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January 13, 2012 09:55 PM

Janklow's College Friend Goes Down Memory Lane


There are plenty of legends, both good and bad surrounding Bill Janklow. But perhaps nobody knows the truth behind those stories better than former South Dakota Attorney General Mark Meierhenry.


Meierhenry first met Bill Janklow in 1962 when they were both students at USD. Meierhenry and Bill Janklow had a lot in common right away. Both were married and going to college on the G.I. Bill.

“We were so poor that we shared our food at times towards the end of the month,” Meierhenry said.

Meierhenry followed Janklow to law school and eventually worked for him. He says Bill was bright, inquisitive and "very" competitive.

“We would have these touch football games and of course, the game would go on until Janklow's side won. Well, after a while, just by the force of his personality, when we were ready to quit, he won and we'd quit. You could look at that as a negative, but I don't, that's just the way he was."

Janklow went on to become attorney general and hired Meierhenry from time to time to handle cases.

“Then one night he called and said I'm running for Governor, why don't you run for Attorney General?" Meierhenry said.

Meierhenry did, they both won and the rest is history.

“One minute after midnight, 1979, he became the governor and of course, everybody knew about him from then on,” Meierhenry said.

But while many remember Janklow as a political ram rod who always got his way, Meierhenry remembers something different.

“Often the idea on the first day from one of his advisors would be a bad idea and yet 10 days later we would hear that it was Bill's idea and it got done. He would listen and he would compromise and I think that's forgotten often. Everybody thinks that he ran over people. He was aggressive for his point of view, but he would compromise along the way,” Meierhenry said.

Meierhenry says Janklow's political legacy is that of a fiscal conservative who embraced the future.

"I was there when Bill sat down with the leaders of Citibank in his office and little did anybody know how much that would change the culture of Sioux Falls. The culture of Sioux Falls was definitely changed as far as benefits for workers and wages. I think it spurred the local economy and it hasn't quit yet,” Meierhenry said.

And that's why Meierhenry says his political legacy is still being felt today.

"I can just speak for my profession which I know. None of the lawyers gave very good benefits back then, but suddenly, holy cow, they're losing people right and left. They had to match it and that's what free enterprise is supposed to be about,” Meierhenry said.

Former Governor Bill Janklow also appointed Mark's Meierhenry's wife, Judith, to serve as the first woman on the South Dakota Supreme Court.
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