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Minnesota congressman dies at 59 after battle with cancer

Jim Hagedorn, a Republican from the state's southernmost district, was fighting cancer and recently contracted Covid-19.

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — U.S. Representative Jim Hagedorn, a second-term Republican from southern Minnesota, died Thursday night after a battle with kidney cancer and a recent Covid-19 diagnosis. He was 59.

Hagedorn’s wife, former state GOP chair Jennifer Carnahan, announced Hagedorn’s death in a Friday morning Facebook post. Hagedorn won his seat in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District in 2018 after now-Governor Tim Walz left the seat for his gubernatorial run. 

“It is with a broken heart, shattered spirit and overwhelming sadness I share my husband Congressman Jim Hagedorn passed away peacefully last night,” Carnahan wrote. “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.” 

The son of former congressman Tom Hagedorn, who represented the state’s 2nd District from 1975 to 1983, Hagedorn was a lifelong conservative and a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, to the point of voting to overturn Joe Biden’s election to the presidency after Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Hagedorn, 59, struggled with his health throughout his congressional term. He was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer early in his term, but said in March 2021 that his doctor had detected no cancer following a December 2020 surgery. In July, however, Hagedorn announced that his cancer had returned, and last month his office announced that he had tested positive for Covid-19. It’s unclear whether either condition caused his death. 

Health issues aside, Hagedorn was planning on running for a third term in 2022. In his 2020 campaign, he touted his work advocating for trade agreements with Canada and Mexico and for Paycheck Protection Program loans used to bolster the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Hagedorn was assigned to the congressional committees on agriculture and small business, including subcommittees for livestock and foreign agriculture; nutrition, oversight and department operations; rural development, agriculture, trade and entrepreneurship; and contracting and workforce. 

“I’m saddened to hear of the passing of Congressman Jim Hagedorn last night,” David Hann, Carnahan’s successor as chair of the Minnesota Republican Party, said in a statement. “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.” 

Democratic Farmer Labor Party Chair Ken Martin expressed similar sentiments in his own statement.

“I was saddened to learn of the passing of Congressman Jim Hagedorn yesterday evening,” he said. “I’m sending my deepest condolences to Jim’s family, friends, and loved ones, particularly his wife, Jennifer Carnahan. I hope Jim’s memory brings them joy and peace during this difficult time.”

Hagedorn’s perennial opponent Dan Feehan, who ran against him in 2018 and 2020, also expressed condolences on Twitter. “May you find grace and comfort in his memory,” he wrote to Carnahan and the couple’s extended family. 

Hagedorn’s death leaves a vacancy that, per Minnesota law, will likely trigger a special election. Only one candidate, 24-year-old independent Logan Wajer of Worthington, had announced plans to run against Hagedorn in November. It’s unclear whether Wajer has any campaign infrastructure or plans to run in the special election. 

The district is likely to be competitive if and when Minnesota’s major parties begin campaigning for it. Hagedorn underperformed the GOP ticket in the district in 2020, beating Feehan by just over 3 percentage points. Trump won the district by 10 percentage points. It’s also still unclear how a redistricting plan issued by the Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday will impact the district’s competitiveness. 

Hagedorn’s two terms and five congressional campaigns were not without controversy. He was heavily criticized in campaigns for office in 2012, 2014 and 2016 for posts on his blog Mr. Conservative in which he referred to Democratic U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell as “undeserving bimbos in tennis shoes” and frequently targeted Native Americans. 

Carnahan was also ousted from her position as state GOP chair in 2021 after a major party and Hagedorn donor and close acquaintance, Anton Lazarro, was arrested on federal sex trafficking charges. Lazarro, 31, is accused of paying underaged girls and giving them lavish gifts and controlled substances in exchange for sex. He remains in custody in the Sherburne County Jail. Carnahan stepped down despite denying knowledge of Lazarro’s alleged conduct, and has publicly contemplated, but not announced, a 2022 gubernatorial run.

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