Former Governor and Congressman Bill Janklow died Thursday morning, just days after being moved into hospice care. Janklow told the world he was battling terminal brain cancer in November and was part of an experimental treatment.
Janklow wasn't born in South Dakota, but the Chicago native leaves a gigantic political footprint behind.
In his own words, former congressman and governor Bill Janklow has no political regrets. That political career spanned decades, dating back to serving as Attorney General from 1975 though 1979. He's also a four-term governor.
"All of my friends that have passed away, none of them have come back and gotten a hold of me, which either means they didn't like me or you don't get to come back a second time, which I believe. Since you only come down this road of life once, you should do it at your own speed. I want to look back at any point in time if the end comes, whether it's today or 40 years from now, I want to say there isn't anything that I'd like to have done that I didn't try and do it," Janklow said in a 1987 interview reflecting on his first two terms as Governor of South Dakota.
Janklow's political career was full of trials and tribulations. A highlight was bringing New York-based Citibank to South Dakota.
"Frankly, I met with a whole bunch of people and they told me, 'Janklow, it can't be done. The bank lobby is too powerful. You'll never ever be able to persuade the legislature to let it come through.' I met with a group of people in Sioux Falls, one of Janklow's secret meetings. I met with all the banking community from Sioux Falls," Janklow said.
South Dakota's tax laws helped bring those credit jobs to the state, which drew cheers. Janklow was not, however, popular with everyone. He says one of the most difficult decisions he ever had to make was to close the state university at Springfield.
"It would have been easy for me to stand up in front of those people and say, 'I've thought about it, and I've decided we're going to keep this open.' But I would have been so dishonest with the public, that school and we needed a prison; everything fit well," Janklow said.
That's a fit that lasts to this day. Janklow earned a reputation across South Dakota as a no-nonsense, hands-on governor, but there was an area he says he always kept his hands off.
"I spent four years as Attorney General and eight years as governor and I never fixed a ticket, not even Bill Janklow's. When the Highway Patrol stops me, and I've had them say, 'What do I do governor? I say give me the ticket.' 'Well really?' I say, 'Give me the ticket.' I don't want anyone to ever say I stopped Janklow and didn't give him a ticket. People call me on the telephone, just last night, in my last hours in office I have someone called me from Watertown. They wanted me to fix a ticket deal. I said, 'Hey, I've never even fixed my own. I don't fix my kids; I'm not fixing yours,'" Janklow said in 1987.
While Janklow still holds the record for the highest percentage of votes for a candidate in a state gubernatorial race, he also faced many fights with other politicians.
"Even people that don't like me say what I say is what I do. Nobody has ever accused me of saying one thing and doing another. I'm proud of that, I'm really proud of that," Janklow said.
Janklow made a tear-filled announcement this November, saying his days were limited because he had been diagnosed with a terminal form of brain cancer. But even in the closing days, he went through experimental treatment. That was the fight of his life for a man who fought for South Dakota.
“I'm going to miss every minute of it. I loved it,” Janklow said.
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