Cleveland Monroe Bailey

Charleston Gazette
July 16, 1965

Old Cleve's Works Won't Easily Fade

It could hardly be said that the death of Cleveland Monroe Bailey this week removed the last of a breed of old time politicians from the West Virginia political scene. He was a campaigner of the old school, and he borrowed some characteristics from such colorful figures as Matthew Mansfield Neely and Edgar B. Sims, but basically Cleve Bailey was a little different from any of them.

He was of the Neely era, a colorful and flamboyant period in West Virginia politics. He made his first bid for public office in 1910 - just two years after Neely launched his long political career with election as mayor of Fairmont. For Bailey, it was an inauspicious start, for he was defeated for superintendent of Harrison County schools. But he was to lose only two other elections, in 1946 when he failed to win re-election to Congress and in 1962 when he lost to Republican Arch Moore after Bailey's old Third Congressional District had been joined with Moore's First District.

Cleve Bailey - or, old Cleve as he was usually called in recent years - was not the flamboyant type. As he would walk around, head down, brow furrowed, puffing his inseparable pipe or, in later years, a big cigar, he was anything but impressive in appearance. His long suit was a remarkable memory for statistics, and an amazing ability to cut through red tape and make the most complicated problem appear to be simple.

Last year, for example, when he submitted to an interview about two years after his defeat by Moore - "My health had something to do with my retirement, but the major reason was Mr. Moore" - he hesitated occasionally and apologized that he can't concentrate like I used to when I was a youngster."

Then he talked on, giving dozens of precise figures such as the Republican and Democratic voter registration totals for three-county State Senate districts in the election of 1922, or exact balances, right to the penny, of various state funds when he was in state budget work.

Bailey's introduction to state politics came in 1933 when he came to Charleston as assistant to state Auditor Edgar B. Sims. The tall, lanky, tobacco chewing Sims, and the short, muscular, pipe smoking Bailey made a natural team.

Sims prided himself in being the "watchdog of the treasury" and had a flair for gaining newspaper headlines by refusing to issue state checks for various reasons, usually on constitutional grounds, and a good record of winning his arguments. But what most people did not realize was that Cleve Bailey fashioned many of the political bullets that Edgar Sims fired. Bailey had a keen knack for interpreting the Constitution and a brilliant grasp of state finances, and he was constantly on the alert for projects that Sims could use to advantage and to the credit of his office.

It might be said that Cleve Bailey had a crafty mind. An example of this can be cited even in the events of his wedding day. The bride to be was from East Liverpool, Ohio, and wanted to be married in her home state. Young Cleve insisted on a West Virginia wedding. Finally, to break a stalemate, he proposed a compromise - they would be married in a carriage in the middle of the bridge between Chester, W.Va., and East Liverpool, Ohio. We don't know whether Mrs. Bailey yet realizes it, but Cleve got his way - they were, indeed, married in West Virginia because the state line is at the low water mark on the Ohio side.

Bailey remained with Sims as assistant auditor until 1941 when the then Gov. Neely appointed him state budget director. He remained in that post - and could give almost any figure in the budget without a glance at the document - until 1944 when he branched out on his own, so to speak, and won election to Congress in the old Third District.

He was unseated in 1946 when the Republicans gained control of the House with the election of "that do-nothing 80th Congress" that Harry Truman talked so much about - but came back in 1948 to recapture his old seat, which he kept continuously until 1962 when the consolidated First and Third districts proved too much for him.

There were indications that Bailey's heart wasn't really in the 1962 campaign, and he said later that he wasn't up to it but agreed to run largely at the urging of the national and state administrations. He didn't feel at home in the Northern Panhandle counties and the people there didn't really know him. Also, Bailey had been through several major operations and his health wasn't the best. In fact, those weekend trips back to Washington ostensibly to take care of congressional work were really for treatment in the Bethesda Hospital.

Bailey was a fighter and he at least went through the motions when he realized as much as anyone that the odds were against him. His fighting spirit also showed up in Congress, where he was a tenacious advocate of federal aid for public schools and a key figure in increasing the minimum wage from 40 cents to $1.25 an hour.

His willingness to fight, verbally or physically, showed up in 1955 during an executive session of the House Education and Labor Committee. He engaged in a heated argument with Adam Clayton Powell over Powell's insistence on an antidiscrimination clause in a federal school aid bill. Bailey, who was no segregationist but a political realist, contended that Powell's amendment would kill the bill. In the heat of argument, Powell called Bailey a liar and Bailey went after him swinging. Apologies followed and they remained friends, but Bailey delighted in telling about the time he gave Powell "a white eye."

Changing districts and changing times prevented Cleve Bailey from dying with his political boots on, but he did live to see a school in Oklahoma named for him as a gesture to his national regard in education circles. And there are those who think the Sutton Dam someday will bear his name, for that was one of his big projects as a member of Congress.

Government and Politics

West Virginia Archives and History