Remembering political giants who have left us

2013-01-12T11:00:00Z Remembering political giants who have left usBob Mercer Legislative correspondent Rapid City Journal
January 12, 2013 11:00 am  • 

PIERRE | Today marks one year since the death of Bill Janklow from inoperable brain cancer. His four terms and 16 years in the office made him South Dakota’s longest-serving governor.

Eventually, two portraits of Janklow — one for his 1979-1986 terms and the other for his 1995-2002 terms — will be added to the display of paintings of former chief executives for Dakota Territory and South Dakota in the first-floor hallway of the state Capitol.

Janklow, who was 73 when he died, was one of four giants of South Dakota politics to die in 2012. The others were Jim Abdnor, 89, George McGovern, 90, and Frank Henderson, 84.

Successfully rambunctious might be a way to describe them as a group.

But they weren’t a group at all.

They were self-made politicians who took some hard blows to their egos and their lives and then kept rolling forward until they could no more.

They won much more often than they lost. Every one of them lost a big election at some point — and each one came right back to win the next time.

George McGovern started it all by doing the near-impossible as Democrat, winning the U.S. House of Representatives seat for eastern South Dakota in 1956 and 1958.

He lost his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1960 but came back in 1962 to win the state’s other Senate seat.

Deep down, McGovern most wanted to be the nation’s president. He reached the peak of his political life in 1972, when he won the Democratic nomination but lost to Richard Nixon.

Eight years later, Jim Abdnor shut him down.

If there was a mold for the perfect candidate in that 1980 U.S. Senate race, Jim Abdnor wouldn’t have fit it.

He was a never-married country boy from Lyman County who won election six times to the state Senate and once as lieutenant governor. In 1970, he sought the Republican nomination for western South Dakota’s seat in the U.S. House and lost.

Abdnor bounced back two years later, winning the open-again U.S. House seat in 1972. He spent the next eight years in the House and in 1980 ran for the Senate. He won a primary and then defeated McGovern that November.

Amid all this was the rise of the Democrats as true political force in South Dakota. In addition to McGovern, the 1970s saw the election of Dick Kneip as governor, Jim Abourezk as U.S. senator and Tom Daschle to the U.S. House.

The baby boom was good fortune for South Dakota Democrats. Voter registration soared for their party. Republicans, meanwhile, started busting apart.

That was most true in 1970, when out rode Frank Henderson, a Rapid City lawyer who had under his belt a Bronze Star for valor in Korea and two terms as a Republican in the state Senate.

Henderson challenged Republican Gov. Frank Farrar. Henderson had his hot spots, but Farrar held on statewide for the Republican nomination with 48,250 votes to Henderson's 34,893.

Kneip took over from there. A Democratic state senator from Salem, Kneip took Farrar out in the November general election by about 13,000 votes.

Kneip went on to serve three terms as governor, helped by a 1972 change in the state Constitution that changed the governor’s term of office from two years to four years for the 1974 election.

In 1974, Bill Janklow arrived. Quick tongued and quicker witted, he ran for attorney general against his Democratic boss and beat him.

Then in 1978, Janklow won a three-way primary for the Republican nomination for governor. He easily won the November election, as well.

Two years later, Janklow was among those helping in the battle to finish McGovern as a U.S. senator. In 1982, Janklow won a second term as governor.

Then in 1986, unable to seek a third consecutive term, Janklow decided to challenge Abdnor for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat. Abdnor won the primary but then lost to Daschle.

While all of that transpired, Frank Henderson was building a new career in another branch of South Dakota government. He ran for circuit judge in the 7th Circuit and, in a contest to elect five judges, he finished fifth of 10 candidates.

In 1978, he ran for election to the South Dakota Supreme Court. He was a candidate to be the justice from the high court’s First District. Among the voters in the district's counties, he won by a ratio of 2-1.

That 1978 also saw challenger Jon Fosheim upset Justice Donald Porter for another seat on the court. Henderson and Fosheim are the last justices to gain their spots through the ballot.

Henderson retired in 1994, the same year Janklow came back for another try at governor. He won a Republican primary against acting Gov. Walter Dale Miller, who as lieutenant governor had succeeded the late Gov. George S. Mickelson, who died in a plane crash in 1993. Janklow won his third term as governor that November.

Janklow won a record fourth term in 1998. In 2002, he won a Republican primary for U.S. House, and that November, he defeated Democrat Stephanie Herseth. The next year, he went through a stop sign in Moody County and drove into the path of a motorcyclist, killing Randy Scott.

A trial the next winter resulted in a conviction for manslaughter. Janklow resigned from Congress. Herseth won a special election in June 2004 for the remaining months of the term and then won the seat outright that November.

Janklow served 100 days in Minnehaha County Jail and later regained his law license. When he revealed at a news conference that he had cancer, and that he would die within months, he wept.

In those tears was, at last, a public expression of his sorrow for the life he took nine years before. Admitting that truth was his hardest victory of all.

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) Comments

  1. StopProgStop
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    StopProgStop - January 14, 2013 7:40 am
    Thank you Bill Janklow and the 25.99% APR credit card.
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