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William Janklow, a former Republican governor and congressman from South Dakota, died today at a Sioux Falls hospice center. He was 72 years old. Janklow announced in November he had an inoperable brain tumor.
As Cara Hetland of South Dakota Public Broadcasting reports, Janklow was known both for his combative yet compassionate way of dealing with people and issues, and for the tragedy that ended his political career.
CARA HETLAND, BYLINE: William J. Janklow, or Bill to South Dakotans, was the state's longest-serving governor, elected four times. Janklow was born in Chicago but grew up in Flanders, South Dakota. As a teenager he was often in trouble and was given the option by a judge of incarceration or the Marines. He chose boot camp. And after serving, he returned to South Dakota to attend law school and serve as a legal aid lawyer on the Rosebud Reservation.
WILLIAM JANKLOW: Until 1972, for more than six and a half years, I spent virtually every waking moment representing the clients that came in the door.
HETLAND: Janklow's next clients soon became all the residents of South Dakota. He was elected attorney general before running for governor in 1978. He often spoke of being a humble servant of the people. Here's the oath of office in January of 1979.
JANKLOW: We're only on this planet for a short period of time. In the history of the world, we only get a very small part of it. Graveyards are full of people who thought the world couldn't get along without them, and somehow the world does.
HETLAND: Janklow's early philosophy of openness and speaking out became his calling card. Bill Janklow was known for telling it like it is. When Canadian cattle had diseases, Bill Janklow closed the borders to trucks hauling livestock, making them go around South Dakota. He often acted first and explained later.
Republican Janklow was not your typical party politician. He partnered with former Senate majority leader, Democrat Tom Daschle on many projects and over time they became close friends. In this 1999 interview, Daschle explains.
TOM DASCHLE: You work closely with Bill Janklow and you realize how much he's willing to put on the line and how far he's willing to go beyond halfway to achieve something. And you got to respect that. And you going to start thinking you wish more people in politics were like that.
HETLAND: But not everyone likes Bill Janklow. Some considered him a bully, yet, South Dakotans continued to elect him to public office. In 2002, Bill Janklow was elected to Congress. And while serving as the state's lone House member, he ran a stop sign, killing a Minnesotan motorcyclist. Janklow was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 100 days in jail. He resigned his seat and did not return to public life.
In November of last year, he called a press conference to announce he was dying of brain cancer.
JANKLOW: I gave a damn about what I did. I enjoyed it. And I did what I felt was right. And if I had it to do over, I'd do everything I did except I'd stop at a stop sign. And other than that, I'd have done everything that I did, 'cause I had a heck of a ride and I had a good time, and they treated me better than they've ever treated anybody.
HETLAND: Janklow never cared what people thought of him. His larger-than-life image will live on in the programs and policies he put into place, while doing a job he loved.
For NPR news, I'm Cara Hetland in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.