LINCOLN — After 22 years as a registered Republican, State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha on Thursday said "so long" to the GOP.
"I am no longer a Republican," he said after switching his voter registration to political independent.
It is not the first time Ashford has changed allegiances. He was a registered Democrat when he first ran for the Legislature in 1986, with the help of the State Democratic Party and then-Gov. Bob Kerrey. He became a Republican in 1988 and left the Legislature to make a failed bid for the GOP nomination to Congress in 1994. He was elected once more to the Legislature in 2006, after term limits created an open seat.
Ashford said he is weary of partisan rancor and his moderate beliefs are out of step with the Republican Party as a whole. He said he believes he can be more effective as an independent in the officially nonpartisan Legislature. The change makes his position "crystal clear" to his colleagues and constituents.
"I joined the Republican Party in 1988 because I believed there was a future for centrist or moderate Republicans, but that's not where the party is today," Ashford said. "And I can't be there (with the party), I'm just not there. I want to be in a place where I can help solve problems and find solutions."
Ashford denied making the change in preparation for a U.S. Senate bid in the wake of Democrat Ben Nelson's decision not to seek re-election.
"Really, right now, I have no plans to run for anything," Ashford said. "I don't see myself running for any kind of partisan office, and I don't know if I will ever run for anything ever again."
Ashford won't be able to run again for the Legislature under Nebraska's two-term limit.
State GOP Chairman Mark Fahleson said Ashford has long been disengaged from Republican activities in the Legislature.
"We didn't lose Brad Ashford today, we lost him years ago," Fahleson said. "Philosophically, he's not been in line with a majority of issues on our platform, whether on taxes, spending or the Second Amendment (right to bear arms)."
It might have been more honest for Ashford to leave the party before he ran for re-election in 2010, Fahleson added.
Ashford, however, noted the parties do not nominate candidates to the Legislature and party affiliation is not listed on legislative ballots.
"I didn't run (for the Legislature) as a Republican, and I got support from Democrats and from Republicans," he said. "I think my obligation is to represent all of the constituents in my district and all of the state as best I can — not as it relates to any political party."
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