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South Dakota gets a look at a different Bill Janklow
South Dakota's lone congressman spoke to reporters yesterday. It was the first time, since he was involved in a fatal traffic accident. Bill Janklow often lost his train of thought when talking to reporters. Janklow seemed confused and embarrassed by his mistakes.

Sioux Falls, S.D. — Bill Janklow has been a huge political force in South Dakota for decades. He is a compassionate bully who always gets his way. He cares about people. He likes the intellectual battle. He's a fighter And he never forgets a detail. That's the Bill Janklow that served four years as attorney general, 16 years as governor and barely one year in congress.

It was a different Bill Janklow that sat in front of reporters Monday. It was his first press conference since he was involved in a mid-August fatal traffic accident. He talked slower. He appeared humble and he even cried.

Bill Richardson, chairman of the University of South Dakota political science department, says the Bill Janklow people saw yesterday may have been a shock.

"This is a side of Bill Janklow that I have occassionally heard about. That his passion for something can be very real," said Richardson. "As we have speculated since the accident. He has to be devastated not just physically but emotionally by what he has wrought."

In mid-August Janklow was speeding on a country road. He ran a stop sign. A Minnesota man, Randy Scott, was riding a motorcycle into the same intersection. The motorcycle hit the side of Janklow's car. Scott died. Janklow is charged with second degree manslaughter.

Janklow told reporters about his injuries but wouldn't talk about the accident. However, a head injury has changed Bill Janklow. He is forgetful. He loses his train of thought. Three times Janklow couldn't remember the victim's name. Bill Richardson says prompting Janklow or correcting him in front of the press would have done more harm than good.

"To be leaning over Bill Janklow and correcting him in public at his moment, it was a very clear mistake," Richardson says. "Everybody who heard it knew that this wasn't right. It very well could be a genuine memory lapse."

People in South Dakota have always had strong feelings about Bill Janklow. That's true now. They're either passionate to protect him or they are convinced he's faking. Very few will go on record with a reporter.

Bill Richardson says no one formed an opinion just by watching his press conference. He understands the skepticism. Janklow has defined South Dakota politics for so long. It's hard to know what's manipulated and what's not. It's harder to accept big changes in politicians we know well.

"If you and I were living in a different state, where we didn't know the congressman and his legacy here in South Dakota, and we're listening to this from the likes of a Congressman Traficant, we would say it was phony and contrived and didn't do well," says Richardson. "It takes I think individuals who know Bill Janklow quite well and have watched him for years to be moved and understand some of what he is going through and can be very genuine.

Richardson says Bill Janklow is still in control of his future. It's not just the politics involved but the legal case too.

Janklow waived his right to a preliminary hearing. Experts say that's not uncommon. It means the defense doesn't dispute the facts of the case. Janklow has to enter a plea to the charges against him at a hearing on Friday. Chris Hutton is a law professor at the University of South Dakota. She says it'll be a short hearing and he'll more than likely plead not guilty.

"Then I think the defense is just going to have to decide, if they haven't already what they want to do in this case," says Hutton. "Plead not guilty and go in and fight the charges or plead guilty to some or all of them, I just don't know but they'll have to decide the strategy that makes the most sense for the congressman."

Very few people think the case will actually go to trial. Even fewer think Janklow will serve any jail time. What's certain is that it'll be done Bill Janklow's way.

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