Clerk Takes Control of Janklow’s Office

Staffers Continue Constituent Relations But Shift Into ‘Nonpartisan Mode’

Posted January 20, 2004 at 5:01pm

Beginning today, callers to ex-Rep. Bill Janklow’s (R-S.D.) office will hear an innocuous greeting — “South Dakota Congressional Office” — as the Clerk of the House assumes responsibility for the now-leaderless office.

The Mount Rushmore State lawmaker, who announced his resignation in December after being convicted of second-degree manslaughter for his involvement in a fatal August car accident, officially stepped down Tuesday.

Under House rules, Janklow’s office will be supervised by Clerk Jeff Trandahl until a new Member is elected. A special election will be held in South Dakota on June 1.

In the meantime, Janklow’s staffers in both Washington and South Dakota will continue much of the work they already perform, such as processing constituent casework and answering mail. Staffers also remain on the House payroll.

“A lot doesn’t change for us. In essence we had just dealt with constituent problems and that continues unchanged,” Field Director David Volk said in a telephone interview from the Sioux Falls district office.

But offices supervised by the Clerk do face some restrictions in dealing with inquires about pending legislation.

Most notably, staff are allowed to provide general information about a bill’s status in Congress, but they are prohibited from providing analysis of any issues or expressing specific views on legislation.

“If somebody has a complaint about legislation, we essentially refer them to the Clerk of the House. We don’t speculate on legislation,” Volk explained, adding that in many cases, the office can also refer constituents to South Dakota Sens. Tom Daschle (D) and Tim Johnson (D), who have offered assistance while the state’s at-large House seat remains vacant. “We can answer basic questions … and provide information.”

Additionally, Volk noted, staffers are not allowed to take part in political campaigns, even as volunteers.

“We are totally placed in a nonpartisan mode for the next five months,” Volk explained.

Thus far, Volk said, few staff members have begun searching for new jobs, although that’s likely to change in coming months.

“They haven’t really talked about it yet,” he said. “I’m sure as we get into the next few months, they’ll start looking for different jobs.”

Brad Fitch, deputy director of the Congressional Management Foundation, noted that staff departures may vary widely in such situations.

“Often it depends on the political dynamics of a particular situation,” Fitch said. For example, district staff may be held over when a Member-elect has close political ties to the departing lawmaker. “In other cases where there’s more uncertainty, it’s more of a challenge to Congressional staff,” he added.

Among the biggest challenges likely to face Janklow’s former staff, Fitch suggested, are management issues. Even with the assistance from the Clerk’s office, as well as other services still available to House staff, the office is essentially functioning without a leader.

“There’s a management challenge to keep morale going … even to maintain the proper level of service,” Fitch said.

A Moody County jury convicted Janklow in early December of second-degree manslaughter, a felony with a maximum 10-year prison sentence, for his role in the Aug. 16 death of motorcyclist Randy Scott.

Janklow, who was also convicted of driving, speeding and running a stop sign, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.

In the weeks leading up to Janklow’s departure, the Clerk’s office met with the lawmaker’s staff to discuss the transition.

“This has happened before and the Clerk keeps on top of the situation and has a very capable staff,” said House Administration Committee spokesman Brian Walsh. Janklow’s departure marks the fourth vacancy during the 108th Congress. The Clerk’s office also currently supervises the office for Kentucky’s 6th district, which now-Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) vacated in December.

In the 107th Congress, the resignation, death or expulsion of Members resulted in 10 vacancies.