Some South Dakotans may not keep up with how one of their U.S. representatives, Bill Janklow, is voting on important matters such as the war on Iraq. Residents of that state would have to be living in a cave, however, not to know that Janklow is charged with a felony, second-degree manslaughter.
A Monday press conference marked the first time the Republican has spoken publicly about the Aug. 16 crash that killed Randy Scott. An investigation indicates that Janklow, driving 71 mph in a 55 mph zone, ran a stop sign. A hearing scheduled for Thursday will decide if Janklow will stand trial.
If convicted on the manslaughter charge, he will not be allowed to vote in the House or take part in committee meetings.
But, for the good of his state, Janklow should step down.
How can the legislator expect to perform his duties effectively, and instill confidence in the citizenry, when he has a felony charge looming over him? Janklow's legal problems certainly are a distraction to him, to fellow legislators and to South Dakota at large.
Questions about a person's judgment naturally arise when they are implicated in a fatal accident. Janklow probably didn't set anyone's mind at ease with his press conference on Monday. The representative repeatedly refused to answer direct questions about his case -- which his attorney probably advised him was the smartest thing to do. But, in attempting to arouse sympathy for himself, he described how members of the press often flout his state's speed limits as they rush to cover breaking news. "It could just as easily be you facing these tough questions," Janklow seemed to say, desperately seeking to make a connection.
Janklow, whose term ends next year, hasn't announced whether he will seek re-election. With 30 years of experience in politics, the representative should realize there is a time when a person must put others ahead of their own ambitions. No matter what votes he is looking forward to making in Congress, Janklow can't get past the fact that he was behind the wheel of the Cadillac that struck Randy Scott and took the man's life. Janklow can always run for office again -- but it should be after the hard questions concerning his judgment have been satisfactorily answered in court.
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