Janklow Slated to Meet the Press Today

Posted September 19, 2003 at 3:27pm

Rep. Bill Janklow (R-S.D.) is set to hold a press conference today in which he is expected to address his political future after his involvement in an automobile accident Aug. 16 that left a man dead and the former governor charged with second-degree manslaughter.

A Janklow spokesman said Friday that the former four-term governor “did not specify a topic but just said he would take questions.”

The announcement comes one week after Janklow returned to Washington, D.C., for the first time since the accident and just three days before he is scheduled to appear at a preliminary hearing, which will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a trial.

Janklow was charged late last month after it was determined he ran a stop sign while speeding, causing his car to collide with a motorcycle driven by Randy Scott. Scott was killed in the crash, while Janklow sustained a broken hand and was briefly knocked unconscious.

In addition to the felony manslaughter count, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine, Janklow was also charged with reckless driving, speeding and running a stop sign, all misdemeanors.

Rumors have been flying fast and furious in South Dakota political circles regarding Janklow’s future and have increased during the past week, according to one knowledgeable political observer. The source predicted today’s press conference would provide some clarity to the situation.

What remains unclear, however, is whether Janklow will choose to immediately resign his seat, retire at the end of his first term or seek to run again — the final option being the most remote.

If he resigns, a special election would be declared by Gov. Mike Rounds (R) within 10 days of the opening. The special election would then be held between 80 and 90 days after Rounds’ announcement.

A special election could favor Democrats as 2002 nominee Stephanie Herseth (D), who took a surprisingly strong 46 percent against Janklow in an open-seat race, is well-positioned and willing to run. Herseth would also likely run for the vacant seat if Janklow chooses retirement.

Former Rep. John Thune (R) is seen as the strongest Republican candidate in either a special election or an open-seat scenario.

Thune held the state’s at-large House seat from 1996 to 2002 when he left it for an unsuccessful run against Sen. Tim Johnson (D). Thune lost that race by 524 votes, the narrowest margin of any of the 34 Senate races in the country.

Thune had been actively examining a possible challenge to Sen. Tom Daschle (D) in 2004 for several months before Janklow’s accident.

Janklow had also been mentioned as a possible Senate candidate before the accident but was not considered likely to run because of his close friendship with Daschle.

Daschle, at a press conference last week, said he believed it was “entirely appropriate” for Janklow to return to the Capitol despite the pending criminal charges against him.

“I’m glad he’s back,” said Daschle. “I hope he’s stronger and feeling better.”

Thune has yet to give any indication that he is interested in the House race, although state and national Republicans remain optimistic that he may run.

If Thune opts out, no other proven Republican candidate is immediately apparent. State Sen. Larry Diedrich, state Sen. Barb Everist and attorney Mark Mickelson (the son and grandson of former South Dakota governors) are all mentioned as possible GOP candidates.

Regardless of Janklow’s decision, most observers agreed that the accident is likely to bring an end to a political career that has spanned four decades.

First elected as state attorney general in 1974, Janklow went on to serve as governor from 1978 to 1986 and then again from 1994 to 2002.

He ran for federal office in a 1986 primary against Sen. Jim Abdnor (R), losing 55 percent to 45 percent. Many Republicans blamed Janklow’s challenge for Abdnor’s loss in the general election to Daschle.

Janklow surprised nearly everyone when he entered the open-seat race to replace Thune last year.

It was widely speculated that his primary motivation for joining the race was a long-standing distaste for former Sen. Larry Pressler (R), who was the leading candidate for the open House seat at the time. Both men denied their relationship was strained.

Janklow easily won the primary but struggled in the general election against the youthful Herseth, who carried a strong South Dakota political lineage of her own. Her father was a longtime state Senator and her grandfather served as governor in the late 1950s.

Ed Henry contributed to this report.