Published November 17, 2014
With a fresh incision curving along his hairline from temple to ear visible to all, former South Dakota Gov. Bill Janklow broke down and cried Friday as he announced that he's dying of brain cancer.
But it wasn't the cancer that prompted the tears. It was recalling what he called the one regret of his life: a 2003 car wreck that killed a Minnesota man and ended Janklow's political career.
"I know it's over. I know it's at the end of the trail, but I don't hurt," he said of the weeks-old cancer diagnosis.
Janklow, a Republican who dominated South Dakota politics for more than a quarter century, said the cancer is aggressive and that he's undergoing treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. The incision along the left side of his face is from a recent procedure during which doctors examined the cancer.
Janklow gathered reporters to make the announcement Friday afternoon, and said he wanted to keep the meeting short because he has trouble forming his thoughts. At various points, he had to pause to find the right words and said he could not recall his specific type of cancer.
He chose Friday to publicize the diagnosis partly in reaction to a news report earlier in the day that said he recently closed his state campaign finance account, which he had maintained since leaving office nearly nine years ago. The account held more than $850,000.
"I removed (the funds) from the public arena because I'm using them for things other than politics," he said. "There are other people that are sick. There are other people that are dying. They don't need to be on television or in the newspaper. I'm providing lots of assistance to different individuals who have problems."
He said one of the things he is doing is establishing a foundation at the University of South Dakota to fund scholarships for students who can't afford to pay for school.
Janklow was elected governor in 1978 and served two four-year terms. He lost the Republican Senate primary in 1986 to the incumbent, Jim Abdnor, and then joined an investment firm and later a law firm.
He served another two four-year terms as governor beginning in 1994. He was elected in 2002 to the U.S. House, but his career was cut short after he sped through a stop sign and killed Randy Scott of Hardwick, Minn., in an Aug. 16, 2003, accident in Moody County north of Sioux Falls.
Janklow talked about his legacy — "I gave a damn about what I did" — and said his only regret is the 2003 accident.
"If I had to do it over, I'd do everything I did, but I'd stop at a stop sign," he said as he broke down in tears.
Janklow was returning to his Brandon home after attending an event in Aberdeen when he ran the stop sign. Part of his defense was that as a diabetic, his senses and reflexes were dulled from low blood sugar. He said he had no clear memory of the collision.
A jury convicted Janklow of second-degree manslaughter and three other charges. He was sentenced to 100 days in jail.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard, who served in the Legislature during Janklow's last six years as governor, said Janklow did a lot to shape the modern South Dakota, including making the state a leader in connecting classrooms to the Internet.
"It's certainly very unexpected and very sad. He certainly has a long history of public service for which South Dakota should be grateful," Daugaard told The Associated Press.
During his first two terms as governor, Janklow engineered the state's purchase of a rail line, worked to change state laws on interest rates in a successful effort to lure Citibank and other credit-card companies to South Dakota, and persuaded the Legislature to convert the University of South Dakota-Springfield campus into a prison.
He also negotiated a deal to sell Missouri River water to a company that wanted to use it in a pipeline that would have shipped Wyoming coal to southern states, but the project failed.
Former North Dakota Gov. George Sinner, who was in office during the last three years of Janklow's first term as South Dakota's governor, said the two men became fast friends when Sinner, at a governor's conference, took Janklow's side in an environmental dispute.
"He is an extremely bright man," Sinner said. "He has such an intense focus on things that when he was doing something, he didn't tolerate anyone slowing him down."
After returning to the governor's office in 1995, Janklow persuaded the Legislature to pass his plan for cutting property taxes. He also won approval for building a new women's prison and facilities for juvenile offenders.
"He was always leaning forward for the state and he left a mark," said South Dakota Sen. John Thune. "I think he's certainly impacted South Dakota and will continue to impact it for generations."
Associated Press writer Dale Wetzel contributed to this report from Bismarck, N.D.