Minnesota U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn dies at age 59

A man speaks behind a podium.
U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn talks about his stance on COVID-19 and the economy during a debate in 2020, in North Mankato, Minn. Hagedorn has died at age 59. His wife, former state Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan, said Hagedorn died Thursday night. He had been battling kidney cancer for the past three years.
Gage Cureton for MPR News 2020

Updated: 4:25 p.m.

Minnesota U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn has died.

His wife, former state Republican Party chair Jennifer Carnahan, said Friday morning that Hagedorn died peacefully Thursday night. Hagedorn was 59 years old and had been battling kidney cancer for the past three years.

In a post on Facebook, Carnahan wrote she was sharing the news with, quote, "broken heart, shattered spirit and overwhelming sadness."

"Jim loved our country and loved representing the people of southern Minnesota," she wrote. "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."

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Hagedorn was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2019 and announced last summer it had returned. In early January he disclosed he had tested positive for COVID-19, and said he would be treated by the Mayo Clinic because of his cancer.

Hagedorn was first elected to the 1st District seat, representing southern Minnesota, in 2018, and reelected in 2020.

Before being elected to Congress, Hagedorn — whose father, Tom Hagedorn, once represented some of the same territory in Congress — formerly worked as an aide to GOP Rep. Arlan Stangeland and in congressional liaison positions at the Treasury Department.

"He said, ‘dad, there are some people who want a splash in the media and have a lot of attention.’ He said, ‘I just want to focus on doing the best I can to serve the constituents I'm honored to represent,’” Tom Hagedorn said Friday of his son’s desire to serve in Congress. “And he always did call it an honor."

Jim Hagedorn was a solid Republican vote in Congress and a strong supporter of 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,” Trump said in a statement Friday. “May he rest in peace, and his family find comfort during this difficult time. He will be greatly missed!”

Hagedorn told MPR News after the 2018 election that one of the reasons he won is because voters liked his strong support of Trump. Hagedorn said voters chose his hard-right stance over the left-leaning positions of Democratic opponent Dan Feehan.

"I think down in a conservative-oriented district like here in southern Minnesota that clear choice maybe proved the difference," said Hagedorn.

His 2018 victory over Feehan was narrow — less than one-half a percentage point out of nearly 300,000 ballots cast. It came after unsuccessful runs for the seat starting in 2010.

A man speaks behind a podium.
U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn talks about his stance on health care during a televised debate with Dan Feehan, Democratic candidate for Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, in September 2020 in North Mankato, Minn.
Gage Cureton for MPR News file

In a 2020 rematch he widened his margin of victory over Feehan. And despite his health issues he had indicated he intended to run for reelection. He was actively raising money for another run in 2022.

During his 2020 campaign, he said his first term was a success for the 1st District.

“During this two-year term, I’ve done everything I can to work with Republicans and Democrats alike to deliver for this district,” he said.

In office, he voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s election, just hours after the failed Capitol insurrection, and he signed on earlier with other House Republicans to a last-gasp bid to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Biden’s victory.

Hagedorn also faced ethics issues. The House Ethics Committee was investigating campaign spending and his use of campaign headquarters. Hagedorn denied any knowledge of the issues and any wrongdoing.

He also had accepted $21,000 in campaign contributions from Republican donor Tony Lazzaro, who faces federal sex trafficking charges. Hagedorn said he would give the money his campaign received from Lazzaro to charities and that, "no one should be a victim of sex trafficking. Every citizen has the right to present a defense in court to refute charges. But should these serious allegations lead to conviction, we expect the imposition of the strictest punishments under our judicial system." 

Hagedorn’s death will prompt a special election to fill the 1st District seat for the remainder of this term. But the mechanics are complicated, in effect involving two campaigns at once. One will fill the final months of Hagedorn’s term. By law, that election will be scheduled for Aug. 9, the day of the normal primary. Candidates for that race will be settled by late May.

The process for that special election could begin as soon as March 1. Gov. Tim Walz plans to order a special election early next week to fill the 1st district seat. Secretary of State Steve Simon said he expects a two-week window for candidates to file that must conclude by March 15.

But there will also be an election for the next two-year term representing southern Minnesota. That election falls in November, with a possible primary also in August. One more complicating factor: The races will be run on different political maps. The special election appears as if it will occur based on existing congressional boundaries. The race for the two-year term will happen on recently redrawn maps.

Jim Hagedorn (center) talks with friends and supporters in Mankato.
Jim Hagedorn (center) talks with friends and supporters at the Mankato Event Center as election results are reported in November 2018.
Jackson Forderer | Mankato Free Press file

Colleagues from both sides of the aisle responded to the news of Jim Hagedorn's passing.

Fellow Minnesota Republican Reps. Tom Emmer, Pete Stauber and Michelle Fischbach issued a statement saying, "Jim was a dear friend who wanted nothing more than to represent the people of Minnesota’s First District in Congress. He did so every day with an unwavering passion and unshakable joy that brightened the halls of Congress and brought the best of Blue Earth to Washington. Our thoughts are with Jim’s family during this time and we will continue to pray for them. We will miss Jim dearly."

“I'm saddened to hear of the passing of Congressman Jim Hagedorn last night. Our hearts go out to his wife Jennifer and all his loved ones in this difficult time,” Republican Party of Minnesota Chairman David Hann said in a statement Friday morning. “Jim lived a legacy of service to our state and our country. Please join us in praying for Jim and his loved ones in this time of sorrow.”

During a press call on another issue, DFL Sen. Amy Klobuchar expressed sadness on behalf of herself and DFL Sen. Tina Smith. "I think we all know that his battle against cancer went on and on,” Klobuchar said. “And he showed a level of determination that should inspire all of us. My condolences to his family, and as Tina and I know, he was a fighter for his constituents in southern Minnesota."

“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," DFL Rep. Betty McCollum said in a statement, offering condolences to Hagedorn's family. "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.”

"Today, I join my colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee and full House of Representatives in mourning the devastating loss of Rep. Jim Hagedorn,” said House Agriculture Committee ranking member Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa.  "Jim was a tireless advocate on behalf of our nation's farmers, ranchers, producers, and foresters, and he never wavered in his commitment to serving the great people of Minnesota’s First District.”

“Congressman Hagedorn was a fighter, not only with his battle with cancer but one for the many mom and pop businesses of Minnesota,” said House Small Business Committee ranking member Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-MO. “Jim championed legislation to improve resources for small businesses, advocated for rural entrepreneurs, and upheld constitutional values. His work in Congress will continue to uplift small businesses and rural communities for years to come. We are thankful for his many years of public service to our country. He was a great friend to all and will be greatly missed.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.