William John “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 term 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. The Cato Institute named him the best governor in America. He served 16 years as governor, twice as long as any other person to hold that position. His service as governor spanned four decades. He was 39 when voters first elected him governor; he was 63 when he left that office.
Bill 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, age 10) back to Chicago. In 1954, the family moved to LouElla’s home town of Flandreau, SD. A self-avowed juvenile delinquent, Bill dropped out of Flandreau High School during his junior year. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, attending 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 1960, he married Flandreau native Mary Dean Thom. Together they raised three children: Russell, Pam, and Shonna. In the autumn of 1960, Bill enrolled in the University of South Dakota. He graduated from USD with a degree in business in 1964 and received his Juris Doctorate from the USD School of Law in 1966. He then took a job as a Legal Aid Services lawyer on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. He soon became the director of the entire 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 first two terms as governor, Bill:
· kept his campaign promise of “Putting the Taxpayers First”,
· made state government smaller, more innovative, and more efficient,
· doubled state aid to local schools,
· helped save the state’s farm-to-market railroads,
· created and funded the state’s first comprehensive water development plan,
· changed the mission of Dakota State University to a nationally acclaimed computer school,
· established a “Workfare” program that led to national welfare reform,
· converted the University of South Dakota at Springfield into a minimum security prison where inmates learned marketable job skills, and
· literally on a handshake, brought Citibank and other financial service companies to South Dakota, broadening the state’s economic base, creating thousands of new jobs, and profoundly changing the nation’s financial services industry.
During his second two terms, Bill:
· stopped a statewide property tax revolt and decreased property taxes by 30%,
· brought a front line, roll-up-your-sleeves approach to the management of the state’s response to blizzards, ice storms, floods, forest fires, and tornadoes,
· started the Bright Start Early Childhood Initiative,
· promoted South Dakota through such activities as the Governor’s Pheasant Hunt, Governor’s Snowmobile Ride, Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup, and Christmas Trees in the Capitol,
· dedicated the state’s World War II Memorial to honor the Greatest Generation,
· created the Governor’s House affordable housing program,
· started the Spruce-Up South Dakota and Yank-Tank programs to improve the state’s environment,
· negotiated the state’s takeover and management of Missouri River “take-lands” to the state and the tribes,
· directed the completion of the 114-mile Mickelson Trail through the heart of the Black Hills,
· promoted the first-ever statewide Diabetes and High Blood Pressure Screening Project,
· used prison inmates to wire the state’s K-12 school buildings and university buildings for Internet access,
· connected the schools to the Digital Dakota Network, and
· provided advanced technology training to teachers.
Bill’s education technology efforts earned South Dakota the honor of being the most wired state in America. 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.
Bill 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 loved waterskiing on Lake Oahe with his family and friends. 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, frequently told her son, “Bill, sometimes you are right, sometimes you are wrong, but you are never in doubt.” One thing not in doubt is Bill Janklow’s legacy, which can be expressed in four simple words: “He got things done.”