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S. Dakota politician Bill Janklow dies

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 need for speed also likely 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 that he ran roughshod over his opponents.

Janklow died shortly before 11 a.m. 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 had announced he had inoperable cancer and said his only regret was running a stop sign and killing a motorcyclist. 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.

Janklow was known as a brilliant lawyer, a dynamic and brash speaker and an innovative governor. He had a long list of accomplishments, including 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," Dave Knudson, a former legislator who served two stints as Janklow's chief of staff said after Janklow announced he had brain cancer.

Janklow also had a reputation as an abrasive man who refused to compromise and sometimes blasted his 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.

"My whole life has been fighting for people," Janklow said shortly before his political career ended. "It's what I know how to do in terms of representing people." It came to an end when he sped through a stop sign in August 2003 while returning home from an event in Aberdeen.

A jury later convicted Janklow of second-degree manslaughter and misdemeanor charges of reckless driving, failure to stop and speeding.

He was ordered to serve 100 days in jail.

During the trial, Janklow claimed low blood sugar as a result of diabetes had dulled his senses and reflexes.

When a tornado destroyed much of the small town of Spencer in 1998, Janklow was there within an hour. During the 50-mile drive from his home east of Sioux Falls, he hit the edge of the storm, got blown into the ditch, then drove back onto the highway.

When a family was held hostage in the Capitol while he was attorney general, he showed up carrying an automatic rifle to help officers deal with the incident, which ended when the hostages escaped.

William J. Janklow was born Sept. 13, 1939, in Chicago.

He was elected attorney general in 1974 by defeating his boss, incumbent Kermit Sande, then went on to run for governor. In his 1982 re-election bid, he received 71 percent of the vote, the largest winning margin in any gubernatorial race in state history.

Janklow's body will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Pierre on Tuesday. The funeral is scheduled for Wednesday morning at Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls.

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