Democrats Eastman and Ashford Running To Regain 2nd District

(Photos courtesy Kara Eastman for Congress and Brad Ashford for Congress)
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April 11, 2018 - 9:45am

Republican Don Bacon flipped the 2nd District when he won the vote in 2016. Non-profit leader, Kara Eastman, and a longtime lawmaker, Brad Ashford, are competing in a democratic primary for the chance to regain the seat representing the Omaha area.


Ashford represented the 2nd District in Congress for one term before losing re-election to Bacon. This year he’s running again. Before running for Congress Ashford spent four terms in the Nebraska Unicameral. That’s where he says he gained an appreciation for bipartisan deal-making.

“We’re in a unique time in our history where I think we need people who have experience working across the aisle and trying to find solutions,” Ashford said. “That's what I've been taught to do. That's what I have done. If we’re ever going to get anywhere we’re going to have to break the toxic impasse.”

Ashford has been endorsed by the Nebraska AFL-CIO and the state teachers union. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put him on a list of candidates with the best chance to unseat a Republican.

Ashford says if he is able to return to Congress he would aim to counter the agenda of the Trump administration, especially when it comes to issues like health care and the economy.

“I think that the only way you are an effective check against the president is by finding bipartisan solutions,” Ashford said. “I think we've gotten into a place, I call it the ping-pong effect of executive orders.”

Ashford says since Congress is unable to reach compromise on big issues like immigration, presidents issue executive orders that force Congress to respond.

“And it's not healthy. It's not good for the way we're supposed to act under our constitution,” he said.

Kara Eastman is making her first run to represent the 2nd District.

Eastman is a social worker and president of the non-profit Omaha Healthy Kids Alliance which works on environmental health issues like lead contamination. Eastman was elected to the Metro Community College board of governors in 2014, her first elected office. At that time she wasn’t thinking of taking aim for Congress.

“And then we learned something in 2016, which is that it does seem like we want political outsiders, people who don’t necessarily fit the mold of what we think of as a politician,” Eastman said.

Eastman may not have experience as a legislator, but she has been endorsed by democratic state senators Justin Wayne and Tony Vargas as well as Omaha city councilman Ben Gray. In her non-profit work she says she has helped create policy such as a law requiring carbon monoxide detectors in Nebraska homes.

“I've pushed the EPA to spend money in a wiser, more effective way,” Eastman said. “I've challenged (the Metropolitan Utilities District) on the safety of our water when the Flint crisis broke and went to them and said, ‘I don't trust you anymore. I want to test the water too, to make sure that we don't have lead in our water.’ So far, we don't, which is great.”

Eastman says she may not fit the mold of a traditional candidate, but she says 2018 is not a traditional political moment.

“We need people who are going to stand up to the current administration and say, if this is what we've got, we've got to figure out a way to deal with it, but deal with it in a way that makes sense so that we're not jeopardizing the country any more than we already have.”

One issue both Eastman and Ashford say should be addressed by Congress is gun control. In the wake of the Parkland, Florida school shooting, student protests were held across the country including Nebraska.

Republican Congressman Don Bacon has said he supports stronger background checks. He backed legislation to increase school security. But he does not support banning assault weapons like AR-15s.

Brad Ashford has not always pushed for a federal ban on assault weapons because he says he felt it wasn’t realistic to think Congress would pass it. Now he says it is and that he would vote for a ban. But he would also put effort into building coalitions around other measures.

“Let’s say we go back to Congress and there just aren’t enough votes for an assault weapon ban, but there are enough votes to limit the size of a magazine or we have universal background checks generally, so you can't buy any kind of weapon without a federal background check. I think we're close on those issues,” Ashford said.

Eastman says lawmakers need to push harder for new gun control reforms that have public support. She points toward poll results that show background checks for all gun sales have broad backing among Republicans and Democrats.

“Why haven't we gone ahead with that?” Eastman said. “Mandatory waiting periods are a great idea. Banning assault weapons. We don't need weapons of war in the hands of people in our country to go around shooting each other.”

Eastman says her 16-year-old daughter helped organize a March for Our Lives rally in Omaha.

“They didn't let any adults speak, which I thought was great because actually those kids said things way better than any adult would have,” Eastman said. “The problem is that our students are being braver right now than our policy makers when it comes to this issue.”

The winner of the primary on May 15th will go up against incumbent Republican Don Bacon in November’s general election.

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