Ann Ashford is a Democratic candidate for Nebraska’s 2nd District. She is an “attorney, human resources professional, and healthcare leader” and wife of the district’s previous representative, Brad Ashford. Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the district a “Toss Up” for 2020. In 2014, Brad Ashford won the district by 3.3% but lost in 2016 to the current Republican representative, Don Bacon, by 1.2%. In 2018, Kara Eastman, a strident progressive, defeated establishment-backed candidate Brad Ashford in the primary. Eastman went on to lose the election to Bacon by 2%. Ann hopes that her moderate, bipartisan tone can win the Democratic nomination and appeal to moderate voters in the general. Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post to get an overview of the district, the 2018 election and the upcoming 2020 race. This interview was conducted on Monday, April 29, 2019.
The following interview has been very lightly edited. No substantial content was removed or added. The only edits were taking out unnecessary words or phrases like “I mean”, “Well”, “So” and “Um” for clarity. If you want a condensed version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews -> Condensed within one day of this extended interview being posted.
Ashford: Hello this is Ann.
Seth: Hi Ann this is Seth Moskowitz calling from Every Second Year
Ashford: Hi Jack [ouch], how are you?
Seth: I’m good, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.
Ashford: No problem.
Seth: I hear you are maybe in an airport?
Ashford: So, I was going to be and then my husband suffered some health problems over the weekend so I am delaying my trip to D.C. until a couple weeks from now.
Seth: I’m sorry to hear that.
Ashford: Thank you. That’s what happens, you make plans and then some eternal force, like God, interferes.
Seth: I hope everything is okay and it’s not too serious.
Ashford: Thank you, I think it’ll be fine.
Seth: Okay, good. I know that you’re probably very busy and you want to get back to taking care and making sure that he’s healthy so I’ll just jump right in. I’m curious if you can just tell me a little about how the campaign is going, what your day to day life looks like and how you see that the campaign has gone so far.
Ashford: Sure, the campaign is going fine. We started in, I think my first phone calls were February 19th and we announced early only because my primary primary opponent, because now there’s two more that have entered the race, announced in December that she was going to run again. The only hesitation I’ve received from all the calls that I’m making…so my daily life consists of calls and meeting with as many people as possible and the only hesitation I’ve received from anybody is that it’s so darn early. They’re still recovering from the last election and their support will come. It’ll just come at a later time.
Seth: I’ve read some things about incumbents who won in 2018 and feel uncomfortable fundraising because they feel like they just finished their election and there’s so much pressure to already start ramping up even though it felt like it was three months ago and they have to start fundraising again.
Ashford: Yeah, it’s sort of silly. Usually incumbents are able to do it quietly behind the scenes during those first few months after the election but everybody is out there right now. And the pressure is put on by…what do we have now? 21 candidates in the Democratic primary for president? So that lends some pressure to it as well where people are just saying, ‘Guys we need to just take a little breather.’
Seth: I think that’s fair but I also understand why you wanted to get in early. So, while we’re on the topic of fundraising, in the Democratic Party there’s been a lot of people making pledges about where they will and where they won’t accept money from and I’m curious if you have made any pledges or made any decisions about not accepting money from corporate PACs or any boundaries to where you will or will not accept money from.
Ashford: I have not made any pledges. I don’t see any reason why I would not accept money from a corporate PAC… unless it’s a corporate PAC that…I come from the business world so I understand corporate PACs are a function of entities. If it’s a company that, for example, manufactures weapons of mass destruction, first of all they’re not going to be interested in giving me a donation. But secondly, if they were, I wouldn’t take it.
Seth: So, it sounds like you’ll take it as it goes and see who is actually trying to donate rather than make a blanket statement about not accepting…
Seth: Okay. So, another pretty broad question is…you’ve been a member of campaigns and elections in the past: 2014, ’16 and ’18 and I’m curious what things you’ve learned about being a candidate. Given that you’ve been so close to them in recent years.
Ashford: Sure. I think the number one thing is that you get out and meet as many voters as possible. It takes that personal touch so that’s the number one lesson that I’ve learned. Probably the second lesson that I’ve learned is that sometimes pledges come back to bite you so be really careful about the pledges that you take. I don’t see a pledge out there yet that I would pledge to just because it does come back to bite you. I was just talking with some folks in Washington who said there are a heck of a lot of candidates who were elected this last cycle who took some pledges and now are trying to figure out, gosh how do I not go back on them because they want to remain faithful to the pledges they made but how do I maneuver around this now because it’s put me in a difficult spot. But the number one rule is: get out and meet as many people as possible and be accessible to voters.
Seth: Are you seeing that voters are receptive to hearing from candidates or are they wanting a break from all the campaigning given that it was so recent? Or are you seeing that they’re more open to hearing form candidates this early?
Ashford: To me they’re more open to hearing from candidates. They’re actually asking for it. They want to stay away from the fundraising right now. They just want a little break from that. But as far as hearing about your positions or wanting a chance to meet you or coming up to you in the store and saying “Oh I recognize you. I know who you are. Can we chat for a few minutes?” They’re very open to that.
Seth: And in those situations, what is your short pitch about your priorities and why you think you’re the best candidate? When you meet a voter out there, what’s your go-to explanation about your candidacy and your primary goals if you were to be elected to office?
Ashford: I was born in this district and I’ve grown up in this district and have worked all my professional life in this district. I understand the district but I’m always willing to listen and hear more. I don’t care for labels, but I label myself as a ‘pragmatic problem solver’. I will work with anybody to get the solutions that we need to have. I think we have too much fighting in Washington today where people just go to their separate sides of the ring and the only reason they come out is to go into battle instead of reach solutions. So, I’m all about reaching solutions. That’s what my business background taught me. When we’re around a business table and we all have a common goal, whatever that common goal is, we come with all of our different perspectives and we figure out what’s the lowest common denominator and start working from there. And so, you can tackle things pretty much right away. I use the example of health care. Twenty of my years of experience have been in health care. Twenty of my years — not consecutive — have been in human resources and what we need to do is figure out those lowest common denominators. So, in the case of health care, I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t agree that pre-existing conditions need to be covered at no penalty to the person being covered. So, no extra charges, things like that. So, gosh, if we all had the right intentions, we should be able to enter a room and 45 minutes later come out with a solution. Let’s pick off the easy fruit first and then worry about the more difficult issues.
Seth: And so, what are your other primary focuses other than health care if you were to be elected?
Ashford: Number one is health care. Number two is probably education and affordability for our students and trying to deal with how we are educating people for the new economy, which is not so new, it’s here already. But new economy that may be coming down the road. And the economy in general. Are we making sure that workers’ rights are protected? And are we making sure that they’re getting a fair wage for what they are doing?
Seth: The new freshmen class that was elected to Congress in 2018. I know you said you don’t like labels and I appreciate that, but do you see yourself as aligning…to me it seems like there is two wings of the party that really come to the front. The more, I’m going to use labels, but, progressive wing of the party with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar and then the more, another label, ‘moderate’ or ‘bipartisan’ members of the party like Abigail Spanberger and Ben McAdams near you in Utah, and I’m curious if you see yourself as aligning more closely with either of those two coalitions within the House of Representatives?
Ashford: Yes, absolutely. I see myself as, one of my goals is to get elected to Congress first, my second goal then is to join the New Democratic Coalition. And they are that bipartisan, sort of thinking group. They’re pragmatic. They’re business oriented. They’re a little bit more fiscally conservative than people farther on the left and progressive, as the label may be. So, I would align myself with the New Democratic Coalition. And if you look, their membership went from, I think before 2018 it was somewhere in the low 40s, for the membership of the New Dems. Now it’s well above 100 and so most of the members went there because they see that across the country, that’s where people are. People are more moderate.
Seth: It’s surprising when you look at those numbers especially when you hear the people who are getting the attention in the news and in the media. Because the majority of people who did flip districts were in the more conservative or red-ish districts and most of the people that flipped those districts were the more moderate candidates. So, it’s interesting when AOC and Ilhan Omar are getting all the media attention rather than the majority of the people who were elected and flipped districts.
Ashford: And it’s a little frustrating. There were just Democratic officials here in this state who told me, cause think about it. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez could probably get elected in perhaps, perhaps four districts across this country. But there are a lot more districts than that and so the media does turn to them for attention. The media has a job to do and they want to market themselves as well and so they’re going to get the people on either end of the spectrum to sort of give more volume to those voices because that makes news. People don’t listen to news about the folks who go to work every day and are just doing their jobs and getting things done actually. The things that make the news are those that are yelling about things and giving more volume to their voice in just that these are the things were demanding. Well, either on the left or the right, those are pretty far out there so I would venture to say there are 70% of us across the country who are somewhere across that moderate spectrum.
Seth: And so when you think of your ideology and where you fall within the party, do you believe that you believe in the more progressive agenda but you’re just more pragmatic about it so you’re willing to make compromises or do you believe that your ideology falls more within that pragmatic range rather than believing in the more progressive but then changing what you’re fighting for because you want to be pragmatic. Where do you see that your ideology falls within that spectrum?
Ashford: So, on the social issues I guess I would be more progressive but I’m always pragmatic and on the fiscal issues I am more in the pragmatic center.
Seth: Do you have any examples of where you would fall in the more pragmatic center for the fiscal issues?
Ashford: For example, I don’t believe in just wiping out college debt for all. I think we need to look at affordability we look need to look at some income scaling we need to look at what kind of loans they already have out there and if they are able to afford it. I do believe that we’ve gotten out of control with what we’re charging for education number one and then number two when people are trying to deal with their debts and things like that, so we need to look at perhaps making student loan debt a portion of the debt that can be discharged with bankruptcy. Those would be some examples.
Seth: I saw a tweet that you tweeted out about the Green New Deal and you said “We need action not an unrelated wish list. A complete overhaul of our economic and healthcare system.” So, I’m guessing that you’re not on board with the idea of bundling all those progressive priorities into one piece of legislation.
Ashford: No, I think that that’s the way we’re gonna lose, if we try to bundle everything together. What the Green New Deal seemed to say or at least how it was being framed by the more conservative people across the country was that it’s a complete takeover of everything in our economy. And so, let’s not fall into those traps and allow them to be able to frame us in such a way that it makes it unpalatable for everybody. Let’s tackle these things sort of one at a time. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be done contemporaneously but let’s tackle them one at a time and separately instead of trying to wrap everything into the Green New Deal.
Seth: Do you think that sort of running to the left is what hurt the Democratic candidate, Kara Eastman, in the 2018 election?
Ashford: Yes absolutely. She ran too far to the left for this district. She ran true to herself because she is truly on the far left. She aligns herself with Bernie Sanders, and that’s not something that’s palatable in this district. I don’t think you should change yourself for an election. For goodness sake, be true to yourself, but she made it a point to only try and attract and turn out Democrats. We are still +5 Republican in this district if I’m not mistaken. We have a heck of a lot of independents and I will pursue every vote from every person. I don’t care what letter is behind their name.
Seth: When you look at the numbers of how Nebraska Second was relative to the National Popular Vote for the House it was a pretty heavy swing away from the Democrat. In 2014 it was 9% more Democrat than the country overall. In 2016 it was .4% more Republican and then in 2018 it swung all the way to 10.6% more Republican than the National House Popular Vote. I’m hopefully going to be speaking with her soon so I’m interested to hear what her explanation would be for that swing if it’s not coming from the candidate.
Ashford: I would be fascinated to hear that as well because that’s not something I’ve heard her acknowledge. And I can’t speak for her so, that’s probably all I have to say about that. But as a candidate in this race, I understand that. I understand she performed 10 points worse than the rest of the country as far as Democrats went. And that is a case of having a candidate that doesn’t match the district.
Seth: And so how do you plan to convey to Democratic voters a different message then what happened last cycle for your husband, which Democratic voters decided to go with Kara Eastman, even though she was maybe more progressive than the District was willing to elect. How do you plan to convince those Democratic voters that you’re the right candidate?
Ashford: I talk to every single person I can and if I can’t do it personally, I have my campaign do it. And have them understand what we need to do to win in this district and have them understand that the goal is, while you may have cheers and claps on primary night, you want to still have those cheers and claps on the general night. And if you want to be able to win this in the general district, you’re going to have to select a candidate that will be palatable to the entire district and not just a portion.
Seth: And how receptive have Democratic primary voters been to that more pragmatic argument of: even though maybe you align more closely with one candidate, you have to maybe go with a different candidate because that’s the only person who’s gonna win the general.
Ashford: I’ve talked to hundreds of people so far and they’ve been very receptive to that. They were asking for that and perhaps I’m talking to those who did not vote for Ms. Eastman in the general, but I don’t think so. I think I’m talking to a heck of a lot of people and those who did vote for her but they said they felt like their vote wasn’t actually going to matter because they really felt like the current incumbent Don Bacon was going to win again. And so, they’re asking for a candidate that can be more pragmatic, more centrist and that can actually win in the district. That’s the conversations I’ve been having.
Seth: Am I right that you changed your party registration from Republican to Democrat in 2016?
Ashford: I did.
Seth: Can you explain your reasoning and thought process behind that and why you decided to make that change?
Ashford: Sure. So, I’ve always been a pro-choice woman. I was on the board of Planned Parenthood in the nineties and I still maintain that affiliation. I have always been pro-gun control. The Republican Party, I knew had left me a while ago, but I still thought that I could try to work to change it from within and we know how that turned out. It didn’t. As a part of my husband’s service on the federal level, I was able to meet the federal leaders. And what I saw was that true willingness to be the big tent party and not only willingness but they actually put action behind their words. They are truly the big tent party who allows people from all different ideologies as long as they stick to a general core of tenants that the Democratic Party believes in that they welcome everybody and so that’s when I knew that I had come home. Now part of the criticism my primary primary challenger will level at me is that I’m a relatively new Democrat and I understand that. In my experience in the world, whether its political party or religion or anything else, it always seems like converts are the biggest believers because we made that conscious decision and not to take anything from those from which it was family tradition or anything else, but I made that conscious decision as an adult to say, ‘This is where I want to be. This is where I feel like I’m home.”
Seth: So, you appreciated the aspect of it being a big tent party. I’m curious if you feel like there are any core tenants of the Democratic Party that should prohibit somebody from joining or being a member of the party if they don’t pass that litmus test. Specifically, what I’m thinking of, you’ve always were pro-choice you said. Do you think somebody who is pro-life should be able to run as a Democrat and be a member of the party?
Ashford: Yes. I do think that they should be able to run as a Democrat. I think they’re going to have a tougher road to hoe. But yes. A part of being welcoming to all, is not putting those litmus tests on people and I think that that actually hurts. There’s a heck of a lot of, if you just look at it culturally, there’s a heck of a lot of people who grew up in the Irish Catholic tradition who are pro-life. And who are staunch Democrats and yeah, we shouldn’t say, ‘No you can’t be a Democrat because you’re not’.
Seth: So, without those litmus tests or the policies that you have to agree with to be a member of the party, what do you envision as being the thing that brings Democrats together and allows them to unify under one label.
Ashford: I think that the number one thing that brings Democrats together is their willingness to listen to all diverse opinions and try to do the right thing for people. Whether it’s ensuring that the economy works for everybody, the education system works for everybody, that it’s more focused on making sure that those opportunities are there for all of us and to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep those opportunities going.
Seth: Okay. And so, I’m going to transition a little bit to specific issues that have been coming up among members of the House of Representatives. Specifically, I’m interested in something that doesn’t really fall along that moderate, progressive ideology line. I’m curious where you stand on the idea of more structural changes to the way that our government works. Specifically, I’m thinking getting rid of the Electoral College into a popular vote which is something which would require a vote in the House of Representatives, adding Supreme Court seats, statehood for Puerto Rico and D.C. And one that obviously isn’t in the House of Representatives but I think is important and interesting to talk about is the Filibuster. So, we can go through those one by one if you have ideas about them all.
Seth: So, the Electoral College?
Ashford: So, the Electoral College, the number one challenge to getting rid of it that I hear that it will hurt rural states like we are with a much lesser population. So, I’m really concerned about that. I understand, boy do I understand the desire to get rid of the electoral college. I don’t think we’ve hit upon a solution yet. I think probably the solution is going to be somewhere between the Electoral College as it is today and the popular vote. But I think we’re going to have to go through a little bit more pain before we get to that. So, I’m not ready to say get rid of the Electoral College wholly today because of all of us districts out here in the middle of the country where we don’t have as much population across our state. So, I’m still waiting. I like the way that Nebraska and Maine do it where we attribute the Electoral College votes by Congressional District. perhaps that’s a way to get there sooner rather than switching massively to the entire just popular vote.
Seth: So, it sounds like you’re not ready to make the full commitment to be in favor of the popular vote but you’re open to other maybe more incremental changes to the system.
Ashford: Right. And personally, I like the idea of the popular vote. I get that. But again, I’m concerned for my state and states like us where we might be hurt. But let’s look at perhaps how we attribute those Electoral College votes.
Seth: This is an interesting theoretical question I’m curious how you see the job of being a Representative. Do you see it as you will be sent to Washington to represent the views of your constituents even if they go against what you personally believe, or do you believe that the voters send you to Washington to make decisions based on your personal ideology? Where do you fall on that theoretical debate?
Ashford: Somewhere in the middle but closer to the fact that you are representing. It’s in the title for goodness sake. We’re being sent as a representative so you better darn well be listening to your constituents. I haven’t seen a situation where the district as a whole would be taking such a viewpoint where it would cross my moral judgements. Obviously, people need to know me well enough and to trust me well enough that my moral judgement will come in play if we haven’t encountered for example an issue in the district so far and it’s a brand-new issue. Because you can’t poll everything you can’t go out and ask people everything. But I would lean toward that you are sent there to represent the thoughts, the mindsets, the opinions, the beliefs of your district.
Seth: I imagine you believe it would be difficult to do that if the Democrats nominated a candidate who is much further left to the general population of the district. So, it seems like you feel like your ideology aligns better with the district and is the more practical way to get elected.
Seth: Okay so moving on to statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. How do you feel about that or how do you think you’d vote on that if it were to come up in your term?
Ashford: If I were going to vote on it, I would vote yes.
Seth: And how about adding seats to the Supreme Court if Democrats were to win the presidential election and were somehow to be able to take over the Senate. How do you feel about adding seats to the Supreme Court?
Ashford: To the number of people in the Supreme Court?
Ashford: I have to tell you I haven’t really thought about that.
Seth: I’m totally sympathetic to that. I think it should be okay for candidates to say ‘I need more time to think.’
Ashford: Yeah, and I would have to think about that. My initial reaction would be no. You need to play the cards you’re dealt. But I don’t know. I haven’t given that any thought.
Seth: Well when you think about it more, I’ll follow you to see if you come to a decision on that or if it’s asked later in the primary. I’ll be following your responses.
Ashford: So, is this talked about much?
Seth: Yeah it is. Especially in the big Democratic presidential primary field it’s come up a lot. Some of the more progressive candidates have advocated in favor of it. And I know Pete Buttigieg had an idea where you’d expand the seats of the Supreme Court not necessarily by court packing, by saying ‘we’re just going to add people to the Supreme Court’, but by saying we’re going to add temporary judges that are both conservative and liberal and then they will have to decide together and it will have to be a unanimous decision for the additional justices that will be added to the Supreme Court. So, there’s been different iterations of it.
Ashford: Now, that’s fascinating.
Seth: Yeah, it’s an interesting argument but I think it’s sometimes easy to portray all the ideas from saying ‘we’re going to add justices to the Supreme Court whether you like it or not’ to the more moderate route of saying “we’re going to try to add seats with the parties together so it’s not a strictly partisan journey.”
Ashford: Yeah and as an individual, not as a candidate, as an individual I’ve always been concerned that you could pack the court if you have a number of resignations or death or retirement during one term and it could make you, depending on who was president and who was in the Senate it could make you really happy or really unhappy. It is something to think about. Like I said, I just haven’t thought about it before this.
Seth: And so, the last structural issue is something that’s actually related to adding Supreme Court seats. It’s eliminating the Filibuster in the Senate because right now the threshold for passing a lot of legislation is 60 votes, but many Democrats have been advocating in favor of lowering that to having to have a majority to pass legislation in the Senate. Obviously, this isn’t something the House of Representatives would vote on, but I’m curious if you have an opinion on that.
Ashford: Right. So, I prefer, as an individual, just a majority. I think either party, whoever is not in control of the Senate needs to be really careful of those rules that they put in place to see what could happen when they are in control and I just think that the unintended consequences of any actions need to be thoroughly investigated prior to them making any changes.
Seth: Another thing that’s been spoken a lot about since the Mueller report came out was impeachment. Are you in favor of the party holding impeachment hearings or do you think that they should wait for the 2020 election and let voters decide if the president deserves to stay in office?
Ashford: So, neither. I’m in favor of them conducting a thorough investigation and subpoenaing all of the individuals that they need to, to obtain more information about issues raised in the Mueller Report and then making the decision whether or not impeachment needs to occur. The one thing that concerns me is talk that impeachment distracting people from actually getting their jobs done because that has to happen contemporaneously with addressing immigration, with addressing healthcare, with addressing infrastructure and, if we go back to the beginning and I apologize, I just mentioned one of my top issues, is infrastructure. And first of all, we need a lot of remediation across this country and then there’s some new infrastructure that needs to be built as well. So, we need to concentrate on those issues. That’s where the primary focus needs to be while in the background these further investigations need to be going on whether it’s through subpoenas or otherwise, to ensure that we have a president that should be legally allowed to be kept in office.
Seth: When you look at the numbers, I think, of the priorities for Democratic Party members, Russia and the Mueller Report were low single digits. So, I think it makes sense that you advocate in favor of focusing on other issues rather than focusing on that, if those numbers are correct. So, one thing that I think is interesting in Nebraska is that the State Democratic Party decided that for the presidential candidate they are going to change the way that they apportion their votes from a caucus to a primary. Is that correct?
Seth: Do you think that that will have any impact on the voters that come out to vote in your primary and do you think that will affect the results of the Democratic Primary in Nebraska Second?
Ashford: I’m not sure if it’s going to affect the results because we always had a primary along with that. And so, the caucus, it will probably help it because very few people, relatively speaking, attended the caucuses. And then those who attended the caucuses maybe didn’t feel the need to vote in the primary and so hopefully that gets everybody at the table in the primary. Our primary is relatively late in the process. We’re in May and so a lot of times the leading contender for the party is pretty much chosen by that time. So that gets people feeling a little frustrated. But it was the same with the caucus too. The last election in 2016, I just saw a lot of heartache because during the caucus process there were, like I said, a fewer number of people who turned out that it seems as though the caucuses felt as though they were pretty well united behind Bernie Sanders whereas in the primary vote it clearly went to Hillary Clinton. And so hopefully this will help us heal a little bit and have one tool for us to choose that presidential candidate that we can all get behind.
Seth: And is there a candidate, it’s a huge field, but are there candidates or is there one candidate that you see yourself aligning with or supporting?
Ashford: There are a number of candidates that I really like and that’s the difficulty right now. And my only concern is that with, I love that so many candidates are in the race, but by the same token the last time around the Democrats couldn’t really get it together between only two candidates, so how are we going to coalesce behind one. Have we learned that lesson well enough to be able to really support that one who ends up being the nominee? But I love hearing the ideas of the people. Of course, Vice President Biden is one of my favorite people. It’ll be interesting to see, and I think he should choose soon, sooner rather than later, for other reasons, because of his age, he needs to choose or at least indicate who he would choose as a vice presidential running mate because that’ll be a concern people have in their heads. I love Pete Buttigieg. I am intrigued by people like Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris. If I start to name them, I’m going to exclude someone. I don’t mean to exclude anybody and say that, gosh I’m not interested in them or impressed by them. But there are a number of candidates that I really enjoy watching.
Seth: I understand not wanting to list candidates, because if you list seven and forget the eighth people will say ‘Why didn’t you name them?’ But it does sound like the broad field that you’re in support of are the less stridently progressive, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and more the moderate wing of the party.
Ashford: Yeah. I’m a centrist. I’m a centrist so those people attract me more.
Seth: You spoke about, in the presidential election, maybe having some difficulties coalescing behind one candidate. Do you see that that could possibly be a challenge if you were to win the primary election in your district, that maybe some of those more further left voters would have a hard time getting behind you?
Ashford: Sure. Sure. I mean that’s always going to be a concern. Are they going to then stay home because they were frustrated that their candidate didn’t make it through? And I’m talking about the presidential level candidate. That’s always going to be a concern and it’s just going to take reaching out to them and re-emphasizing that message again and again and again. You’ve got to be able to win whether it is, a win for the ultimate Democratic candidate is a win for all of us. So, if you stay home, nursing your wounds, you’re going to reelect the Republican President or our current Representative. So, we need to get out there and do something.
Seth: When you think about the current Representative, Don Bacon, are there any specific issues that he’s taken a vote on or specific policies that he supports that you’re planning on, if you make it to the general election, really running against him on and highlighting?
Ashford: Yeah, yeah. His votes on health care, especially in his first term, are simply ridiculous. To gut and try and get rid of any protection that the ACA has given us without a reasonable alternative that makes it better for all of us. His vote against the Violence Against Women Act and somehow trying to justify that it might shut down shelters who are religious based. It just doesn’t make any sense. His vote for the tax plan, and I blame the entire party for this, and not taking into account the fact that there are unintended consequences. We always have to look towards those. And forgetting that the Gold Star families who Representative Bacon holds himself up as being their biggest supporter, well now their hurt in the payments that they receive and are taxed a higher level for those payments. The record setting deficit and debt that this tax plan brought into place. His seeming support of the president when he puts into place tariffs and things like that. Tariffs, we just had historic flooding in Nebraska, and Iowa and Missouri, but in Nebraska that is just awful and horrific and these farmers who were already under the gun because of the tariffs and low crop prices now, I don’t know how some of them are going to make it, the farmers and ranchers. And so, all of these things together it’s just not helping the district. He’s a nice man, but he’s just not doing anything to help this district.
Seth: I want to dig into just one of those. You said your priority is healthcare, one of your priorities is health care. It’s the first one you listed. What would you say the first three things or two things, the very first things that Democrats should do to improve health care coverage in the country? What would your priorities specifically with health care be?
Ashford: To improve coverage, I would make Medicare a public option. And so, on the marketplace, the same way you could choose among Aetna, United, Blue Cross, whoever it is, Medicare would be right there too and so you could choose that, whether you’re employed or getting it on your own. To improve cost issues, I would do two things with pharmaceutical companies. First of all, I always find it amusing to say give Medicare the ability to negotiate pricing with pharmaceutical companies the same way that they do with hospitals and physicians. Coming from that arena, they don’t negotiate with hospitals and physicians, they tell them what they’re going to get paid. And so, they need to do that with the pharmaceutical companies. You tell them what you’re going to get paid. And then, the private insurance companies, the commercial insurance companies, take their lead form Medicare. That’s how they base all of their practices and pricing. So, once we can get that done with Medicare, it would bleed naturally into the commercial market. The other thing with pharmaceutical companies, I would drastically limit the type of advertising they can do direct to consumers, whether it’s over the public airways or over the internet. So, there’s three kinds of advertising and I know I’m getting too much into the weeds for you, but the third kind of advertising is the only one that’s allowed in this country and New Zealand. We’re the only ones who allow it. And that’s where the pharmaceutical company is allowed to talk about a disease state and symptoms of a disease state and then talk about a specific medication to address that disease state. What other countries do, if they allow anything at all, they allow one of two things. You can either, as a pharmaceutical company, talk about a disease state and say, ‘If you have these symptoms, you might have this disease state and you should go see your physician for the appropriate treatment”. Or the other one is, you can name a class of drugs, say statins, and say, ‘Statins are out there’ but no specific brand name, “Statins are out there to address this kind of disease state. And you should see your doctor to see if you need a statin.” So, I would drastically eliminate that. I think if I remember right, the number is 6.7 billion, and I may be wrong in that, in 2017 was spent by pharmaceutical companies on that kind of advertising. It’s absolutely ridiculous. What it does, I’ve spent the last 10 years working with physicians. And so, what you have is patients coming into the office saying “Doc, I think I have restless leg syndrome and I need the medication to go with it” and naming the specific medication. So first of all, it forces the physician to have to give unnecessary tests in concentrating on, perhaps, ruling out restless leg syndrome, where they may have a condition but it’s not that. Secondly, let’s assume that they pass these tests and there is restless leg syndrome, then trying to convince the patient, again spending this time and effort convincing the patient that, perhaps medication isn’t the first course of treatment. Perhaps just diet and lifestyle changes or exercise and lifestyle changes. And let’s attack those first. Or, in the alternative, if it is a medication that’s necessary, it could be perhaps a generic or something that’s been on the market for a longer time instead of this medication that they spent billions of dollars to advertise. So, all of those things go into increasing our healthcare costs tremendously and we need to put some limits on them now. So those are the first three things I would do.
Seth: It sounds like you have a distinct plan and specific steps that you want to take and I’m always curious if the candidates who are maybe more progressive and have the idea of a single payer system would be willing to take these more incrementalist approaches or votes if they were to come up in the House of Representatives or if they would vote no because it’s not going all the way and it’s not far enough.
Ashford: I can’t answer for them. I would hope that they would vote for the incremental approach if that’s what came up and that’s what could be passed. I don’t see that the Medicare for All is something that’s feasible in today’s political world so, why are we going to waste time on it? My husband’s on Medicare, I also think that people don’t understand that there are still costs involved. So, he pays a monthly premium. He has deductibles and copays. We pay for a supplemental policy to make sure that more is covered. So, there’s a premium to do with that. He has to pay for a Part D for prescription drugs and so it’s not something where it’s just free. And I’m not an apologist for insurance companies by any means, but people always seem to think that the insurance companies are these big bad ugly beings because they have second opinions required or preauthorization. You know where they got those ideas? From Medicare. Medicare put them in place and then they said, ‘Oh gosh that’s something we can use in our commercial world too.’ And so that’s why they have those in place. So, it’s not as though Medicare is this lovely entity that just says “Anything you want anytime. We’re good”. It’s complicated and it’s hard and it should be out there for people who want to buy it as a public option, but it’s not yet at the place where people seem to think “Gosh, it means everything will be covered and I won’t have to come up with any extra money.”
Seth: Well the idea of lowering the overall cost of healthcare in the United States kind of goes hand in hand with the idea of cost sharing like is in place in Medicare right now. I mean if people know they’re going to be charged a little bit they might be more reluctant to go to the doctor or hesitant to go in for that checkup. So, do you think that that cost sharing is something that should be present in Medicare?
Ashford: So, there’s some cost sharing that makes sense and some that doesn’t. For instance, one of the things that the ACA did for us is it made sure that everybody has the opportunity to go and get preventative health care every single year with no extra cost to themselves. That needs to stay in place because we need people going to their physicians or health care providers to make sure that they are keeping up with their health care. And then there needs to be some kind of cost sharing in effect, but it often needs to be means based too. I worked with providers every single day, who they don’t ask the patient “can you pay?” when they come in the door. They take them and then there’s backroom people trying to figure out how they can get payment for those services afterwards. But the health care providers, as a rule, just take them period.
Seth: I know you are busy and you probably have something to go do. So, I have a few more questions. I’ll ask them all right now and you can go through them in whatever order you like. One question I always like to ask is, is there any issue that you don’t agree with that is in the Democratic Party’s orthodoxy, that you feel like you are, not out of step, but not in line directly with the Democratic Party? And then another question I have is if you have a planned date to have a platform or issues on your website. And the last question is if you have any questions of me before we stop talking and hang up.
Ashford: Okay. So as far as the national Democratic Party and any place where I feel uncomfortable being a Democrat. That’s how I took that. Not that I can think of. Not that I can think of. If there is one out there, I just haven’t encountered it yet. And for dates on the platform, we’re targeting the beginning of June for a formal kickoff and I plan on having position papers out around that same time. And then requests of you, I’d love to see what you’re writing before it’s published, not to make any changes because that’s absolutely within your purview to write however you wish, but I would be curious.
Seth: Well my goal is to give the least filtered version of the candidate so generally I transcribe the interview directly and I put that up. And your communications director, Luke, asked me if I could send the transcript your way so you could look it over before I post it and I’m happy to do that.
Ashford: Great, thanks! And the only other thing is: way at the beginning, when you asked me my primary issues, infrastructure was one that I had forgotten and added later.
Seth: Okay, I’ll make sure to get that in there. I really do appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Ashford: Absolutely, this is fun. It’s always good to think about the issues and have someone question you. So, it was very helpful to me.
Seth: Is this the first interview that you’ve done this cycle?
Ashford: It is not. I did a radio interview and then I’ve done a couple newspapers.
Seth: Okay well I searched around but sometimes it’s hard to find those things, so I’ll dig in a little bit more to try and find those. Okay, have a good day and I hope your husband is okay.
Ashford: Thank you. He will be.
Seth: Okay goodbye.
Ashford: Take care.