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'He just wants to win'
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Janklow, right, in 1978 during his first run for governor. He is shown with his running mate, Lowell Hansen. (Photo courtesy of the Argus Leader)

Sioux Falls, S.D. — Bill Janklow grew up in the 1950s in Chicago, and came to love the rock and roll revolution that was breaking all the traditional rules of music and dance. To this day he's a whiz at early rock trivia.

The family spent time in Germany, where his father prosecuted Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials. Janklow was 11 when his father died. Soon after, his mother moved the family to her hometown of Flandreau, South Dakota. It was 1954, and Janklow was 15.

Janklow only lived there a short time, but is linked to the town forever. As he admitted during a press conference a few years ago, he soon developed a reputation.

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Image Jeremiah Murphy

"I was a kid from the streets of Chicago who moved to Flandreau. And in those days, they hadn't made all the modern advances in chemistry, so the chemistry was a little rugged. I ended up getting in my share of trouble," Janklow recalled.

He tangled with school officials. He hung out with the wrong people. He was reckless. Before long, the police were after him. Janklow was accused of assaulting a 17-year-old Flandreau girl. Many years later, during his first political campaign, Janklow said it wasn't rape.

"It didn't go that far," he said.

Janklow said charges were dropped and he didn't appear in court. It was the first of several brushes with the law in his hometown. While still in high school, Janklow was caught shooting a gun at a water tower. A judge gave him two options -- reform school or the military.

"I grew up in the Marine Corps," Janklow said. "I learned that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was, or as tough as I thought I was, or a lot of things as I thought I was. I learned that ... if you're going to win, you've got to do it as a team. I think it was an important juncture in my life."

Janklow didn't stay humble for long, though. After the Marines, it was clear Janklow was more the hard-driving drill sergeant than the order-taking grunt.

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Image Former law partner

Without a high school diploma, he talked his way into the University of South Dakota, and then went to law school. His first job was as a legal aid attorney on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. He was a defense lawyer. Janklow said he defended 30 indians charged with murder or manslaughter. All were either acquitted, or convicted of a lesser charge.

Janklow liked working for the little guy -- he said it gave him purpose. Sioux Falls lawyer Jeremiah Murphy first met Bill Janklow while testifying at a legislative hearing.

"He looked like he was driving a road grader, because he had on this flannel shirt and jeans -- and he gave wonderful testimony. I didn't catch his name," Murphy says.

But soon everyone in the state would know who he was. Janklow, the defense lawyer, switched sides and became a prosecutor. Running on a "get tough on crime" platform, he was elected South Dakota's attorney general in 1974. In 1978 he won his first term as governor.

After two terms, Janklow left politics to practice law. In 1994, after then-Gov. Mikkelson died in a plane crash, he announced he had decided to run for governor again -- because South Dakota needed him. The voters agreed, and gave him two more terms.

I think most people that go to prison are losers. Like I tell them, 'You can't even succeed at crime. Even at crime you're a failure -- you got caught and you got convicted.'
- Bill Janklow in 1998

During his years as governor, he pushed for tougher criminal penalities. In 1998, he said he had no respect for lawbreakers.

"I think most people that go to prison are losers. Like I tell them, 'You can't even succeed at crime. Even at crime you're a failure -- you got caught and you got convicted,'" Janklow said.

After he left the governor's office, Janklow was elected to the U.S. House in 2002. That term has been cut short by his car crash and resignation.

Janklow ran as a Republican, but often questioned the party line. He worked easily with Democrats. He trusted his own judgment over anyone else's. Roger Damgaard, a former law partner, says in some ways, Janklow had his own political party, and he was the only member.

"I think Bill Janklow defies categorization or definition when it comes to politics, or a whole lot of other things," says Damgaard. "People like him only come along maybe once every 500 years. He's just Bill Janklow. Bill Janklow is Bill Janklow is Bill Janklow. Period."

Janklow loves to argue. Damgaard says that's his way of learning about an issue. But once Janklow makes up his mind about what he wants, he's a driven man. Support him and ride an unstoppable steamroller. Oppose him and he will roll right over you. Roger Damgaard says Janklow doesn't care what people think, he just wants to win.

"That kind of attitude wins things and gets things done, but it also bruises people along the way," says Damgaard. "If Bill Janklow thinks you're a bad guy or you're doing something wrong, he's going to say what he thinks."

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Image Convicted, then pardoned

Indian activist Russell Means has felt Janklow's heat. Means was a leader of the American Indian Movement, known as AIM. AIM is best known for its 1973 armed takeover of the tiny village of Wounded Knee. The South Dakota attorney general made Janklow a special prosecutor for AIM cases brought by the state.

Janklow, the former defense attorney who represented Indians, now went after certain AIM members. Means says Janklow did it for political purposes.

"He's the consummate lawyer, dedicated to his client. I saw that once he became a South Dakota politician, his constituency are the white people of South Dakota," says Means. "He didn't come out so much anti-indian, as he used AIM to play on the prejudices, the ingrained racism of South Dakotans."

Janklow's team convicted Means and he spent a year in prison. But as if to prove it was all about politics and nothing personal, Janklow pardoned Means just before he left the governor's office.

Janklow's aggressive style made many political enemies. One of the most damaging incidents of his career took place in the small South Dakota town of Plankinton.

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