So, here we are at the crossroads ? waiting. South Dakota Congressman and four-time former Governor Bill Janklow has finally been charged, after a seemingly interminable period of time, for his actions (reckless, accidental, call them what you will) that resulted in the death of Minnesota motorcyclist Randy Scott. Many in the predominantly Republican State of South Dakota continue to defend Bill, or at least feel sorry for him, for the media attention that his speeding through a STOP sign at 75 mph on Aug. 16 have garnered. Now, this surprises me considering how Bill has spent the last 30 years posturing for and glowing in the media limelight at seemingly any opportunity that presented itself.
Take, for example, the Congressman's consistent bragging and joking about his one-dozen-plus speeding citations - right up to and including his most recent such incident in Nebraska. Hardly the behavior of a politician who shies away from the camera. God only knows what obscure, and better left unsaid, personal habits the man might share with the public were he any more vocal. Moreover, those who are in elected office should be held to the highest degree of scrutiny. They're supposed to be our leaders and role models, remember folks? In his case, the Congressman has, apparently, been vying for the "I wanna be a race car driver" share of the impressionable portion of our population - that being adolescent boys and guys who still haven't grown up.
Next we have Bill's son, Russ - an attorney who actually had the gall to offer such inane excuses as: "70-75 [mph] isn't reckless driving ? 120 [mph] is reckless driving," and "my father's public position requires him to drive fast." These things he said in defense of the Congressman's vehicular "track record" that led to the death of an innocent man. Such absurd "logic" makes me glad Russ won't be defending me anytime soon ? for anything.
Then there are "the powers that be" in this state who swear that Bill "hasn't been" or "isn't going to be" treated differently than any other South Dakota citizen who might find themselves in these same unfortunate circumstances (though I think any one of us would have had our license pulled after, oh, the 8th or 9th speeding offense). Even without the countless anecdotal evidence I've already received from fellow South Dakotans to the contrary, it takes only a casual glimpse at the recent reports of cases similar to the Congressman's to see the contradiction of the "pursuit of equal justice for all" that's assured to us in Janklow's case by those very same "powers that be."
Finally, we have the man, himself - a former Marine who has always publicly prided himself (at least according to himself) on his leadership qualities. It was the Congressman, then Governor, wasn't it, who boasted in the past that he never expected any "special" treatment by state police, or any other law enforcement personnel if he were ever found breaking the law? Right. Bill's behavior after and since the accident that killed Randy Scott really makes me wonder just where he was for that part of Marine Corps basic training where you're taught that every leader takes responsibility for his or her actions. I remember it quite clearly. It was right after the instruction period on "don't expect your men to do anything you're not willing to do." In this case, every South Dakotan falls into Bill's "your men" category. Bill, apparently, expects state laws to apply to "all" ("criminals should be locked up") except himself, or he would have accepted responsibility for his actions at the time of the accident and not tried to wriggle free via son Russ' inane excuses.
There isn't enough room in one column to touch on all the instances that have been relayed to me where Bill's behavior toward the Native Americans of this state has been questionable, at best, in his role as a "leader" of his state. But the most recent occurrence was passed on to me by an Oglala tribal official who noted how he and other Lakota tribal representatives were escorted from Bill's D.C. office, to the Capitol cafeteria and, eventually, to a hallway in the Capitol building for a "government-to-government" meeting that Bill was too busy to attend himself. Now, I'm aware that many of my fellow South Dakotans see little problem in such behavior and have less than fond feelings for their Native brothers and sisters. But to them I would point out that the only thing that separates a lack of respect by a Congressional representative toward the members of one race from a lack of respect for the members of another race is the issue at hand. When we allow any Congressional representative to dismiss the concerns of any one citizen or group as unimportant, for whatever reason, we leave the door open for that same behavior to be applied toward us the next time we're seen as "unnecessary" in our elected official's agenda.
As John Adams pointed out while defending the British soldiers who fired on the colonial mob at the "Boston Massacre" - the laws for justice and equality that we demand for ourselves must also apply to our enemies. In this case, the South Dakota Congressional seat is meant to represent all South Dakotans, regardless of race, just as the laws of South Dakota are meant to apply to all its residents regardless of political position, influence or power. Any Congressional representative who would show favoritism or neglect of any portion of the population that he or she "serves" does not deserve to call themselves a representative of "the people." Any person who would see himself or herself above the law doesn't deserve our sympathy, or our vote.
The biggest concern I hear from South Dakotans, Natives and non-Natives as the world waits for Bill Janklow's next appearance in court, is that "he'll get off ? he's Janklow ? he's been in office so long he owns the state." Though I've never aligned myself to one political party I would hope that the people of this predominantly Republican state would consider Congressman Janklow's actions in the death of Randy Scott at least as serious as they considered President Clinton's actions in his affair with Monica. Just as impeachment and the "full measure of the law" were called for in Clinton's offense, so should resignation be called for in Janklow's offense - followed by a strict adherence to the state's penalties for second-degree manslaughter as well as the Congressman's assortment of related Aug. 16 driving offenses.
For many years, I've heard of the "good Christian values" of South Dakotans. I trust that, if that description is accurate, breaking the Fifth Commandment will be viewed as at least as large a transgression as breaking the Seventh. If not, it might be best to admit where our values and concerns truly lie, to have the integrity to stand by those beliefs and adjust the name of our home accordingly and let the world know that S.D. actually stands for "State of Denial."
Jim Kent is a freelance writer and radio journalist who is regularly heard on National Native News Radio and Free Speech Radio News. He lives in Hot Springs, S.D.