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Larsen, Sonja, 1941-



  • Existence: 1941-


Sonja Leistad Larsen, state representative from 1979-1980, board member of the Iowa League of Women Voters and mayoral candidate for the city of Ottumwa, was born in 1941 to Einar and Marie Leistad in Elk Horn, Iowa. Sonja Leistad graduated from Elk Horn- Kimballton Schools in 1959. In 1960, she married Richard Larsen, and the couple moved to Ottumwa in 1968. The Larsens had three children.

Larsen worked as a real estate agent from 1973-1980. She served on the Ottumwa Board of Realtors, where she became active in lobbying efforts through the Legislative Action committee. As a member of the Ottumwa Chamber of Commerce, Larsen served on the urban-rural development committee, chairing special projects such as Ag Day. Larsen also became the first president of the Ottumwa League of Women Voters. Other community activities include serving as first president of the Ottumwa Girls Softball League, president of the Ottumwa Newcomers Club, executive board member of the Iowa Junior Miss Development Corporation, program director for the YMCA, and volunteering with the United Way , Welcome Wagon, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

Larsen was recruited to run for office by Governor Robert Ray. Her previous political experience was limited to serving as a delegate at county, district and state Republican conventions. In 1979, Larsen was elected by a small margin to represent the 89th district of Iowa, a district heavily dominated by Democrats. During her tenure as a Republican representative in the state legislature, Larsen distinguished herself as a staunch supporter of lower state taxes. Larsen sponsored bills designed to reimburse elderly Iowans for property taxes, develop veteran exemptions from property taxes, push for the adoption of a balanced budget amendment to the U. S. constitution, establish group insurance for families of public employees, reduce mobile home taxes for the elderly, and require private agencies receiving state grants or contracts to submit to an audit prior to receipt of those funds. She also supported the 1979 "indexed" income tax adjustment that was designed to be responsive to inflation rates, a bill to increase the pay of elected officials, efforts to increase exemptions from the state inheritance tax, and a reduction in unemployment compensation. Larsen supported efforts to put the Equal Rights Amendment on the ballot and was pro-choice, despite her identity as a loyal Republican.

In 1981, Larsen campaigned unsuccessfully for mayor of Ottumwa . In 1984, Larsen received a grant for an extensive oral history project to be conducted for the Danish Immigrant Museum in Elk Horn entitled, "The Danish Immigrant Experience." She remained active in politics, leading Jim Leach's successful Congressional campaign in Iowa and heading his constituent office.

Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

A Political Dialogue: Iowa's Women Legislators oral histories

Identifier: IWA0089

Interviews with Iowa women legislators conducted by Suzanne O'Dea Schenken.

Dates: 1988-1993

Sonja Larsen papers

Identifier: IWA0439

Republican representative in the Iowa legislature who ran for mayor of Ottumwa in 1981.

Dates: 1977-1982

Additional filters:

1971-1980 1
1991-2000 1
African American women -- Iowa 1
Archives (groupings) 1
Cultural artifacts 1