Janklow Charged With Manslaughter; Political Observers Anticipate His Resignation

Posted August 29, 2003 at 12:33pm

Rep. Bill Janklow (S.D.) was charged Friday with second degree manslaughter as well as three misdemeanor counts relating to an Aug. 16 automobile accident that left a motorcyclist dead, fueling speculation that he will resign his seat prior to the 2004 elections.

The manslaughter charge is the most serious of the four counts, bringing with it the possibility of up to 10 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. If convicted of reckless driving, Janklow could spend up to one year in prison and be docked $1,000. The two other charges carry less jail time and smaller financial penalties.

Janklow was traveling between 70 and 75 miles per hour when he ran a stop sign and the Cadillac he was driving struck and killed motorcyclist Randy Scott.

The former four-term governor, who fractured his hand and was briefly unconscious as a result of the accident, has not appeared publicly since the crash. He was not immediately available for comment today.

Most South Dakota Republican political observers were shocked by Moody County Prosecutor Bill Ellingson’s decision to bring felony charges against Janklow, and they signaled it would likely end the Congressman’s storied political career.

“A misdemeanor might have been survivable from a political standpoint but a felony is not,” said one South Dakota Republican. “Convicted felons are not allowed to vote in the House and that means if convicted he would not be able to carry out the most basic duties of a Congressman.”

Although there is no specific House law banning Members convicted of a felony from voting, that policy has been codified over time. Former Rep. James Traficant (D-Ohio) did not vote following his conviction on numerous felony counts of bribery in 2002.

In the event Janklow resigns his seat, Gov. Mike Rounds (R) has 10 days to announce the date for a special election, which would then be held 80 to 90 days after the formal vacancy was declared.

The candidates for the special election would be selected by each party’s state central committees.

Overtures already have been made by the state and national parties to 2002 nominee Stephanie Herseth (D) and former Rep. John Thune (R).

Herseth lost to Janklow 53 percent to 46 percent in 2002 but ran a strong campaign. Thune lost a 2002 race to Sen. Tim Johnson (D) by 524 votes and is seen as a likely candidate against Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) in 2004. Thune held the state’s at-large House seat from 1996 until 2002.