It’s all a big joke to Rep. Bill Janklow, the Republican congressman from South Dakota with a lead foot, a hollow heart, and an ego the size of his Cadillac death-mobile.
Conservatives with a conscience should be appalled that the powerful GOP representative, charged over the weekend with felony manslaughter in a fatal accident that killed a motorcyclist last month, refuses to step down immediately from office.
For years, this man who belongs to the party of personal responsibility — the party of law and order — has made light of his law-skirting ways. A notorious speeder, he jested in his State of the State address while governor of South Dakota in 1996: “For the first time since I can remember, I went a whole year without a speeding ticket, and so then the federal government goes ahead and abolishes speed limits.” In his 1999 State of the State address, the governor (and former state attorney general) poked fun at his scofflaw reputation again: “Bill Janklow speeds when he drives. Shouldn’t, but he does.”
Hardy-har-har. According to the Associated Press: “His driving record shows numerous citations from the early 1990s, when he was ticketed 12 times for speeding and paid more than $1,000 in fines. In several cases, he was stopped for driving 15 to 20 miles per hour faster than the posted speed limits and once was caught going 90 mph in a 65-mph zone.” He has reportedly been involved in at least eight accidents over the past 10 years.
Last December, according to Jennifer Walters of Trent, S.D., Janklow ran a stop sign and nearly collided with her family’s pickup truck at a rural intersection. “A split-second difference and the Cadillac would have hit us,” Walters (who was riding with her husband and two children) told the Minneapolis Star Tribune last week. “That’s how fast the car came through.” Eight months later, Janklow ran the same stop sign at the very same intersection — and Randolph Scott was not so lucky.
Scott was riding his Harley-Davidson safely at a legal speed on Aug. 16. The 55-year-old Vietnam veteran, volunteer firefighter, farmer, and father of two didn’t have a chance as Janklow came barreling through the intersection at a reported 70 miles an hour. Scott was killed instantly. Friends remembered him as a big, outgoing guy who knew everyone in his small town of Hardwick, Minnesota. He headed the local American Legion post. “He was always there for you,” a former schoolmate recalled. He “liked hamburger steaks,” another friend said.
The imperial Janklow has expressed remorse for the death of citizen Randolph Scott. Remorse, but not shame. Janklow’s son told The New York Times on Sunday that his father “plans to go back to Washington and resume his Congressional duties. . . . He has no intention of resigning.” Janklow, considered a potential candidate against Democrat minority leader Sen. Tom Daschle, is clinging pathetically to his political ambitions. Meanwhile, Republican strategists are worried about losing South Dakota’s only congressional seat to a Democrat.
Politics be damned. Janklow is a repugnant lawbreaker addicted to speed and power. His callous disregard for the rules cost an innocent man his life. The Republican Party should turn its back on Janklow and bear the electoral consequences.
Last year’s Trent Lott episode showed that the GOP can hold its leaders to higher standards. Party officials once again have an opportunity to show that personal accountability is more than a catch phrase. The Democrats have their Chappaquiddick. Republicans don’t need one, too.