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William J. “Bill” Janklow Biography

Bill Janklow, South Dakota's longest-serving governor, passed away on January 12, 2012.  He served one four-year term as South Dakota's attorney general (1974-1978), four four-year terms as South Dakota's governor  (1979-1987 and 1995-2003), and one year as South Dakota's member of the United States House of Representatives (2003).  In his 1982 bid for re-election, voters gave him the largest percentage of votes in a governor's election in the history of the state.  

William John Janklow was born in Chicago in 1939.  His father Arthur was a prosecutor of Nazi officials at the Nuremburg Civil Trials in Germany during the aftermath of World War II.  In 1950, after Arthur died of a heart attack, his wife Lou Ella moved their six young children (including Bill, who was then 10) back to Chicago.  In 1954, the family moved to LouElla's home town of Flandreau, SD.  A self-avowed "hell-raiser," Bill dropped out of Flandreau High School following his sophomore year.  He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and went through basic training at Camp Pendleton in San Diego. 

Bill was wounded during the Quemoy-Matsu international crisis off the coast of Mainland China and was honorably discharged in 1959.  In the autumn of 1960, he enrolled in the combination degree program at the University of South Dakota.  University officials soon discovered that Bill did not have a high school diploma, but he characteristically talked them into allowing him to stay if his first semester grades were good.  The grades were good, but the deportment problems lingered.  Continuing to exhibit an inability to deal well with authority figures, Bill started parking his old car in the space reserved for the dean of the law school.  When the dean came to the campus every day, the first thing he would do was to turn to his executive secretary and say, "Go find out what Bill Janklow is doing, and tell him to quit it." 

Bill graduated from the University of South Dakota with a degree in business in 1964.  He received his Juris Doctorate from the University of South Dakota School of Law in 1966.  He had thought about becoming an aeronautical engineer, a mathematician, an accountant, and a tax lawyer in California, but instead took a job as a Legal Aid lawyer on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota.  He soon became the director of the Legal Aid program in South Dakota.  Only two years out of law school, he was selected the Outstanding Legal Aid lawyer in the country—out of over 2,000 lawyers working nationwide for Legal Aid.  

While working on the Rosebud Reservation, Bill handled over 4,300 requests for assistance from Native Americans.  During his years on the Rosebud Reservation and in private practice, he represented 31 individuals in federal and state court for murder or manslaughter.  In one of those cases, he represented Marie Spotted War Bonnet in U. S. District Court for the crime of murder.  He tracked down the actual murderer, obtained a confession, and secured the release of his client. 

In 1973, members of the American Indian Movement (A.I.M.) instigated a riot in Custer.  The rioters burned the Chamber of Commerce building, destroyed two law enforcement vehicles, looted and burned a gasoline station, sent several law enforcement officers to the hospital with injuries, and looted and vandalized the Custer County Courthouse.  The State of South Dakota appointed Bill as Special Prosecutor.  He quickly convened a grand jury, which handed down 45 individual indictments.  After the trial was moved to Sioux Falls, A.I.M. members rioted at the Minnehaha County Courthouse, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage and injuring numerous people.  Bill then won convictions against all the defendants.  A year later, he won a conviction against A.I.M. leader Dennis Banks in Custer County. 

Because of Bill's Legal Aid work at the Rosebud, he was frequently accused of being an "Indian lover."  Because of his prosecution of A.I.M members, he was frequently accused of being an "Indian hater."  That pattern of polarization would come to characterize his entire public service career. 

Some historians argue that Governor Janklow's management style was characterized by "big picture" strategic initiatives.  They point to his bringing Citibank to South Dakota, literally on a handshake, which not only broadened the state's economic base and created thousands of new jobs in South Dakota but also set in motion profound changes in the nation's financial services industry.  (When Bill left the governor's office after his second term, 16% of all the jobs in the state were in the financial services sector.)  He also created and then regularly funded the first comprehensive statewide water development plan in the history of South Dakota.  Later, while in Congress, he maneuvered a reluctant Bush Administration into continuing substantial funding for South Dakota water development. 

Other historians, however, argue that Bill's management style was characterized by compulsive micromanaging.  They cite his front-line participation in the state's fighting of forest fires, ice storms, blizzards, tornadoes, and flooding.  After an F4 tornado with 245-mile-an-hour winds destroyed Spencer in 1998, Bill was one of the first outsiders to arrive at the devastation, and he immediately started directing rescue and clean-up operations from the scene.  One political opponent complained that Bill was a good "civil defense director" but a lousy governor. 

Many people lauded Bill for being pro-education.  In 1984, he changed the mission of Dakota State University in Madison from teachers college to computer school.  HHe wired 644 public school buildings, every public and private college building, and every library in the state (except for a handful that wired by other parties) for modern technology, connected them to the statewide Digital Dakota Network, and provided advanced technology training to teachers.  During his years as governor, he substantially increased state aid to education, and he eliminated over 500 governmental mandates on schools to increase local control over elementary and secondary education.  He is the only person to have received all of the top four education honors in the state: the South Dakota Education Association Friend of Education Award, the State Association of School Administrators Award, the South Dakota School Boards Award, and the Parent-Teacher Association Award. 

Many people also criticized Bill for being anti-schools.  Critics said that his low-tax policies (he promised to chop property taxes by 30% and then did so) and his school funding formula—in response to the 1995 statewide property tax revolt—hamstrung local schools.  They objected when he publicly berated high schools (sometimes by name) for doing such a poor job of educating their students that the state's colleges were forced to stuff their freshmen curricula with remedial classes.  Critics also pointed to his 1984 closure of the University of South Dakota at Springfield, which he turned into a minimum security prison. 

In the 1994 election, if only 1,695 voters in the entire state had changed their votes, it would have triggered a $350 million reduction in revenues for local schools and governments.  Those voters returned Bill to the governor's office with a mandate to make the government smaller and more efficient.  He responded by trimming over 1,000 jobs and over $10 million from the State's budget over the next two years.  It was the first overall spending decrease in state spending since 1983—when Bill had last been governor.  Activities such as that caused many people to label Bill a fiscal conservative and budget hawk. 

Bill also, however, talked the legislature into increasing the state sales tax temporarily and buying 1,500 miles of track from the bankrupt Milwaukee Road to protect the core farm-to-market railroad system in the state.  Activities such as that caused many people to label Janklow a proponent of state socialism. 

Some people saw Governor Janklow as a hard-nosed law and order conservative.  He created a unique first-in-the-nation "Workfare" program that put welfare recipients to work.  He aggressively pursued child support enforcement.  He started the General Patrick Brady Boot Camp for juvenile offenders.  He started a statewide crackdown on drinking drivers.  He expanded the state's drug dog program.  He formed the Internet Crimes Against Children Enforcement Unit.  He instituted the Alcohol and Drug Diversion Program for first-time juvenile alcohol and drug offenders. 

Other people suspected Governor Janklow of being a closet bleeding-heart liberal.  He created the Advanced Reading Enhancement Approach for first, second, and third graders.  He started the State Children's Health Insurance Program that provides income-eligible parent with no-cost health care coverage.  He initiated a Child Safety Seat Distribution Project.  He promoted the adoption of children with special needs.  His emphasis on organ donation increased the number of organ donors in South Dakota by over 55,000.  Through his Bright Start Early Childhood Initiative, he created a statewide childhood immunization database, added chickenpox to the list of immunizations required for school entry, purchased specialized equipment for hearing screenings for all newborns, started the Responsive Parenting Classes, and established the Home Visitation Program in which nurses visit at-risk pregnant women and new mothers.  He even sent Mozart music to mothers of new-born children, contending that listening to the music would make the kids smarter. 

Governor Janklow promoted South Dakota through activities such as the Governor's Pheasant Hunt, the Governor's Snowmobile Ride, and the annual Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park.  He directed the completion of the 114-mile Mickelson Burlington Northern trail through the heart of the Black Hills.  He negotiated the state's takeover and management of 61 federal recreation areas along the Missouri River and the return of Missouri River federal "take lands" to the state and the tribes.  He started prison convicts working on the building of 1,000 small, energy-efficient "Governor's Houses", a program geared to create affordable housing and teach convicts marketable job skills.  In fact, during his third and fourth terms, prison inmates worked over 10 million hours on public service projects.   He began the first-ever statewide diabetes and blood pressure screening project and the breast and cervical cancer screening program.   His Spruce-Up South Dakota program targeted abandoned petroleum tanks, old buildings, junked vehicles, discarded batteries, and unused pesticide containers.  Some political scientists have thus concluded that Janklow favored an activist and pro-active government. 

On the other hand, Bill consistently campaigned with the slogan of "Putting the Taxpayers First."  In response to a 1994 statewide property tax revolt, he kept his campaign promise of chopping property taxes 30% and capping future property tax increases.  In response to complaints by small business owners, he streamlined the state's inspection processes.  He sold the state-owned cement plant in Rapid City to a private company.  Under his management, state agencies returned tens of millions of dollars in reversions (money allocated but not spent) to the state treasury.  In fact, the libertarian Cato Institute once named him the best governor in America.  Based upon that information, some political scientists have concluded that Janklow favored a small, limited, and efficient government that did only those things that citizens could not do for themselves. 

A lifelong registered Republican, Bill developed a professional working relationship and a personal friendship with Democrat Senator Tom Daschle that rankled many Republicans.  As governor, Bill frequently disagreed with and even debated Democrat U. S. Senator George McGovern.  The two later, however, became friends.  Congressman Janklow secured federal funding for the new McGovern Library, and when Bill spoke at the event in Mitchell honoring George and Eleanor McGovern for their lifetimes of public service, he may have been the only Republican in the entire building. 

Pollsters who tracked Bill over the years discovered an odd phenomenon.  The voters who liked Bill and the voters who disliked Bill both gave essentially the same reasons.  Depending upon their perception, Bill was either "outspoken" or "loud-mouthed," "candid" or "mean-spirited," "a guy who says out loud  what a lot of us have been thinking" or "a bull in a China shop," a "man of action" or a "bully."  People who disapproved of Bill's job performance told the pollsters: "I admit that he gets things done, but I can't stand how he does it."  People who approved of Bill's job performance told the pollsters: "I don't always agree with how he does things, but he always gets things done." 

While representing South Dakota in Congress in 2003, Bill was assigned to and became an active participant in the Government Reform, Agriculture, and Foreign Affairs Committees.  In 2003, Bill killed a man in a traffic accident, and he resigned from Congress.  His public service career ended.  In 2006, he started practicing law at Janklow Law Firm in Sioux Falls.  Over the years, he tried literally hundreds of jury trials.  During his time as a private practice attorney, about half of all his cases have been pro bono (done at no charge to the client). 

Bill has argued and won three cases before the United States Supreme Court.  South Dakota v. Opperman (1976) originated in Vermillion; it involved Fourth Amendment issues related to inventory searches of impounded vehicles.  Rosebud Sioux Tribe v. Kneip (1977) involved the diminishment of the Rosebud Indian Reservation.  Reeves v. Stake (1980) involved the Market Participant Exception to the Dormant Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.  When Chief Justice Warren Burger asked Bill to begin his oral argument in Reeves v. Stake, the chief justice remarked that the clerk had informed him that Bill's appearance and handling of the oral argument was apparently the first time in our nation's history that a sitting governor had appeared and argued a case for his state.

Bill was a loyal and long-suffering fan of the Chicago Bears.  He was a voracious reader of magazines and books but claimed that he never read a book of fiction since the days when he was an undergraduate at USD.  He was deathly allergic to garlic and the cold.  He never drank water.  He had what might have been the world's largest collection of rock and roll songs from the 1950s that he played, as "BJ the DJ", while raising $2 million at fundraisers for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  Bill's mother Lou Ella, who served as a Christian missionary nurse in Chad and Somalia and who is now 98, frequently told her son, "Bill, sometimes you are right, sometimes you are wrong, but you are never in doubt."  

Version:  2:36 p.m. on Wednesday, August 26, 2012, by MD