Between the Lines: A final, lasting lesson from Janklow

I wrote a column about Gov. Bill Janklow not that long ago … shortly after he announced that his life would be ending soon because of brain cancer.

Janklow, the consummate fighter for what he believed was right for South Dakota, finally encountered something he couldn't defeat. Cancer won the battle; the governor died last Thursday.

I noted, shortly after he stunned the state with this news, how some people love him. Some seem to abhor him.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle, a Democrat, and Janklow, a stout Republican, found themselves working together toward common goals while Daschle was in DC and Janklow was the state's chief executive.

I don't think it's overstating things to conclude that Daschle falls in with South Dakotans who loved Janklow, warts and all.

The former senator eulogized Janklow at his funeral service Wednesday morning. Here's what the Associated Press reported Wednesday morning, in a brief report filed as Daschle's talk concluded.

Janklow got grief for his friendship with Daschle. But he didn't care.

So says Daschle in his eulogy of Janklow at his Wednesday morning funeral.

Daschle says, "He defined the word 'loyalty.'"

Daschle spoke to a crowd of hundreds packed into Our Savior's Lutheran Church on Wednesday for a religious service that included Bible readings from the late governor and congressman's grandchildren.

Daschle recalls Janklow as a "hell-raising high school dropout" who managed to convince the University of South Dakota to allow him admittance despite not having a high school degree.

The former senator says, "Bill was known as someone who could speak at a remarkable 80 words per minute with gusts up to 120."

South Dakotans have been exposed to reports that recall his years as attorney general, governor, and member of Congress. It's a story that already was quite familiar to so many state residents.

Janklow, who wrangled with the media constantly while in office, had a tendency to always be in the news. The Republican had two separate eight-year stints as governor, one starting in 1978 and the other in 1994.

He was elected to the U.S. House in 2002 but resigned after causing a fatal traffic accident in 2003.

I'll repeat some of the observations I made about a month ago – mainly:

  •  There are "Janklow moments" that no doubt many South Dakotans wish never happened. The closing of the University of South Dakota at Springfield. The boot camp-like philosophy at the State Training School in Plankinton that contributed to the death of a girl there. The rushed sale of the state cement plant in Rapid City to a company in Mexico. The commutation of the sentences of 36 prisoners at the state penitentiary to ease overcrowding.
  •  There are other examples, however, in which the former governor endeared himself to his fellow citizens. Who can help but feel a bit of gratitude when thinking of how he single-handedly led the response in Spencer following its destruction by a tornado?
  •  He changed South Dakota drastically for the better by recruiting Citibank here. Janklow provided legislation in 1995 that changed state aid to schools and cut local property taxes. He helped save rail service in much of the state and was a national leader in connecting classrooms to the Internet.
  • He thrust himself into a variety of situations in a classic, no-holds barred style. His methods made his opponents weary, and encouraged his proponents to not hesitate to defend his sometimes bombastic method of doing things.

There's no question that he got things done. Sometimes, he didn't care how many people were upset at the manner in which he reached his agenda.

Looking back during his time of service in South Dakota, Janklow proved to be a good teacher. His lessons included how to best get things done, and, at times, in a style that was never perfect, how not to approach a problem.

In the process, sprung an "unlikely" friendship with Daschle – one so strong that the former senator honored Janklow's request and spoke at his funeral service.

In the late 1990s, Janklow was leading the pack in political influence within South Dakota's borders. Then U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle was, at the time one of the most influential and powerful men of the Democratic Party in Washington, DC, rising to the ranks of Senate minority leader.

One might expect that, once you mix these two men together, you'd naturally get a highly partisan debate on whose political philosophy is more fitting to help entice fundamental progress both nationally and in South Dakota.

Daschle and Janklow proved that's hardly the case, however. The two men, in their years of working on similar issues together, learned that cooperation, not political bickering, leads to progress.

Daschle and Janklow discussed their political philosophies in a joint appearance in February 1999 on the University of South Dakota campus. The W.O. Farber Center for Civic Leadership hosted the event, entitled "When Partisans Become Allies: A Conversation with Gov. Bill Janklow and Sen. Tom Daschle."

Daschle said during the program that people often get the idea that Republicans and Democrats never get along because the media has a tendency to focus on conflict rather than positive political accomplishments.

"I think part of it is media-driven, and I'm not blaming the media," Janklow said. "There are always people who are trying to spin their stories. Politics has gotten to the point where the derogatory gets attention. It's those people who want to try to stop something that get all of the press."

Today we live in a day and age when it seems about the only thing for certain to be accomplished in Washington is partisan bickering by politicians of every stripe. Let's hope, as our state continues to reflect on the life and times of Bill Janklow, that we never forget what he and Daschle learned from experience – cooperation, not political bickering, leads to progress.

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