Standard political labels didn’t easily define Ashford, a progressive moderate who could drift to the left or right on certain issues, though like most Americans he could best be described as a centrist. Finding consensus or common ground became his modus operandi in and out of office.
A life in politics invariably nets allies and adversaries, victories and defeats. In a long career, politico Brad Ashford switched parties multiple times, won election to the Nebraska Legislature and U.S. House of Representatives, lost bids for reelection and election to other offices, and made controversial endorsements. Upon his death, however, a political scorecard wasn’t remembered as much as a legacy of unselfish public service admired by colleagues from all sides of the aisle.
The Omaha native was born into a family of business and civic leaders. His father, Don Ashford, earned a Distinguished Flying Cross as a bomber pilot during World War II. His maternal grandfather, Otto Swanson, owned the Nebraska Clothing Company. In response to bias against minorities, Swanson helped form the Midlands chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now called Inclusive Communities). After graduating from Westside High School in Omaha, Brad Ashford earned his undergraduate degree at Colgate University and law degree at Creighton University. He interned for then-Sen. Roman Hruska of Nebraska. Ashford lawyered for the Federal Highway Administration before opening a private practice. The family clothing company remained part of his interests even after he entered political life in the 1980s, eventually becoming co-owner in the 1990s.
He served two stints in the Nebraska Unicameral. He represented the 6th District from 1987 to 1995 and the 20th District from 2007 to 2015. His lone term in Congress came from 2015 to 2017, representing the 2nd Congressional District.
His noted gift for collaboration and earnest search for solutions was recalled by Republicans, Democrats and Independents across government, business, human services and other arenas. Survivors include his wife, Ann Ferlic Ashford, and three children.