PIERRE, S.D. – Whether they loved him or hated him -- and few seemed neutral -- South Dakotans will notice when Rep. Bill Janklow (search) leaves the political stage he has dominated for nearly three decades.
Janklow's resignation from Congress takes effect Tuesday, six weeks after the former four-term Republican governor was convicted of manslaughter (search), speeding and running a stop sign in an Aug. 16 accident that killed a motorcyclist.
On Thursday, Janklow, 64, will be sentenced and could get a maximum of just over 11 years in prison.
Whatever the legal penalty, his remarkable public life is over.
"I just wish we could wave a magic wand and make this all go away and end his career on a positive note," said Harvey Wollman, a Democrat who preceded Janklow as governor.
"It just seems so terribly unfair the things people are saying about him because of an incident that so totally overshadows the fact that he gave his career, most of his adult life, to serving the state. You've got to look at it, I think, over a 30-year time frame."
Over those three decades, Janklow accomplished a lot. He won praise for what he did, but many complained bitterly about how he did it.
"He really did believe that government could do good, and he was not slow to attempt to put the machinery of government to work to address real problems of people," said Bob Burns, head of political science at South Dakota State University and a boyhood friend of Janklow's in Flandreau.
But Janklow "did not take criticism easily, and he frequently lashed back at critics. And because of the position he occupied, his responses were frequently seen as using the governor's office as a bully pulpit to ride over his critics."
As governor, Janklow persuaded the Legislature to get rid of interest-rate limits (search) to attract Citibank and other banks to South Dakota, turning the state into one of nation's biggest credit-card-issuing centers. He bought tracks to save rail service in most of the state, closed a university campus and turned it into a prison, raised state aid to schools so property taxes could be cut by an average of 30 percent, and used prison inmates to wire all schools for high-speed Internet access.
When a school on the Rosebud Indian Reservation (search) needed baseball equipment, he bought gloves, bats and balls out of his own pocket.
Janklow won loyal supporters and friends for what he accomplished. But he also made many enemies, who complained bitterly about his unwillingness to compromise, his harsh words for those who disagreed with him, and his penchant for cutting corners.
Over the years, he called members of the state Board of Regents (search) staff "idiots," and reporters "bastards." In 1979, Janklow wrote a letter to the editor of several newspapers that had run letters that offended him. "I do not dispute your right to publish trash for your readers," he wrote.
On the campaign trail, he was visiting a school when a student cursed at a teacher. The teacher ignored it, but Janklow said he would have done things differently. He told an audience in 1995: "I said, 'The least you could have done was swung around real quickly, like you were in fear, and hit his head into the locker and then apologize ... as you took the blood off his forehead, that he'd startled you when he shouted like that."'
State lawmakers agreed with Janklow's move to get high-speed Internet connections, computers and two-way TV systems in all schools, but they complained he failed to consult them before he began using leftover education money for the project.
And after a major Black Hills forest fire in 2000, federal officials said Janklow's take-charge style threatened firefighters' safety and hampered their efforts.
"He's really an enigma. He really can be almost two different people, given the circumstances," Wollman said, describing Janklow as "a genuine, caring person" with "some flaws in his personality and style."
But Wollman added: "You can't say he didn't put his heart and soul into it."
A high school dropout and self-described juvenile delinquent, Janklow served in the Marines before talking his way into the University of South Dakota and got a law degree. He worked as a legal services lawyer on the Rosebud reservation.
Later he rose to prominence as a special state prosecutor who handled the cases against American Indian Movement (search) members charged with rioting at a courthouse in 1973.
Janklow was elected South Dakota attorney general in 1974, was elected governor in 1978 and re-elected in 1982. After a failed bid for the Senate nomination in 1986, he worked in private practice until 1994, when he again was elected governor. He won his final four-year term as governor in 1998, and was elected in 2002 to South Dakota's lone House seat.
At least nine Republicans are competing for the party's endorsement to run in a June 1 election to serve the rest of Janklow's term. The House seat will remain open in the meantime.
Republican state Sen. Bill Napoli has criticized Janklow for what he labeled savage attacks against those who dared to disagree with him. But Napoli said he still admires and likes Janklow.
"Janklow will go down in history as the most brilliant governor we ever had," Napoli said. "But it was probably the most tragic thing we've ever seen to leave a legacy as he did."