The Fives: Why the media misses Bill Janklow and five of his most controversial legacies
By Todd Williams, Journal staff
Monday, September 29, 2008
I was a junior in high school the first time I saw Bill Janklow in person. He was speaking at Boys State and he gave one of those classic Janklow speeches, which, in essence, were no speeches at all. What it was was an extended question and answer session that was most an answer session in which Janklow rattled off a flurry of "facts" and anecdotes as extended answers to questions that may or may not have matched the young leaders' queries.
It was hard not to be impressed.
But as I learned more about the man they called "Wild Bill," I became more dubious of his record. I would hear more things, read more things and see more things that made me wonder whether the most powerful man in South Dakota was as good for South Dakota as he said he was.
Eventually, I became one of those people that came to question his every move and motivation, essentially trusting him about as far as I could throw him. At one point, I even wrote a newspaper column that was so full of vitriol against the former governor and U.S. representative that the editor could only offer up the headline, "At least he isn't dating your sister."
But something funny happened over the years. While I still remained highly suspicious of any dealings Janklow was involved in, I became appreciative of his straight-forward style and the fact that when he spoke, it surely meant news. He was fearless in the political realm and wicked in public appearances. He would tear through opponents with reckless disregard and then return to first gear in the space of a few moments.
But most of all, he was constant news. He was always good for a quote. He despised bureaucracy, and he let everyone know about it when he did.
So when he returned to the news last week in a somewhat barely news event -- being involved in a minor accident in Sioux Falls -- I welcomed it. And so did readers. Rapid Repliers showed out in full force, and that's why he may not be the most popular of former politicos for readers, he is at least their favorite former politico upon which to heap their wrath.
Here are five of the most controversial legacies left by Mr. Janklow over the years.
5. Janklow sues over "In The Spirit of Crazy Horse", strengthens 1st amendment rights
I was a sophomore at Lead High School when my Indian Studies teacher encouraged me to do my quarterly report on the release of the book "In The Spirit of Crazy Horse."
The just released book focused on the execution-style shooting at the Jumping Bull Ranch on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the eventual conviction of AIM enforcer Leonard Peltier for the crime.
The book and the ensuing controversy over its contents would shape my views of Indian Country and the stories that came from it and about it for years. That is, there were a lot of untold stories from Indian Country, and while the book covered a lot of them, it also was tough to determine what was true and what wasn't. Much like the conflict that tore the reservation apart in the 1970s, it's hard to be an impartial judge of the things that happened before and after.
While the book focused on Peltier -- it helped launch the Free Peltier movement -- it also spends some time on first Attorney General Bill Janklow and then Gov. Bill Janklow. The portrait it paints is highly unflattering. In addition to depicting him as a racist whose firebrand actions created tumult on the reservation, it went as far to implicate him and the rape and later death of Jancita Eagle Deer.
Janklow wasted little time in suing anybody who had anything to do with the book. Author Peter Matthiesen, his publishing company, anybody who carried the book in their store, nobody was spared.
The funny thing is, when I did my report on the book, it couldn't be found in the Northern Hills so I had to get it from the state libarary. And I did.
Eventually, the lawsuits were all dismissed, and some even said Janklow's actions further strengthened First Amendment rights. Heck, that alone should make him a patron saint among journalists. When was the last time a powerful politician has done anything for the First Amendment?
[Blog editor's note: In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen is the definitive work on the American Indian Movement (AIM) and the Peltier case. The author successfully defended against lawsuits brought by Janklow and FBI Special Agent David Price in three different states, surviving an eight-year litigation. As acknowledged by the courts, Matthiessen's reputation for not being sensationalistic or scandalous is well known. He is a highly respected author and his works have received wide acclaim.]
4. Janklow sells the state cement plant in holiday season rush
You want to get local legislators' blood to boil, mention the Christmas season sale of the state cement plant in Rapid City.
After months of closed doors negotiations, the former governor introduced the deal with a Mexcian company to buy the state cement plant on Christmas Eve. He then called a special session of the legislature and rushed the deal through, closing the records of the negotiations to the public.
(The following paragraph is corrected from an earlier verision of this story).
Still, nobody challenged the matter in the legislature, and only a sole citizen -- Betty E. Breck of Groton -- brought the matter to court, knowing that few conservative Republicans would argue that the state should be in a field generally relegated to private enterprise.
The court reaffirmed the deal, and the rest is history.
3. The 'Janklow 36': An experiment in clemency
Facing a rising prison population and a federal judge's order prohibiting the placement of two prisoners in one cell, the former governor took the highly unusual action of issuing commutations for 36 prisoners at the state penitentiary in October of 1986 (corrected from an earlier version of this story).
He had a couple of rules, though. First, they must leave South Dakota within 24 hours. Secondly, they must never return.
A few were later found in South Dakota, and at least one was arrested there. Others committed further crimes but were never returned to South Dakota.
The whole issue was examined by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader earlier this year in a fascinating look at the 36 men and what became of them. And while Janklow vowed to return them to the South Dakota Pen if they broke the law again, there was no system to track their whereabouts, let alone whether they repeat offended.
Like many of the former governor's actions, the success of the program is largely left to conjecture. Those who admire Janklow give him credit for easing prison pressures and sending ne'er do wells to other regions. Janklow opponents note the recklessness in the move and the lack of followup.
2. Responsibility, no responsibility for the boot camp death of Gina Score
The July 1999 death of Gina Score at the Plankinton boot camp sent shockwaves across state government. And Janklow had a personal stake in it all.
During his second run as governor, Janklow single handedly pushed the juvenile correction system toward a model similar to his youth -- the boot camp model. Believing that the military style training that had helped transform him from a juvenile delinquent into a successful lawyer and politician could be successful across the board, he moved toward the model despite growing evidence that the model was not successful.
"Everybody in America debates whether or not they work," he declared. "We in South Dakota have always been able to make things work."
But the Score death essentially ended that dream. To his credit, Janklow almost immediately took the blame, saying that the state had killed Score. But when the blame was quickly transferred to what he called rogue activities of nurses at the school instead of recognizing that the mode of operation had essentially led to the young Score dying of heat stroke while on a forced run.
In the span of a few short months, the boot camp model was dismantled and deemed ineffective. But the Score death remains a black mark on a system Janklow had had full faith in and had brought to the state corrections system.
1. A death, a verdict, 100 days and $1 million
The accident in which Janklow blew through a stop sign at an estimated 70 mph and collided with motorcyclist Randy Scott, instantly killing the 55-year-old Hardwick, Minn., man, effectively ended Janklow's political career.
To be honest, no political career could probably survive such an event. But the fact that Janklow had a long history of speeding and reckless driving and had virtually bragged about it before the legislature on at least one occasion didn't help.
The longtime governor turned U.S. representative said that extremely low blood sugar levels had left him in a poor state that led to the accident. The argument may have worked, but he was still convicted of second degree manslaughter and sentenced to 100 days in county jail.
There was plenty of anger for the sentence as the legions of people Janklow had put behind bars for lesser crimes but longer sentences were joined by the many Janklow haters in decrying the brevity of the sentence. Janklow backers noted that his public service was so expansive, the fact that the accident would end it was an adequate sentence in itself.
But what really set off public opinion against Janklow was that even in the civil realm, it was ruled that he was not personally responsible. Because he had been at a political event in Brown County earlier in the day and was simply returning home when the accident occurred, it was ruled that he was on official business and that any civil damages would have to be paid by the government.
In the end, the family of Randy Scott settled with the government for $1 million, officially ending the event that ended Janklow's career.
That is, except, for on Rapid Reply, where the repeated mantra of Janklow and the Scott incident are brought up repeatedly by readers, assuring the longtime politician that they have not -- and likely never will -- forget the tragic crash.
Source URL: http://www.rapidcityjournal.com/articles/2008/09/29/news/local/doc48e055e7a7617629986303.txt?show_comments=true#commentdiv