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Longtime Ag Committee Member Boswell’s Funeral Services Set

Iowa livestock farmer who served 16 years in the House suffered complications from a rare form of cancer

Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, talks with fairgoers at the Iowa Pork Producers Association pavilion at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2011. (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, talks with fairgoers at the Iowa Pork Producers Association pavilion at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2011. (Tom Williams/Roll Call file photo)

Funeral services for Leonard Boswell, a livestock farmer and Vietnam veteran who served for 16 years in the House, will be held Saturday in his native Iowa, according to local media reports. 

Boswell died August 17 at a Des Moines hospital after suffering complications from a rare form of cancer, according to media reports. He was 84. 

Boswell held the respect of his colleagues for his calm demeanor and life experience. He represented a swing district and survived several rounds of tough challenges, but ultimately retired in 2013 after he was defeated by Tom Latham, a Republican. 

Boswell came to Washington with a reputation built in the Iowa General Assembly for seeking bipartisan solutions, and during his first few terms in Congress he was considered a moderate-to-conservative Democrat. A Republican majority and his loyalty to the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats, fueled his independence from party leaders. He voted for several GOP spending and tax proposals and bills to ban flag desecration and to outlaw a procedure opponents call “partial birth” abortion.

But after he rebuffed an overture to join the Republican Party during the 107th Congress (2001-02) — and after redistricting shifted him to a more liberal constituency — he moved closer to the Democratic Party line.

He was a member of the Agriculture Committee throughout his time in Congress, where he was an early advocate the use of ethanol. He championed research efforts in his home state to develop alternative fuels from various crops, including Iowa’s ubiquitous corn.

Raised in a farming family in southern Iowa, Boswell was destined to work in the state’s rolling cornfields. But that path was derailed when he was drafted into the Army shortly after getting married in 1956. He would later go to Officer Candidate School and achieve the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served two one-year stints as an assault helicopter pilot in Vietnam.

Boswell eventually returned home to raise cattle on 475 acres in his native Decatur County. He also earned a degree in business administration and became involved in local politics, spending 12 years in the Iowa Senate and rising to become its president.

In 1996, he ran for the U.S. House, seeking the seat of Republican Jim Ross Lightfoot, who was running for the Senate. He won the primary easily. In the general election, he won the endorsement of the Iowa Farm Bureau and eked out a win against Mike Mahaffey, a county prosecutor and former state GOP chairman. At 63, he was the oldest House freshman in 1997.

Redistricting in 2002 compelled him to move to Des Moines, and he had to show his more liberal constituents he could serve their interests, too. He  prevailed, albeit with margins less impressive than most incumbents. In 2004, he broke a pledge to serve only four terms by running for — and winning — a fifth, with 55 percent of the vote.

Funeral services will be held Saturday on the campus of Graceland University in Lamoni, according to KCCI, Des Moines. 

In lieu of flowers, the family is establishing a scholarship at Graceland University in honor of Boswell that will benefit young people interested in studying agriculture.

Donations to the scholarship fund may be sent to directly to Spade Funeral Home.

Correction 9:25 a.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated Boswell’s position on the House Agriculture Committee.

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