MERCER: Janklow left SD better than he found itBill Janklow needn’t worry about what his grandchildren, or any of our children and grandchildren, will know about him. He cared. He made a difference. And he’s leaving the place in better shape than he found it.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
PIERRE — The photograph was taken on Dec. 27, 1999. Sitting side by side, signing their copies of the updated agreement for operation of the Royal River casino, were Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribal President Tom Ranfranz and Gov. Bill Janklow.
Bill Janklow couldn’t remember any of it when he telephoned me some months back.
He had been called for a deposition by lawyers representing the tribal government in its dispute, first with the Rounds administration and now with the Daugaard administration, over the tribal leadership’s desire for more slot machines at Royal River.
On the telephone he told me the lawyers had questioned him about negotiations when he was governor. He didn’t know what they were talking about. He told them something to the effect that it was fiction.
Because my name was involved in their questions — I had conducted the actual negotiations on the tribal gambling compacts during my four years as his press secretary in Bill Janklow’s fourth and final term as governor — he wanted me to know about the deposition.
I had to tell him he was wrong. In fact, I had a photograph in another room that showed the two men at the table, smiling for the camera. The clincher was the description of the festive red-plaid jacket he was wearing atop his shirt, tie and dress pants in recognition of the holiday season.
Bill was stunned. He asked for a memo summarizing the key facts. He said he would call the lawyers back, explain that he had forgotten and ask to be questioned by them again.
There had been times through the years when he had temporarily forgotten something, probably because he had so much he had to remember, but when prompted with some detail the event would come rushing back in vivid recall.
It was my turn to be stunned not too many weeks ago, upon hearing the news that Bill Janklow was suffering from brain cancer, and he wouldn’t survive it.
He made the announcement at an impromptu news conference on a Friday afternoon, on about one hour of notice, in Sioux Falls. I first learned about it through an item on the Internet and watched the suppertime TV news.
The tears he cried, in regard to his grandchildren, were real. The remorse and sorrow behind those tears were just as real.
I learned that the next day when he called at my house. I had never heard a lion cry. He said the only thing his grandchildren would know about him was that he killed a man. He sounded overwhelmed.
But as always, he inquired how my kids were doing.
When Bill Janklow went before the State Bar’s disciplinary panel eight years ago, he never said he was sorry for the traffic accident on that August Saturday afternoon when he went through a stop sign on his way from his mother’s house in Flandreau to his house near Brandon.
He drove straight into the path of motorcyclist Randy Scott, who had the right of way and who never had a chance.
Bill Janklow was charged with manslaughter in the death of Randy Scott, and a Moody County jury found him guilty. He was sentenced to 100 days in the Minnehaha County Jail.
Some thought he got off light. Others thought the sentence was too much, at least in comparison to other deadly traffic crashes.
The crash ended Bill Janklow’s career in public office. He resigned his seat as South Dakota’s sole member in the U.S. House of Representatives. He went through the trial. He served his sentence. And when his law license was reinstated, he returned to practice in Sioux Falls.
He didn’t disappear, as other members of Congress from South Dakota often have after they have lost for re-election. He climbed back into the professional arena, in South Dakota’s largest city, his law offices on one of South Dakota’s busiest city streets.
Far from shrinking away, he delivered some lectures at the University of South Dakota. He fought on behalf of clients against the coal-line railroad project.
He successfully represented Dan Scott in a defamation lawsuit against the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that was settled by the newspaper’s corporation rather than go to trial.
He was still rattling cages.
The Argus Leader’s news staff treated Bill Janklow uncommonly, and uncharacteristically, well in the hours and days after he made his cancer announcement. It was though someone had stepped back, looked at a lifetime and decided 40 years of fighting for the public good should be honored.
I thought of him on Thanksgiving. He had a holiday tradition of telephoning friends and acquaintances on Thanksgiving and Christmas, taking a few minutes to thank them for being part of his life, and for trying to make South Dakota a better place.
I don’t know whether I ever called him Bill. As a reporter, when I first met him I always called him Governor. That habit stayed with me while he was in office and afterward when he was out of office, back in office, in Congress, and back in private life.
Last week Friday I received a long note from a mutual acquaintance who’s been working closely with him on his archives project.
An excerpt is worth sharing publicly. The fellow wrote:
“Bill is today completing his fourth week of treatment at Mayo Clinic. He calls me almost every day and says, ‘I am still alive.’ Considering the official diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment, I think he is doing remarkably well.”
In the years ahead there will be articles and probably books written about Bill Janklow. He needn’t worry about what his grandchildren, or any of our children and grandchildren, will know about him.
He cared. He made a difference. And he’s leaving the place in better shape than he found it.