Bill Janklow, the former Republican governor and Representative at-large for South Dakota, died today of brain cancer. He was 72.
Janklow’s son, Russ, confirmed his death to the Associated Press.
Janklow served as the state’s governor from 1979 to 1987 and again from 1994 to 2002. During his final year as governor, he was elected to the state’s at-large House seat.
He only held the seat for a year, resigning in 2004 after he was convicted of manslaughter for killing a motorcyclist in a traffic accident.
Despite the accident, Members of Congress recognized Janklow’s contributions to South Dakota.
“Gov. Janklow served South Dakota with everything he had,” Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.), who holds Janklow’s former seat, said in a statement. “He was a passionate advocate for our state and will be missed.”
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) said he knew Janklow for more than 30 years and called him “one of the most colorful governors in South Dakota’s history.”
“He was not afraid of controversy,” Johnson said in a statement. “I sometimes agreed with him, and sometimes disagreed — but I always respected him for his passionate sense of service.”
Janklow was born in Chicago on Sept. 13, 1939. His family moved to Flandreau, S.D., after his father’s death.
He served as a U.S. Marine from 1955 to 1959. Despite not graduating from high school, he attended the University of South Dakota, where he received a bachelor’s and a law degree.
His political career got started when he served as the state’s attorney general from 1974 to 1978 before he ran for governor.
Because a state law prohibited Janklow from running for a third consecutive term as governor, he opted instead to run for Senate in 1986, but lost the Republican primary to incumbent Sen. Jim Abdnor. He left politics soon after, joining an investment firm and later a private law practice.
But he was drawn back in a few years later, and was elected governor again in 1994.
The issues he took on during his time as a lawyer and in his political career were widespread, from defending Native Americans in cases to creating a working model for distance education in South Dakota.
“He was a pioneer in the distance learning issue,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) told the Argus Leader in November. “The federal government followed South Dakota’s model on distance learning. There were so many issues like that where he was ahead of his time and willing to push the envelope with new ideas to work for the state.”
Janklow ran for Congress in 2002, winning the House seat that had previously been held by Thune, Johnson and Tom Daschle (D).
But his time in the Capitol was short-lived.
On Aug. 16, 2003, Janklow ran a stop sign in Moody County, an area north of Sioux Falls. He hit and killed motorcyclist Randy Scott of Hardwick, Minn.
Janklow remained in office through his indictment and trial. After he was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and sentenced to 100 days in jail, he resigned in January 2004.
Janklow expressed remorse about the accident, according to a UPI report.
“I did what I felt was right,” he said, breaking into tears at the news conference he held to announce his cancer in November. “If I had it to do over again, I’d do everything I did, except I’d stop at a stop sign.”
Janklow is survived by his wife, Mary Dean, and their three children.
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