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Blast from the past: Bailey proposes to serve as a temporary member of Congress in 8th District

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 21, 2012 - Former Missouri state treasurer and former congressman Wendell Bailey, R-Willow Springs, has announced that he’s jumping into the crowded GOP field seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson.

But Bailey just wants to be a placeholder until a Republican primary in 2014.

Bailey said in an interview Friday that he was concerned that his party and the district may suffer from the frenzied jockeying now underway to pick a Republican nominee for a not-yet-scheduled special election this spring.

“I’m not sure the best candidate has emerged so far,’’ said Bailey in a telephone interview between campaign stops in Potosi, Farmington, Rolla and Cape Girardeau.

Bailey’s plan is to serve as a conciliatory interim member of Congress to give time for other Republicans to mount serious campaigns to hold the seat long term.

Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, is leaving office in a few weeks to become the new chief executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association based in Washington. The reliably Republican 8th District takes in southeast Missouri, reaching north to include part of Jefferson County.

The current crop of GOP contenders include state Republican Party executive director Lloyd Smith and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder.

“Of the approximately 20 people that have expressed interest in being the candidate, there are a number of committee members interested in their campaign,” Bailey said, referring to the 8th District GOP committee that will choose a nominee. “The only way that these committee members can ensure that these candidates get a level playing field is to select Wendell Bailey, who will not be a candidate for re-election.”

Colorful character during 18-year tenure in office

Bailey, 72, has been out of office – but not government – for 20 years. He served as Missouri treasurer from 1985-93, losing a 1992 bid for governor. Earlier, he served in Congress from 1973-83, and he was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 2000.

He later served as the regional director of the Small Business Adminstration through much of President George W. Bush’s term, from 2001-2009.

Bailey lost his seat in Congress after the 1982 redistricting prompted by the 1980 census, which resulted in Missouri’s losing one of its then-10 congressional seats. Bailey was tossed into the 8th District with then-U.S. Rep. Bill Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau. He chose instead to challenge unsuccessfully then-U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Lexington, in 1982 .

Throughout his political career, he became known as much for his antics as for his policies. He once rode a horse into the state Capitol, prompting it to slide across the marble floor.  

During the height of his unsuccessful 1992 bid for governor, Bailey was stopped by authorities at Lambert Field for trying to board a plane with a gun in his carry-on. Bailey said at the time that he had forgotten that he had been carrying a firearm.

Bailey held news conferences Friday throughout the 8th District. He said he also had sent a letter outlining his intentions to Eddy Justice, chairman of the Republican 8th District committee that will chose the GOP nominee for the special election.

“I am in this race. And I have the best plan for the Republican Party,” said Bailey. “That plan is to win the race for the remainder of Jo Ann Emerson’s term, and then I will not be a candidate for re-election. This plan allows the Republican Party to have a full-fledged primary.

“I understand there may be as many as 20 or more people who are interested in being a candidate. The only fair way, the only way, to give these good Republicans a level playing field is to allow my plan for a primary to go forward.

“I am by far the best person to fill this unexpired congressional term. I have congressional experience. I passed legislation on the floor of Congress in my freshman term regarding the Paddy Creek Wilderness. This legislation limited the number of wilderness areas on U. S. Forest Service land. I am proud that it was signed into federal law by President Ronald Reagan.

“Not only do I have this congressional experience, I have a distinct advantage because of my name recognition. This recognition is high in the 8th District. My old congressional district included Howell, Texas, Shannon, Oregon, Phelps, Washington, Crawford and Dent counties.”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.