Sarah Janecek, an influential Minnesota political commentator, writer and strategist who embraced the GOP but was respected across party lines, died Friday while on vacation in South America.
Janecek, 57, died of a severe septic infection in a hospital in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, her family said.
For more than 20 years, the Minneapolis strategist waded through the state’s political landscape, serving as a GOP activist, lobbyist and writer. She flexed her writing skills on her Politics in Minnesota newsletter and state directory, and also offered up her views on politics to local and national media.
She was unafraid to speak her mind, but listened to those on the other side of the aisle, too — evidenced upon her death by the outpouring of emotional condolences from people across the political spectrum.
“We will miss her keen insights and wonderful wit,” Gov. Mark Dayton said Saturday.
Janecek grew up in New Brighton and was class president at Irondale High School. She went on to the University of Minnesota, where she also earned a law degree.
In the late 1980s, she kicked off her career as a state lobbyist. Naturally analytical and curious, she gained respect for her sharp skills and drive to toil long hours, her family said. Especially at the start of her career, she often was the only woman in a group of men.
From 1990 to 2002, she and Wy Spano, a Democrat, ran a lobbying firm together. “She was quite willing to listen to the other side of whatever the discussion was,” he said.
Janecek went on to edit the Politics in Minnesota newsletter and serve as publisher of the Politics in Minnesota state directory, collecting interviews for legislators and other public officials throughout the state. The directory was an innovative undertaking, said Blois Olson, who copublished the newsletter with her.
She also worked in consulting, making the rounds of shows on KSTP and TPT to talk politics.
One of Janecek’s most influential opinion pieces was “The bachelor farmer and the marriage vote,” published in the Star Tribune on Oct. 30, 2012. In it, she wrote that unlike many Republicans, she would be voting “no” on the traditional-marriage amendment in honor of her late uncle, a “bachelor farmer” with a longtime devoted friend. “I’m voting ‘no’ for my late uncle, and for all the bachelor farmers who may have been or are gay,” she wrote.
Janecek lived in her beloved Lowry Hill neighborhood, where she enjoyed frequenting dog parks with her yellow Lab.
Her personal life was not without sorrow. Her husband, Bill Scott, who served as a Marine in the Vietnam War and as a Minneapolis police officer, died of cancer that the family said was brought on by Agent Orange exposure. He died in 1998, the same year the two married.
Family was important to Janecek, said her sister, Karen Hoyt, of Champlin. She also loved to travel, often going on group trips or solo tours.
Her recent Facebook feed is full of blue-skied photos from South America until a Dec. 29 post in which she said she was running a fever. She died two weeks later.
Her family will cherish one of the last photos taken of her, in which she is celebrating her birthday high on a chair lift, waving to the camera and framed by the Andes.
“She had a unique zest for life,” Hoyt said. “She had a spark and a fire.”
In addition to her sister, she’s survived by a brother Jim Janecek, of Cottage Grove, and stepchildren Christine, Bill, Sarah and Mark Scott. Services are pending.