PIERRE, S.D. — As governor of South Dakota for 16 years, Bill Janklow was always in a hurry — pushing lawmakers to approve his proposals and racing to disaster sites to take charge. His speed also probably played a role in his one regret: the 2003 fatal traffic accident that landed him in jail and ended his political career.
As South Dakota's attorney general, governor and congressman, the colorful politician dominated the state's political landscape for more than a quarter century, changing the face of the state's economy, education system and tax structure. Even his enemies — and there were many — admitted the Republican had a talent for getting things done, even as they complained he ran roughshod over his opponents.
Janklow died Thursday of brain cancer after being moved to hospice care in Sioux Falls earlier in the week, his son Russ Janklow said. He was 72.
At a final news conference in November, Bill Janklow announced he had inoperable cancer and said his only regret was running a stop sign and killing a motorcyclist. He was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and ordered to serve 100 days in jail. The accident happened less than a year after Janklow was elected to the U.S. House.
"If I had it to do over, I'd do everything I did, but I'd stop at a stop sign," Janklow said. He broke down and cried as he announced he was dying.
Janklow and his wife, Mary, whom he married in 1960, had three children. He was known as a brilliant lawyer, a brash speaker and an innovative governor. His accomplishments include saving rail service for much of the state, cutting property taxes and leading the nation in connecting classrooms to the Internet.
"To me, it seems indisputable he was South Dakota's greatest governor," said Dave Knudson, a former legislator who served two stints as Janklow's chief of staff.
Janklow also had a reputation as an abrasive man who refused to compromise and sometimes blasted opponents in public. Yet he quietly helped many people down on their luck, paying to send young people to college or buying gear for a baseball team from an American Indian reservation.
"He fought for underdogs all his life," David Volk, former state treasurer, said Thursday.