WENZEL: There were definitely two Bill JanklowsI still have that picture around somewhere — Janklow looking gubernatorial even in his referee uniform, me in full football garb with a big smile and bigger hair.
By: Korrie Wenzel, The Daily Republic
It was 1986, and quite a first meeting. Gov. Bill Janklow that year dabbled in officiating high school football games, and it worked out that he would be on the crew to work the Wessington Springs High School homecoming game against Parkston.
It created quite a stir around Springs, and especially among us players. And when the game ended, my dad ran up, asked the governor to pose with me and snapped the photo.
I still have that picture around somewhere — Janklow looking gubernatorial even in his referee uniform, me in full football garb with a big smile and bigger hair.
After I became a reporter for this newspaper, I showed Janklow that photo and figured the chance meeting in 1986 would be a good starting point for a great relationship in the 1990s. At least that’s what I figured.
When I was told Thursday that Janklow had succumbed to brain cancer, it was hard not to think back to that football game 25 years ago, when I was so excited to pose with the state’s most famous resident. On the other hand, it’s equally difficult to think of Janklow today without recalling some downright nasty battles I had with him in the years I spent covering him.
There definitely were two Bill Janklows. I’ve seen him empathetic and emotional. I’ve seen him tear into people when he thought he was safe and behind the scenes.
I’ve seen him lose control, and I’ve seen him scurry to gain an edge in politically advantageous situations.
He was often combative, and possibly more so in private than most South Dakotans realize.
A few memories:
* I was assigned a story on, I believe, something to do with labeling meat products.
When the governor returned my call, I asked a question or two and he creamed me. After being chewed out, I finally responded.
“But governor, I’m just curious why you’re against this.”
Janklow screamed at me: “Who’s going to buy it?” He repeated it at the top of his lungs three or four times.
As per the habit of any reporter, I typed as he spoke, making notes of his response. I figured it was a rhetorical question, but boy was I wrong. He literally wanted me to answer the question.
“Stop typing!” he screamed into the phone.
I responded, “Umm, what?”
He then went on a long tirade, during which I held the phone at arm’s length from my ear. The other newsroom staffers all stopped and gasped — they could hear every word he yelled, even from across the room.
* I was covering Janklow as he dedicated the new gymnasium in Mount Vernon. He greeted me after the event, and I asked him a few questions as he walked around the back of the gym on the way to his vehicle.
It was election season, and he was facing a challenge from Democrat Bernie Hunhoff. It was a good, easy-going conversation while we discussed the new athletic facility, but talk soon turned to politics and that surprisingly pleasant discussion quickly went south.
I believe my question went something like this: “Governor, would you be willing to open your tax records to the media to respond to some questions raised by Democrats?”
He flew off the handle, and as he spoke he quickly moved closer, right into my face. We soon were toe-to-toe, and he poked me in the chest for emphasis when he said “Who really wants to see those records? You?”
A photographer who was with me grimaced and turned away, uncomfortable with how the situation had unfolded. It was a bit unnerving.
* I called the governor’s press secretary one afternoon, seeking a comment from Janklow.
“He’s unavailable today,” was the response.
Rats. I really needed a moment with the governor, I said. But the governor was out in the field, making a visit to some place or another, and he was too busy for unplanned questions from the media.
Back then, The Daily Republic didn’t have a capital correspondent like we do today. If you needed the governor in the 1990s, you called his office and tried to steal a minute here or there. The governor would make himself available every now and then, but not often.
I was disappointed, but understood. I knew Janklow was a busy man.
Before he hung up, the press secretary asked: “By the way, what did you need him for?”
I told him that a magazine in the East had named Janklow one of the nation’s most fiscally responsible governors in the nation.
Sure enough, a few minutes later the phone rang. It was Janklow, cheery and pleasant and suddenly and miraculously available to talk to the media.
Bill Janklow was a great governor who did great things for this state, and of that there is no doubt. He demanded respect from those around him and he generally got it, whether through persuasive discussion or sheer belligerence.
He was a man’s man, South Dakota’s version of the Marlboro Man right there in the governor’s mansion. He was a former juvenile delinquent and Marine who wore a Highway Patrol jacket, and he didn’t take guff from anybody. Had he ever actually beat me up, I suppose I’d have just taken it, because he was Bill Janklow and that’s just who Bill Janklow was.
Behind the scenes, he could be cantankerous, moody and downright mean. Yet also behind the scenes, he could be quite compassionate and emotional, which I also saw with my own eyes while covering the aftermath of the Spencer tornado in 1998.
I suppose there will be many tributes this week to Bill Janklow the Great, and rightfully so. He was great for South Dakota.
But today, I remember Bill Janklow the Moody, because that’s usually the guy I dealt with and the one I will always remember and, even, respect.
Korrie Wenzel spent 18 years in The Daily Republic’s newsroom before being promoted to publisher in 2010.