PIERRE — Today marks one year since the death of Bill Janklow from inoperable brain cancer. His four terms and 16 years in the office made him South Dakota’s longest-serving governor.
Eventually two portraits of Janklow — one for his 1979-86 terms and the other for his 1995-2002 terms — will be added to the display of paintings of former chief executives for Dakota Territory and South Dakota in the first-floor hallway of the state Capitol.
Janklow, who was 73 when he died, was one of four giants of South Dakota politics to die in 2012. The others were Jim Abdnor, 89; George McGovern, 90; and Frank Henderson, 84.
Successfully rambunctious might be a way to describe them as a group.
But they weren’t a group at all.
They were self-made politicians who took some hard blows to their egos and their lives and then kept rolling forward until they could no more.
They won much more often than they lost. Every one of them lost a big election at some point — and each one came right back to win the next time.
George McGovern started it all by doing the near-impossible as Democrat: winning the U.S. House of Representatives seat for eastern South Dakota in 1956 and 1958.
He lost his campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1960, but came back in 1962 to win the state’s other Senate seat.
Deep down, McGovern most wanted to be the nation’s president. He reached the peak of his political life in 1972, when he won the Democratic nomination but lost against President Richard Nixon.
Eight years later Jim Abdnor shut him down.
If there was a mold for the perfect candidate in that 1980 U.S. Senate race, Jim Abdnor wouldn’t have fit it.
He was a never-married country boy from Lyman County who won election six times to the state Senate and once as lieutenant governor. In 1970, he sought the Republican nomination for western South Dakota’s seat in the U.S. House and lost.
Abdnor bounced back two years later, winning the open-again U.S. House seat in 1972. He spent the next eight years in the House and in 1980 ran for the Senate. He won a primary, again, and then blew aside McGovern that November.
Amid all this was the rise of the Democrats as true political force in South Dakota. In addition to McGovern, the 1970s saw the election of Dick Kneip as governor, Jim Abourezk as U.S. senator and Tom Daschle to the U.S. House.
The baby boom was good fortune for South Dakota Democrats. Voter registration soared for their party. Republicans, meanwhile, started busting apart.
That was most true in 1970, when out rode Frank Henderson, a Rapid City lawyer who had under his belt a Bronze Star for valor in Korea and two terms as a Republican in the state Senate.
Henderson challenged Republican Gov. Frank Farrar. Henderson had his hot spots, but Farrar held on statewide for the Republican nomination with 48,250 votes to Henderson's 34,893.
Kneip took over from there. A Democratic state senator from Salem, Kneip took Farrar out in the November general election by about 13,000 votes.
Kneip went on to serve three terms as governor, helped by a 1972 change in the state constitution that changed the governor’s term of office from two years to four years for the 1974 election.