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Remembering Rep. Jim Hagedorn: A Good Guy Who Never Gave Up

Remembering Rep. Jim Hagedorn: A Good Guy Who Never Gave Up
The late Rep. Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn. (Tom Williams/AP)

John Gizzi By Friday, 18 February 2022 01:52 PM EST Current | Bio | Archive

"[Alaska's Republican Rep.] Don Young served with my father," two-term Rep. Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn., told Newsmax in 2019, referring to the 20-term dean of the House and his own father, Rep. Tom Hagedorn. "And Don served with [Wyoming Rep.] Liz Cheney's father. Come to think of it, Don served with the Founding Fathers!"

When Jim Hagedorn died Friday morning, he was remembered by colleagues and reporters who covered him as a congressman with a sense of history about the institution he so loved and in which he desperately wanted to serve, but one who didn't take its personalities (including himself) too seriously.

Having made it to Congress on his fourth try ("One more than Newt Gingrich!" he liked to say), Hagedorn was in a strong position to win a third term this year. But kidney cancer that had flared on and off for three years resurfaced, and this time, it didn't go away. Undaunted, he let supporters know he was running again and regularly texted about his condition.

"Pretty wrinkled" is what he texted Newsmax about his condition at the Mayo Clinic's Intensive Care Unit five days before his death.

The humor and good nature of James Lee Hagedorn was apparent to the end.

A stalwart supporter of the conservative Hagedorn was in Washington, D.C., and touring the House gallery when his congressman decided to have some fun. Spying leftist firebrand Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on the House floor, Hagedorn told her, "I want to give my pal a surprise."

The two polar opposites put their arms around one another and waved to the gallery as if they were running mates on the same ticket.

"But I could never get his attention," Hagedorn said. "He was too busy looking at the statues and portraits!"

When Hagedorn was playing touch football with his friends at his parents' home — just 17, at the time — he suddenly decided he wanted to be a congressman like his father. That is how the idea came to him, as he used to tell it.

His vision was cemented a few months later when his father arranged for him to meet one on one with his hero, President Ronald Reagan at the White House.

After working his way through George Mason University in Virginia, Hagedorn worked as legislative aide to Rep. Arlan Stangeland, R-Minn., and then at the U.S. Department of the Treasury as a congressional affairs officer at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving until 2009. 

Hagedorn settled in Minnesota's 1st District (Rochester), which included much of his father's old turf, and worked in a variety of private sector jobs. But his goal was Congress, and in 2010 he sought the Republican nomination.

During a rancorous district-wide convention, in which the elder Hagedorn seconded his son's nomination by vowing "Jim will fight Barack Obama's socialist agenda," the younger Hagedorn lost.

Four years later, he came back, was again beaten at the convention, but won the resulting primary over the convention-endorsed candidate, "something that almost never happens in Minnesota," as Hagedorn liked to remind Newsmax. In 2014 and 2016, he drew 45% and 49.6% respectively against then-Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.

When Walz relinquished his House seat to run for governor in 2018, Hagedorn was by then as well known as a sitting congressman. In finally seeing his dream of serving in Congress come true, the Republican hopeful edged out former Obama administration official and liberal Democrat Dan Feehan by less than 2,000 votes out of more than 290,000 cast.

"It was a classic clash between a liberal and a conservative," said the congressman-elect. "He favored abortion under any circumstances and I oppose it except to save the life of the mother, much like Ronald Reagan. He supports gun control, and I'm a member of the National Rifle Association. He supports expanding the Affordable Care Act to national health insurance, which will kill rural hospitals in our district. I for repealing and replacing the ACA."

In 2020, Hagedorn won a rematch with Feehan.

The American Conservative Union rated Hagedorn the most conservative member of Congress from the Gopher State (81%) and he made no bones about where he was coming from philosophically. 

As he was undergrowing treatment in November of last year, hours after voting against the $1.7 trillion reconciliation bill backed by President Biden, Hagedorn told Newsmax that "[House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi "was animated and pointing fingers, most likely demanding her growing number of vulnerable members 'walk the plank' one last time."

For the next two months, Hagedorn remained in the hospital and — as much as he hated the process — voted by proxy. As he explained it, "I would never do this, except some of the stuff Biden and Pelosi want might come down to one vote and it's not going to be me who lets it pass."

Jim Hagedorn died in his sleep at age 59. The words of then-Vice President Thomas R. Marshall about Theodore Roosevelt's passing in 1919 could easily be applied to the man from Minnesota: "Death had to take him sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Rep. Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn., died Friday morning, and colleagues and reporters who covered him as a congressman remember him with a sense of history about the institution he so loved and in which he desperately wanted to serve.
jim hagedorn, obituary, ronald reagan, minnesota, house, gop, republican
Friday, 18 February 2022 01:52 PM
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