he said.

Former state Rep. Bill Otto, LeRoy, who represented parts of Franklin County before redistricting in 2012 and losing his seat to state House Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast, R-Emporia, announced he will switch political affiliation from Republican to Independent.

Otto chose to switch affiliation because of House Bill 2210, which prohibits a person from changing his or her party affiliation from the candidate filing deadline, June 1, through the date when primary election results are certified by the Secretary of State, on or before Sept. 1, he said. The legislation goes into effect July 1.

Otto thinks the goal of the law is to make sure current “hard-right” Republicans can keep control of the Republican Party in Kansas, and pick the representatives they prefer, he said.

“I didn’t see much hope for the Republican primary,” Otto said Friday, mentioning the three candidates for the 76th District seat. “I’m just frustrated. I can’t agree with the Washington Democrats to become a Democrat. I see a difference between [U.S. Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid and [State Senate Majority Leader Sen.] Susan Wagle, but their actions aren’t that different.”

The two-party system allows for state representatives to tow the party line instead of trying to represent their districts, Otto said. If elected to represent the 76th district, now held by Mast, Otto said he would not vote against the interests of the district merely to support party leadership.

Otto needs 577 registered voters in his district to sign a petition for him to be listed in the general election, he said, adding he is still a conservative and his values remain the same.

“My values have not changed, but my party has lost their direction,” Otto said. “They are just interested in cutting taxes on big business and forcing local government to raise property taxes.”

Otto, who served in the Kansas House from 2005 to 2012, received national criticism in 2009 for a video he posted on YouTube in which the then-lawmaker criticized President Obama’s policies while wearing a hat describing opossum as “the other dark meat.” Otto said he was making fun of his own redneck heritage, according to Herald archives.

Otto lost his seat in the Kansas House in the 2012 primary elections after district lines were redrawn across the state and he was placed in a district with three incumbent Republican representatives running for the same seat.

“In 2012, I had several independents and Democrats who told me they would vote for me if they could,” Otto said. “And this election, I want to give them that chance.”

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