Former SC House Democratic leader accepts Obama Administration job

abeam@thestate.comJune 26, 2013 

Harry Ott

State Rep. Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, said Wednesday that he will resign from the Legislature June 30.

The 15-year State House veteran, who was minority leader for House Democrats for eight years, will become the state director for the federal Farm Service Agency.

The job is a White House appointment that Ott said has “been in the works” since December, when he did not seek re-election as House minority leader. Democrats then elected state Rep. Todd Rutherford of Richland County as minority leader.

“I will be dealing with all the farm programs and farmers all across the state. It will be a good fit for me,” said Ott, who is a farmer. “Hopefully, I will bring a farm-friendly face to the agency and be able to work through this new farm bill.”

Congress has been grappling with a massive farm bill that would spend billions on farm subsidies, including crop insurance, and nutritional programs, including the food stamp program. Last week, however, the U.S. House of Representatives defeated the farm bill when Democrats and Republicans could not agree on how much money to spend on the programs.

Like most farmers, Ott has participated in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s crop-subsidy programs for years. According to a database compiled by the Environmental Working Group watchdog organization, Ott received $1.87 million in federal farm subsidies from 1995 through 2012. All S.C. farmers combined took in $1.94 billion in the subsidy program, designed to influence what farmers grow and keep farms financially sound.

Ott’s resignation will trigger a special election for House District 93, which includes portions of Calhoun, Lexington and Orangeburg counties. It will be the third special election in the Legislature this year.

State Rep. Mike Burns, R-Greenville, won a special election in January to replace Tom Corbin — now a state senator — in House District 17. Also, Charleston candidates are filing to succeed former state Sen. Robert Ford , who resigned earlier this month amid a Senate Ethics Committee investigation, in Senate District 42.

Ott said he will start his new job Oct. 1, adding he will not be involved in the campaign to replace him.

“Obviously, any time you put 15 years of your life into anything, you have mixed emotions about leaving,” Ott said. “But, obviously, when you get a phone call from the White House, offering you a position, you have to take that. And I look at this as an opportunity to continue to serve in a different area.”

Staff writer Joey Holleman contributed. Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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