«RM75»«FC»COL238.PRB - Boom Boom Bailey
I recently ran into one of the most entertaining and inspiring officials I've covered in the statehouse -- Wendell Bailey.
Reporters gave him the nickname "Boom Boom" for his self-described "tub-thumping" campaign for state treasurer in 1984.
He'd bring to rallies a metal wash tub he'd bang to get attention.
It sure got my attention. I had more fun covering his campaign than I can remember. "Joyous" in both office and campaign is how Columbia Tribune Reporter Rudi Keller describes Bailey, whom he had covered.
But that belies the depth of Bailey's knowledge and seriousness of purpose.
Critics at the time joked about Bailey's campaign tactics and his rural background as a used-car dealer.
But there is a far greater depth to Bailey than they realized.
He had a college in degree business management. As state treasurer, he demonstrated a deep understanding about the complexities of state government financing.
His presentations impressed both me and my wife. Realize, Lori and I are not easily impressed by folks talking about the budget. We both were taught public administration budgeting in graduate school by a man who helped put together federal budgets, the late Stan Botner.
Both of us have spent most of our adult lives dealing with the staggering complexities of government finances.
But Bailey always avoided talking down to people. My wife remembers how he used colored crayons in one presentation to help the audience better understand the complex issues of government financing. It was typical
Bailey to be entertaining while still explaining complex issues.
Bailey began his political career as the mayor of Willow Springs in rural southern Missouri before election to the state legislature in 1973 where I first met him.
After eight years in the House, he went to Congress. He served just one term before his district was eliminated after the 1980 census.
He ran against another incumbent and lost. But defeat never stopped Bailey.
In 1984, he was elected to the first of two terms as state treasurer.
But he lost subsequent campaigns for governor, lieutenant governor and state Senate.
Through it all, Bailey still stood out as an exception in candor and comfort in his own skin.
He did not need an army of public relations assistants. He was his own best spokesman.
He demonstrated his candor in 1991 when he was caught trying to board a plane in St. Louis with a loaded revolver.
Bailey did not duck the issue nor hide behind staff statements as so many politicians I've covered would have done.
Instead, just a few days later, came back to the St. Louis airport for a news conference. He confessed to reporters deep embarrassment and explained that in his haste to get packed, he forgot he had a loaded revolver in his carry-on bag.
It struck me at the time that Bailey's candor and willingness to address the issue head-on helped diffuse what could have been a politically catastrophic incident.
Bailey lost his campaign for governor the following year, but that airport incident was not a major factor. The former Willow Springs mayor simply was out-funded by his opponents.
Although out of office, Bailey has maintained his passion for public service.
I was reminded of that a few years ago when I encountered Bailey in the statehouse where he was trying to get legislative attention to problems facing rural schools.
He ardently described to me rural school problems at a time the state was focused on urban schools.
Our discussion led me to encourage one of my journalism students to pursue the story. She discovered Bailey was absolutely correct and produced an uncovered state story about the problems facing rural education.
In researching this column, I found a newspaper story from that time that Bailey committed $100,000 of his own money to address rural high school dropouts.
I wasn't surprised. Bailey always has been serious in purpose -- despite that joy in his voice.
Having fun in pursuit of public service is what makes Wendell Bailey so special for our state -- and for me.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]