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DFP Interview: Bob Mercer Did Press and Policy for Bill Janklow

Bob Mercer, at SDNA convention, Aberdeen, SD, 2017.04.28.
Bob Mercer, at SDNA convention, Aberdeen, SD, 2017.04.28.

If you liked listening to Bob Mercer talk about how he got started in journalism, you’ll love listening to his stories about working for Bill Janklow.

In Part 2 of our exclusive interview (downloadable here for your listening pleasure!), we pick up where Bob Mercer talks about leaving Peg Sagen‘s Rapid City Journal to work as Bill Janklow’s press secretary through Janklow’s fourth term as Governor, from late 1998 through 2002.

Among the highlights from Mercer’s stories:

  1. Mercer tried to find someone else to take the job, thinking that if he could install a friendly press secretary, he’d have a source on the inside.
  2. Mercer modernized the Governor’s press office and did a much better job of responding to calls than Janklow had in his previous three terms.
  3. Mercer speaks highly of his deputy press secretary Mike Mueller, whom he recalls as a co-worker, not a subordinate.
  4. Mercer built enough trust with Janklow that “Janklow let me talk for him” and maintained an open-door policy for Mercer, allowing him in the office for all but two meetings (one with Mike Rounds, one with Dave Munson) during Mercer’s four years in on the second floor.
  5. When Attorney General Mark Barnett, Deputy A.G. Larry Long, and Janklow aide Jeff Fox were struggling to secure Indian gaming contracts, Janklow dispatched Mercer to take care of the negotiations with the tribes. Mercer’s success on that issue led Governor Janklow to trust more policy work to Mercer, to the point where Mercer says he spent more time working on policy than on press statements.
  6. Mercer fought Legislative efforts during Janklow’s fourth term to make mugshots public record. To Mercer’s dismay, the Legislature finally made mugshots public documents this year with Attorney General Marty Jackley’s Senate Bill 25. Mercer explains why, even as a journalist, he still opposes publishing mugshots.
  7. Mercer says he quit over Janklow’s procrastination on what should have been a simple publishing task. Mercer quit on a Friday; the next Tuesday was September 11, 2001. When the second plane hit the World Trade Center, Mercer went right back to work.
  8. Mercer recalls his last year in Janklow’s employ. In 1998, Mercer told Janklow he would not work on a campaign, and Janklow said he would not run another campaign. In 2002, Janklow changed his mind (in part due to encouragement from the Bush Administration, which had already induced John Thune to give up his seat in Congress to run for Senate instead of Governor), but Mercer did not.
  9. Janklow wanted Mercer to come work for him in Washington. Governor-Elect Mike Rounds “put out a feeler” to keep Mercer as press secretary. Mercer turned them both down, saying that all through his time working for Governor Janklow, he wanted to stay in Pierre and return to journalism when Janklow’s last term as Governor ended. Mercer says the Distinguished Service Award he received from the South Dakota Newspaper Association Friday “is proof of the value” of his decision.

Stay tuned for the third and final part of our conversation, in which Mercer talks about what that award means to him. He also gives details about the health scare that could have kept him from being here to receive that award.

Update 2017.05.01 08:15 CDT: Part 3 is online!


  1. Rorschach 2017-04-30 17:29

    I’m sure Bob has some great stories to tell … or not tell … about his time working for Bill Janklow. Believe it or not there was a time when things actually got done in SD. Whether that’s good or bad, you can decide for yourself.

    And Mike Mueller is a decent guy too.

  2. Lora 2017-04-30 21:55

    I agree with Mercer…no public mugshots before convicted. My first day of voting was on this issue and I was the sole “no” vote….learned to be contrary when it involves values early in my political life.

  3. Troy 2017-05-01 15:35

    Bob’s experience on the tribal casino negotiations confirms something I’ve speculated about for a long time. Too long a story and alot of psychobabble. But, alot of insight.

    Bob is still right on mugshots.

    I agree with Bob’s assessment regarding the Middle East/Islam.

    I think Janklow had some right to keep components of his health issues private.

Comments are closed.