Ashford defends bipartisan efforts in race for second district

(File photo by Grant Gerlock/NET News)
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October 21, 2016 - 6:45am

In Nebraska’s second Congressional district, incumbent Democrat Brad Ashford is defending his seat for the first time. His main challenger, Republican Don Bacon, is hoping his resume as a military leader will appeal to voters and flip the seat.


On a Friday afternoon, Rep. Brad Ashford sits in a conference room with Omaha area labor leaders to discuss jobs and trade policies like the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership, or TPP. Many Democrats now oppose the trade deal, including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, but Ashford supports it. He says tariff reductions would help Nebraska exports in agriculture and manufacturing.

“I think workers will be benefited by TPP, which is much better than NAFTA,” Ashford said after the meeting. “It has labor rules, environmental rules, things that should have been in NAFTA and weren’t.”

When Ashford was elected to the House, it was the first time the Omaha area had sent a Democrat to represent the 2nd Congressional District in over 20 years. But he says he has tried to find a way to work that doesn’t necessarily follow the party line.

“I have very close Republican friends,” Ashford said. “I can’t even conceive of working against David Young over in Iowa. Why would I do that? We’ve got the Sarah Root Bill.” The Sarah Root bill is named for an Iowa woman killed in Omaha by a drunk driver who was in the country illegally. It would require federal immigration authorities to detain undocumented individuals charged with crimes related to a death or serious injury.

“Why would I work against Jeff Fortenberry when we’ve got the runway at Offutt,” Ashford said. Earlier this year, Nebraska lawmakers were able to secure a long-needed $55 million project to upgrade the runway at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska.

Ashford says those are two examples of how he’s tried to focus on his district, and not his party.

Now he faces reelection against Libertarian Steven Laird, running on financial reform and reducing the national debt, and Republican Don Bacon.

Bacon looks at Ashford’s record differently. During a debate this week hosted by KETV and the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Bacon argued Ashford could be a swing vote for House Democrats just as Nebraska Democrats have been a swing vote in the Senate.

Rep. Brad Ashford was the first Democrat in 20 years to be elected by the 2nd District. (Photo courtesy of the Ashford campaign)

“We’ve had a Senator, Ben Nelson. We talk about bipartisanship, but he was the tie-breaking vote for Obamacare,” Bacon told the crowd at the Omaha Community Playhouse. “When one vote counts, and we’ve seen it happen, Brad is going to line up with Nancy Pelosi.”

Ashford pointed out he voted against Pelosi, the Democratic Minority Leader, when he voted against the Iran nuclear deal and also when he voted against closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, although he has supported some detainee transfers.

“You know, I voted with President Obama less than 50 percent of the time,” Ashford said. “You’re not running against Nancy Pelosi, you’re running against me. I can buck the party. I have bucked the party. I will continue to buck the party.”

Don Bacon is a retired Air Force general running for office for the first time. In his nearly 30-year military career, he was the commander at Offutt in Bellevue. He also served in the Iraq War under General David Petraeus. Bacon says he would put those credentials to work in Congress.

“I understand the Middle East better than probably 99 percent of the people in Congress right now,” Bacon said.

But Bacon says his priority, if he were elected, would be on domestic, not foreign policy. He advocates for tax reform and cutting the deficit and debt. He calls for rolling back regulations he says stifle small business growth, starting with repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Bacon supports ideas like opening insurance competition across state lines, and limiting frivolous malpractice lawsuits.

Republican candidate Don Bacon served nearly 30 years in the Air Force. (Photo courtesy of the Bacon campaign)

“We can do these measures, get it out of D.C.’s one-size-fits-all approach,” Bacon said. “And still in Nebraska can ensure we have preexisting coverage. Pools that would help provide coverage for those who have had cancer or diabetes.”

Brad Ashford supports Obamacare but also wants reforms, like getting rid of the coverage mandate for small businesses.

Bacon and Ashford also take different positions on immigration reform. Each says he would start by tightening border security, but they disagree on how to approach the 11 million estimated undocumented immigrants in the United States. Bacon stops short of citizenship.

“There’s people here who’ve served in the military. There’s folks that are being good neighbors, they’re working hard,” Bacon said. “Let’s find a pathway to legalization, not citizenship. And why do I say that? It’s not fair to the millions that have come here legally and waited years to do it right. We have people who have waited 10 years to do it right.”

Ashford says he supports citizenship for people who have families in the U.S., pay taxes, and haven’t broken other laws.

“We’re educating these young people. They’re here,” Ashford said. “We’re not going to send 11 million people back. It is cynical, at best, to deny those families the opportunity - not the right - but the opportunity to become citizens.”

With time running out before Election Day, November 8th, the campaigns say they’re turning from getting out their message to getting out the vote.

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