In June 2003, U.S. Rep. Bill Janklow of South Dakota attempted to set a record of sorts. In order to attend different events in Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska in the same weekend, he drove 1,100 miles—very fast.
“I got to meet two of the Nebraska Highway Patrolmen yesterday—very polite gentlemen who cut me a little bit of slack and so I appreciate that,” Janklow told those attending a House subcommittee hearing.
The officers stopped Janklow for speeding but gave him only a warning.
Janklow “deserves a Purple Heart for doing what he is doing,” Rep. Tom Osborne of Nebraska said at the time, praising Janklow for driving great distances in such a short amount of time. American military personnel who have earned a Purple Heart the old-fashioned way certainly have grounds to dispute Osborne’s conclusion.
Two months later, while allegedly driving at least 71 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone, Janklow ran a stop sign in rural Trent, S.D., and crashed into motorcyclist Randolph Scott, killing him. Janklow was charged with second-degree manslaughter (a felony), reckless driving, speeding and failure to stop. He pleaded not guilty, waived his right to a preliminary hearing and goes to trial Dec. 1.
If convicted of the manslaughter charges, he faces a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He could also face a separate investigation by the U.S. House of Representatives and possible expulsion from that body.
Janklow is no stranger to traffic infractions. Between 1990 and 1994, he was ticketed for speeding 12 times. State records also indicate that he has been involved in at least seven traffic accidents since 1992.
His June remarks were not his first that made light of his tendency to speed. When he was South Dakota’s governor, he told the state legislature in 1999: “Bill Janklow speeds when he drives. Shouldn’t, but he does. When he gets a ticket, he pays it. If someone told me I was going to jail for two days for speeding, my driving habits would change.”
Neither is Janklow a stranger to the law. A South Dakota politician for almost 30 years, he served as the state’s governor for 16 years and attorney general for four years. He was elected to the state’s House seat in 2002. He certainly ought to know the law, and he ought to know better than to break it.
In an Aug. 22 Sioux Falls news conference, Janklow said that he “couldn’t be sorrier” for the accident that claimed Scott’s life.
Janklow has apologized. Only time and his future driving record will reveal whether he has repented. And that’s certainly between him and God.
We’re not so different. We too confuse repentance with something else. We tell God we’re sorry and claim to have repented when in reality we’re sorry we got caught. Or we realize we exercised poor judgment in something we said or did, so we try to correct it for public relations purposes.
The path toward doing God’s will has no shortcuts. Apologies and retractions won’t get us started. Repentance will.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.