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Congressman Jim Hagedorn dies at age 59

U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn represented Minnesota's 1st District since 2019.

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U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn speaks during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the four-lane portion of U.S. Highway 14 between Dodge Center and Owatonna on Nov. 9, 2021, near Claremont.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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BLUE EARTH, Minn. — After a lengthy battle with kidney cancer , Congressman Jim Hagedorn has died at the age of 59.

Hagedorn’s wife, former GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan, said that Hagedorn died Thursday night.

"Jim loved our country and loved representing the people of southern Minnesota. Every moment of every day he lived his dream by serving others. There was no stronger conservative in our state than my husband; and it showed in how he voted, led and fought for our country.” Carnahan said in a Facebook post.

Hagedorn was in his second term representing Minnesota's 1st District.

Hagedorn was seen as a strong contender to win a third term, but his passing creates a wide open race. Until now, not a single Democrat had jumped into the race.

There could be a special election called by Gov. Tim Walz to fill his seat. If there is, according to statute, it could be held on the day of the primary.

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“You could not design a more wide open contest,” said Steven Schier, a political analyst.

Hagedorn fought tenaciously for a congressional seat, spending the better part of the last decade running for office.

He ran three previous times before winning the House seat in 2018. He ran in 2010 and dropped out after failing to get the Republican endorsement. In 2014, he defeated Aaron Miller in the GOP primary and went on to lose in the general election to then-Rep. Tim Walz. He lost again against Walz in 2016.

In 2018, he ran a neck-and-neck race against Democrat Dan Feehan and eked out a narrow victory. He won again in 2020.

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“I think he really represented ag and small business very well,” said Bill Kuisle, a former GOP state legislator. “He did spend a lot of time in the district. His tenacity to get elected was second to none.”

Hagedorn was a passionate conservative and ran unabashedly as a supporter of President Trump’s platform and policies. He served on ag committees, was a strong gun rights supporter and an acerbic critic of what he considered President Joe Biden’s loose border policies.

Hagedorn reached Congress at a time of heightened political polarization. His town hall meetings could be raucous affairs in which he was confronted by angry constituents. A police presence was provided at his first town hall meeting in Olmsted County after his first election.

Hagedorn was one of 147 Republicans who rose to object to the certification of votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania in the 2020 presidential election. He joined Republican efforts to overturn the election after a violent mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, halting for a time the certification process.

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At a recent town hall , Hagedorn was criticized by a woman for his decertifican vote, arguing that his position damaged democracy.

But Hagedorn defended the vote. He said there were not enough votes to overturn the election, but he wanted to register his concerns about the constitutionality of election law changes.

“I voted that way in order to make the point that I wrote in a statement that night,” Hagedorn said at a La Crescent meeting. “In the United States of America, we follow the Constitution.”

Condolences poured forth Friday morning from both sides of the aisle.

“Jim was a dear friend who wanted nothing more than to represent the people of Minnesota’s 1st District in Congress,” said Reps. Tom Emmer, Michelle Fischbach and Pete Stauber. “He did so every day with an unwavering passion and unshakeable joy that brightened the halls of Congress.”

In an unrelated call with reporters Friday morning, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith sent their condolences to Hagedorn’s family and said he was courageous in his battle with kidney cancer.

“I think we all know (about his battle with cancer) and he showed a level of determination that should inspire all of us,” Klobuchar said.

Born in 1962, Hagedorn was raised on a 160-acre grain and livestock farm outside of Truman, Minn., according to his official biography.

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Hagedorn’s father, Tom Hagedorn, was a congressman representing the 2nd Congressional District from 1975 to 1983, a fact that Hagedorn mentioned in all of his news releases.

During his dad’s tenure, Hagedorn’s family split its time between Washington and Minnesota, spending the school year in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. and returning each summer to the Truman farm.

Those years gave him an up-close perspective on national politics, and GOP leaders such as Ronald Reagon, Henry Hyde and Jack Kemp became his political heroes.

Hagedorn also served as a legislative aide to Rep. Arlan Stangeland. Hagedorn also worked in the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the congressional affairs office for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.

Up until the time of his passing, Hagedorn gave no hint that he was considering resigning or ending his political career. At the precinct caucuses held this month, he continued to ask constituents for their support and votes.

Hagedorn announced that his kidney cancer resurfaced in July 2021.

In January, Hagedorn was under observation at Mayo Clinic after he tested positive for COVID-19. He said he was vaccinated and had “very mild symptoms.” Due to his cancer treatment, he said his doctors asked that he stay and receive medical care for the virus at Mayo Clinic.

After the news of Hagedorn's passing became public on Friday, members of Minnesota's congressional delegation shared memories of the congressman. And they paid their respects to his family.

“Jim and I served in the U.S. House during a time of many great challenges for our nation and for our state – and all the while, he bravely endured the personal challenge of cancer treatment with dignity and grace while serving our country and his constituents," U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat representing the state's 4th Congressional District, said. "Despite our policy differences on many issues, Jim and I were united in the common goal of achieving greater opportunities for future generations of Minnesotans.

Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat representing Minnesota's 3rd Congressional District, echoed that sentiment, saying on Twitter, "We had different political views but a respectful friendship and a shared love for Minnesota and our country."


Statements from leaders:

Former President Donald Trump

"Congressman Jim Hagedorn was a strong and effective legislator for the great people of Southern Minnesota. I campaigned with Jim in 2018, and enjoyed working with him in Congress. May he rest in Peace, and his family find comfort during this difficult time. He will be greatly missed!"

Mayo Clinic President and CEO Gianrico Farrugia, M.D.

"Congressman Hagedorn was a good friend to Mayo Clinic and a strong voice for Minnesota. A proud native and lifelong champion of southern Minnesota, he knew our communities well and genuinely cared for those around him. We are grateful for his public service and send our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Jennifer, his family and friends. We know he will be deeply missed by many."

The American Legion Department of Minnesota

"Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family and friends of U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, who died Thursday at 59 after a long battle with kidney cancer.

Hagedorn was a strong supporter of veterans. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment for veterans went without much fanfare. He worked with the Mayo Clinic to get it to sign on with the VA Care in the Community Act. Many residents in the 1st District have no other options for health care than the Mayo’s system of hospitals and clinics, and Mayo participating reduces veteran drive times.

The congressman also was a cosponsor of the bipartisan TEAM Act, which created a pathway to benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins while serving. He was a cosponsor of the PAWS Act, pairing service dogs with veterans suffering from PTSD.

Hagedorn came to many American Legion posts and National Guard armories and had a reputation for being there, among the people of his district supporting the military and veteran communities.

Most recently, Hagedorn was pushing the Pentagon to protect the mission of the 133rd Airlift Wing and its C-130s. And he was working to help the Minnesota State University, Mankato, Aviation School become G.I. Bill-eligible.

Hagedorn was unable to attend the Caleb Erickson Memorial Run because he was battling cancer, but he made sure to send staff to the event and show his support for the fundraising motorcycle ride. Erickson died for his country in Afghanistan in 2014.

We salute Hagedorn for his years of support. He will be missed."

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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