Democrat Ann Ashford is among applicants to fill vacancy in U.S. Senate

Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican, considered front-runner for post being vacated by Ben Sasse

By: - December 12, 2022 5:45 am

Gov. Elect Jim Pillen will decide who fills the vacancy left by the resignation of Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., in January. (Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Ann Ashford, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020, is among the applicants for the U.S. Senate seat soon to be vacated by U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.

Ashford, a Democrat and the widow of former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford of Omaha, said she would put “constituents over party (affiliation) every time,” if appointed to the job by Gov.-elect Jim Pillen, a Republican.

She said Friday that she hoped Pillen would be “broad-minded enough to consider my qualifications over my party affiliation.”

Ricketts seen as front-runner

Gov. Pete Ricketts, a GOP political ally and supporter of Pillen’s, is widely seen as the solid front-runner for the appointment.

Nebraska Gov.-elect Jim Pillen was endorsed and financially backed by current Gov. Pete Ricketts, who has now asked Pillen to appoint him to a soon-vacant U.S. Senate seat. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Ricketts, 58, said last Tuesday that he would apply for the post being vacated by Sasse, who is resigning to become president of the University of Florida.

Since then, the Examiner has learned of three other applicants, in addition to Ricketts and Ashford, who are vying for the job:

  • Retired Lt. Col. John Weaver of Omaha, who was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for U.S. Congress this year.
  • Melanie Standiford, the former news director of a North Platte television station. Standiford was fired in October, according to Nebraska Public Media, for seeking signatures for an anti-abortion ballot initiative, in violation of station policy that prohibits political involvement.
  • Larry Bolinger of Alliance. Bolinger has run unsuccessfully in the past for Alliance City Council and the Nebraska Legislature. He lost primary bids for the 3rd Congressional District as a Republican in 2018 and 2020. This year he ran for attorney general as a member of the Legal Marijuana Now Party.

Not revealing who applied

A spokesman for Pillen said Friday he was not revealing how many applications have been received or who has applied.

Pillen, who takes office Jan. 5, has said he wants to fill the vacancy quickly. He set a Dec. 23 deadline for applications.

Ricketts has rejected suggestions that his appointment is a done deal because he endorsed Pillen and contributed more than $1.3 million to his successful primary campaign over two competitive GOP rivals.

The governor, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 2006, said that he wasn’t aware there would be an opening until October and that he supported Pillen because they were long-time friends and share political views.

Past governors have served in Senate

There’s some history in Nebraska of a governor eventually serving in Washington. Past Govs. James Exon, Bob Kerrey, Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns were all elected to the U.S. Senate. None was appointed.

Ann Ashford (Courtesy photograph)

Ashford, who ran for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents in 2012, said the U.S. Senate post is “not the executive branch.”

She said that she has experience working out divergent viewpoints with others through her work career and by watching her late husband operate.

Consensus necessary

“The Senate is a deliberative body and members should be willing to work with one another to achieve the consensus necessary to move the country forward….” Ashford said in a text message Friday.

It should be noted that the Examiner, in June, published a submitted commentary by Ashford about preventing gun violence. Her husband, who died in April, has also submitted several essays that were posted by the Examiner.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.