Are you suffering from Bill Janklow overload yet?
It’s going to take a lot of air time and column space trying to summarize and analyze the life and career of Janklow who died Thursday only a few weeks after announcing that his quick demise was immanent. I just have a few comments from my personal encounters with the man. Few South Dakotans have ever been so robust..so polarizing..so complicated…so dedicated..so brilliant..so popular and so reviled as our longtime governor, short time congressman and tragic soul who served 100 days jail time for manslaughter.
The word I most associate with Janklow is “fear.” I think he really enjoyed putting the fear of god into people. At least that was the case during my years in TV news and his as governor. His calls to reporters, anchors or station managers and owners complaining or wishing to “enlighten” them, about a story he had issues with, were legendary. He’d beat you down with statistics and ask you questions you couldn’t answer then scold you for being uninformed and under qualified while insisting you take down the number of the legislative research council and get your blankety blank facts straight. I received a few of those intimidating tongue lashings and have heard him say more than once he was never talking to KELO again but after a while he’d simmer down and we’d all be back on speaking terms.
As the eulogies continue in the days ahead, you’ll be hearing a lot about Janklow’s quieter compassionate side. That was never more evident to me than when he helped organize the huge World War II Veterans celebration on the grounds of the State Capitol in 2001. Janklow epitomized the slogan “Once a Marine always a Marine” crediting the Corps with turning him from a wild juvenile delinquent into a disciplined responsible man. His appreciation for the men and women in uniform and his patriotism in general was on fire that day as he spoke so passionately to the thousands of South Dakota’s war vets gathered on that cloudy rainy September afternoon. It was one of the most eloquent speeches of his public life made even more poignant by the fact that it came just hours after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC. I interviewed Janklow shortly after that address and asked if, in light of 9-11, he’d considered postponing the event. Never, Doug..he said. Never. The people that we are honoring here today stood up and answered the call to fight and perhaps die for this country. What would they think if we caved-in to those thugs who despise the very freedom these World War II veterans so bravely sacrificed to preserve? No sir.
I told him I liked his speech and he told me thanks.
Finally a conversation without fear.