Ely’s “second Congressman” passes

Brad Ashford served in U.S. House, had summer home on Burntside

by Tom Coombe
Brad Ashford represented Omaha, Neb., in the U.S. House of Representatives, but that didn’t stop him from being dubbed “Ely’s Second Congressman.”
Ashford, a longtime property owner on Burntside Lake and part-time Ely area summer resident, passed away Monday age 72.
His death, announced by family members Monday in Omaha, came only a few months after he was diagnosed with brain cancer.
And while Nebraska was his home, Ashford maintained a presence in Ely, where his family has owned property on Burntside for nearly a century.
During his two years in the U.S. House, he bonded with former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D), who represented Ely and Minnesota’s Eighth District at the time.
Nolan spent time with Ashford on Burntside, including an overnight stay.
Wednesday, Nolan remembered Ashford fondly.
“We developed a good friendship and he was just a wonderfully nice man,” said Nolan.
Ashford was a Democrat during his tenure in Congress although he switched party affiliations more than once during a long tenure in politics.
He and Nolan talked frequently about issues related to northeastern Minnesota, and Ashford visited with Ely Echo representatives several times to hone up on local topics.
“He looked out for the area too,” said Nolan. “Whenever there was anything affecting northeastern Minnesota he’d say ‘what do you think, Rick?’”
Nolan said Ashford’s link with both major parties “reflected in kind of the balance he brought to the job, something people wish to see more of quite frankly... Today you almost have to have a party label but it doesn’t mean you can’t be independent minded. When everybody does that, it all comes together for the betterment of everyone.”
Ashford grew up in Omaha and was a graduate of Creighton Law School and owned a clothing business in his home town.
He had two stints in the Omaha legislature, nearly a decade apart, and narrowly won a seat in Congress in 2014.
That’s where he served aside Nolan, and he maintained his connection to Ely, visiting during the summer and joining journalists from 10 nations in a 2015 public forum hosted by the Ely Echo.
Ashford lost a re-election bid in 2016 by less than 4,000 votes and suffered another narrow loss in a Democratic primary two years later.
The man who defeated Ashford and now holds his Congressional seat, U.S. Rep. Don Bacon called him “a pillar of Omaha” earlier this week.
Ashford remained involved in politics after his defeat and his wife Ann lost her own Congressional bid in 2020.
In February, Ashford announced that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer and well wishes poured in from around the country, including from former President Barack Obama.
Nolan said he had been in occasional contact with Ashford, and called him “a dear friend and an exceptional Congressman.”
Ashford is survived by his wife and three children. Funeral services were set for this weekend in Omaha.