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A Look Back At Janklow's Service To South Dakota

January 12, 2012, 5:58 PM by Shawn Neisteadt

A Look Back At Janklow's Service To South Dakota
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Bill Janklow is being remembered as a maverick politician, who was both respected and revered in the state and beyond.

Janklow dominated South Dakota politics for over 25 years.  He had a long and storied career with a fair share of controversy.

Janklow was born in Chicago in 1939. But it was joining the Marine Corps in 1956 that he credits for turning his life around. The discipline and guidance he learned there helped guide him though the University of South Dakota school of law. His fiery spirit soon made him a top prosecutor in the state, and landed him the role of Attorney General in 1975. At that point, his political career was born.

Bill Janklow was South Dakota's attorney general from 1975 through 1979. In that time, he wasn't afraid to tackle tough issues in the state. He took that attitude and determination with him when he ran for Governor and took office in 1979.

"South Dakota needs a strong advocate to speak out for them on things like people development, water development, railroad abandonment, welfare reform those sorts of things. Someone's got to get them fighting for the people of this state," Janklow said at the time.

From the very beginning, it was clear Janklow was a different kind of leader for South Dakota. The Republican was sworn in just one minute after midnight to keep the previous governor from making appointments. Janklow wanted the power.

In office, Janklow took on some tough issues of the time for the state, which didn't always make him popular among the people. He says one of his most difficult decisions was to close the state university in 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 about the decision.

It's still a state prison to this day. As governor, Janklow was also a salesman for South Dakota. He traveled the country touting the state as a good place to do business. One of his biggest accomplishments 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.

But Janklow kept telling the Citibank executives about the high living qualities in South Dakota, and tax laws that benefited them if they'd move here. Those taxes were the ace up his sleeve, and a card he played before other states could.

"We don't spend money through government to regulate and control small business like other states. As a result, we don't have the shackles to take off that a lot of other states are now taking off," Janklow said.

Janklow also guided the state through the farm crisis of the 1980s. The issue was compounded when railroads started going broke. Janklow called a special session of the legislature that eventually used a special tax increase to purchase 1,300 miles of tracks. Without doing so, he says South Dakota's farm economy would have been wiped off the map.

Janklow won re-election in 1982, receiving nearly 71 percent of the vote; that's the highest percentage ever in a South Dakota Governor's race.

"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 had 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.

The only thing Janklow says he wishes he could have changed in his life was running a stop sign in August 2003; it resulted in a crash that killed motorcyclist Randy Scott.

That closed out a political career that included two more re-elections as Governor, making Janklow the only South Dakotan to serve 16 years in that office.

"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.

Behind the scenes, Janklow was an advocate for children, often donating financially to families in need and offering free legal help.

"You meet a kid, I mean, I've got three kids but they're healthy. We all expect to bury our parents in life; you don't expect to bury your kids. You see an eleven-year-old kid with cancer, you see a seven-year-old kid with a heart defect or a liver and they're not going to live. You've just got a responsibility. You just have to do something about that, and you shouldn't do it in the headlines," Janklow said.

In his own words, Janklow has no regrets on taking a hands on approach as Governor of South Dakota.

"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.

Janklow spent his last weeks in experimental treatment to battle the terminal brain cancer. That was the fight of his life, after decades of fighting for South Dakota.

"I'm going to miss every minute of it. I loved it," Janklow said.

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