Nobody can accuse small-town car dealer Wendell Bailey of being politically apathetic.
During the past 30 years Bailey, 58, has gone from city councilman to U.S. congressman to gubernatorial candidate. Since 1996 he has been a lobbyist and consultant to the National Independent Automobile Dealers Association.
Most dealers stay away from politics unless it directly hurts their bottom line, according to Bailey.
'They only scream when the rocking chair gets their tail,' he said from his used-car dealership and one-lane auto auction in Willow Springs, Mo.
Bailey, on the other hand, makes sure he is sitting in the chair.
First and foremost, Bailey is a car dealer with ties to both the NIADA and the National Automobile Dealers Association. Bailey will attend both associations' conventions next month: NADA in San Francisco Feb. 6-9, and NIADA in Atlanta Feb. 23-28.
Bailey is a longtime NADA member. At age 25, he took over his family's Pontiac dealership in Willow Springs when his father Robert died. He later added GMC.
In 1990, he sold Bailey Pontiac-GMC to his son John, but Bailey never really left the dealership. John says his father still helps with everything from service to sales to finance.
He is the cornerstone of the business, John Bailey said.
Just over a year ago, Wendell Bailey launched a new career. His son had just opened a new Chevrolet dealership in Willow Springs and moved the Pontiac and GMC franchises to the Chevrolet store, leaving the older dealership empty.
Wendell Bailey saw an opportunity to get back in business. The old dealership building, he thought, would make the perfect auto auction. The dealership's used-car lot would make the perfect independent used-car lot.
In no time, Bailey and his daughter Jill had opened the Auto Exchange Auto Auction and the Wendell Bailey Automotive Co. used-car lot.
'You never get out of the car business,' Bailey said. '(This is) just a different phase.'
Bailey never really left the political arena, either. Although he has not run for office since 1996, he often travels to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress on behalf of NIADA.
Bailey was destined to be a politician, and a Republican to boot. His mother named him for Wendell Wilkie, the Republican presidential candidate in 1940, the year Bailey was born.
He got his start in politics in 1970 as a member of the Willow Springs city council. He later was a representative in the Missouri state legislature, and in 1980 was elected to the U.S. Congress. He served one term.
In 1985 he returned to Missouri's capital, Jefferson City, where he was state treasurer for eight years.
His last campaign was in 1996, when he lost the Republican nomination for Missouri state senator. But his biggest race was in 1992 when he ran for governor. In the end he lost a heated three-way battle for the Republican nomination.
When R.B. Grisham, a former Missouri state representative, became director of NIADA in 1996, he called Bailey for help. Grisham has known Bailey for more than 30 years. He grew up just north of Willow Springs and later shared an apartment with Bailey in Jefferson City when Grisham was a representative and Bailey was treasurer.
Grisham said NIADA benefits from Bailey's connections, his privileges as a former congressman and his wit. 'I think being a dealer, he has an insight that's just unmatched,' Grisham said.
Bailey expects to be busy this year pushing the uniform title branding bill that Congress failed to pass last year. He said there is also further work to be done on the taxing of subprime reserves.
In December, an Associated Press article suggested Bailey was interested in the 2000 race for governor. But Bailey doubts he will run again.
Don Wessel, NADA's Missouri director and a friend of Bailey's, believes Bailey is having too much fun to consider another run at office.
But if he does hit the campaign trail again, Wessel, owner of an Oldsmobile-Honda dealership in Springfield, Mo., said Missouri dealers will stand behind him.
Bailey can't completely rule out a return to politics. Said Bailey: 'You never get that needle out of you arm. Politics is addicting.'