CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: ANN ASHFORD

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 condensed and edited to remove unnecessary words, phrases and questions for clarity. If you want the full, messy, extended version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews –> Extended Interviews.


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. How is the campaign is going?
Ashford: The campaign is going fine. We announced early only because my primary primary opponent announced in December that she was going to run again. 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.

Seth: Have you made any pledges to not accept money from corporate PACs or any boundaries to where you will or will not accept money? 
Ashford: I have not made any pledges. I don’t see any reason why I would not accept money from a corporate PAC. 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: You’ve been a member of campaigns and elections in the past: 2014, ’16 and ’18. What things have you learned about being a candidate?
Ashford: I think the number one thing is that you get out and meet as many voters as possible. It takes that personal touch. 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.

Seth: Are you seeing that voters are receptive to hearing from candidates or are they wanting a break from all the campaigning?
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. But as far as hearing about your positions or wanting a chance to meet you, they’re very open to that. 

Seth: What is your short pitch about your priorities and why you think you’re the best candidate?
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. When 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. 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. 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: What are your other primary focuses other than health care?
Ashford: Number two is probably education and affordability for our students and trying to deal with how we are educating people for the new economy. 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? One of my top issues is infrastructure. 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.

Seth: The new freshmen class that was elected to Congress in 2018 seems like it has two wings, the more progressive wing of the party with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar and then the more moderate members of the party like Abigail Spanberger and Ben McAdams. Do you align more closely with either of those two coalitions?
Ashford: Yes, absolutely. My [first] goal is to get elected to Congress, my second goal is to join the New Democratic Coalition. They are that bipartisan-thinking group. They’re pragmatic. They’re business oriented. They’re a little bit more fiscally conservative. And if you look, their membership went from, I think before 2018 it was somewhere in the low 40s to well above 100. Most of the members went there because they see that across the country, that’s where people are. People are more moderate. 

Seth: 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 get all the media attention. 
Ashford: And it’s a little frustrating. 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. The things that make the news are those that are yelling about.

Seth: Where do you fall ideologically within the party?
Ashford: 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: You said in a tweet about the Green New Deal that “We need action not an unrelated wish list. A complete overhaul of our economic and healthcare system.” So, you’re not on board with 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. 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 running to the left 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 Nebraska Second relative to the National Popular Vote for the House it was a pretty heavy swing away from the Democrat [relative to previous years]. 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. 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: 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 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?
Ashford: I’ve talked to hundreds of people so far and they’ve been very receptive to that. They’re asking for a candidate that can be more pragmatic, more centrist and that can actually win in the district.

Seth: You changed your party registration from Republican to Democrat in 2016. Can you explain your reasoning and thought process behind that?
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 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. Now part of the criticism my primary primary challenger will level at me is that I’m a relatively new Democrat. 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. 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: Are there any core tenants of the Democratic Party that should prohibit somebody from being a member of the party if they don’t pass that litmus test? 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 people who grew up in the Irish Catholic tradition who are pro-life, who are staunch Democrats. We shouldn’t say, “No you can’t be a Democrat.”

Seth: Without those litmus tests, what brings Democrats together?
Ashford: 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: I’m curious where you stand on the idea of more structural changes to the way that our government works: getting rid of the Electoral College, adding Supreme Court seats, statehood for Puerto Rico and D.C. We can go through those one by one if you have ideas about them all. 
Ashford: Sure. 

Seth: The Electoral College?
Ashford: The number one challenge to getting rid of it that I hear that it will hurt rural states with a much lesser population. 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. 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. 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: Statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.?
Ashford: If I were going to vote on it, I would vote yes. 

Seth: Adding seats to the Supreme Court?
Ashford: I have to tell you I haven’t really thought 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. 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.

Seth: The Mueller Report came out recently. 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: 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 impeachment distracting people from getting their jobs done, because that has to happen contemporaneously with addressing immigration, with addressing healthcare, with addressing infrastructure. That’s where the primary focus needs to be while in the background these further investigations need to be going on to ensure that we have a president that should be legally allowed to be kept in office.  

Seth: Is a representative’s job to represent the views of your constituents even if they go against what you personally believe? Or do voters send you to Washington to make decisions based on your personal ideology?
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. 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 an issue in the district so far and it’s a brand-new issue. Because you can’t poll everything.

Seth: Is there a presidential candidate or candidates that you support?
Ashford: There are a number of candidates that I really like and that’s the difficulty right now. 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? Vice President Biden is one of my favorite people. 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.”

Seth: It sounds like you support the more moderate wing of the party.  
Ashford: Yeah. I’m a centrist so those people attract me more. 

Seth: Are there any specific issues related to the current representative, Don Bacon, that you plan on highlighting if you make it to the general election?
Ashford: 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 not taking into account the fact that there are unintended consequences. 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. We just had historic flooding in Nebraska and Iowa and Missouri that is just awful and horrific. These farmers who were already under the gun because of the tariffs and low crop prices, I don’t know how some of them are going to make it. He’s a nice man, but he’s just not doing anything to help this district. 

Seth: What are the first three things or two things Democrats should do to improve health care coverage in the country?
Ashford: To improve coverage, I would make Medicare a public option. On the marketplace, Medicare would be right there 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. They don’t negotiate with hospitals and physicians, they tell them what they’re going to get paid. They need to do that with the pharmaceutical companies. You tell them what you’re going to get paid. The private 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. There’re three kinds of advertising. The third kind is the only allowed in this country and New Zealand. 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. I would drastically eliminate that. I think if I remember right, the number is 6.7 billion in 2017 was spent by pharmaceutical companies on that kind of advertising. It’s absolutely ridiculous. 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. It forces the physician to have to give unnecessary tests. Second, let’s assume there is restless leg syndrome, then trying to convince the patient perhaps medication isn’t the first course of treatment. Or, 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. 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. He has to pay for a Part D for prescription drugs. It’s not 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. 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: The idea of lowering the overall cost of healthcare goes hand in hand with the idea of cost sharing like is in place in Medicare right now. Do you think that there should be that cost sharing in Medicare?
Ashford: There’s some cost sharing that makes sense and some that doesn’t. For instance, the ACA 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, but it often needs to be means based too. I worked with providers every single day who 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.

Seth: I know you are busy and you probably have something to go do. So, I have a few more questions. Is there any issue on which you don’t agree with that is in the Democratic Party’s
Ashford: Not that I can think of. If there is one out there, I just haven’t encountered it yet.

Seth: Do you have a planned date to have a platform or issues on your website?
Ashford: 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.

Seth: 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: Okay goodbye. 
Ashford: Take care.