Former Tennessee Rep. David Copeland dies at 88

Former Tennessee Rep. David Copeland dies at 88

June 6th, 2019 by Staff Report in Local Regional News

David Copeland

David Copeland

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

Former Tennessee representative David Copeland, a Hamilton County Republican who during a 24-year legislative career authored a state constitutional amendment that sought to rein in government spending and became known as the "Copeland Cap," died Wednesday. He was 88.

Copeland served in the state House from 1968 to 1992, later running in 1994 for governor, losing in the GOP primary to then-Congressman Don Sundquist, who went on to win the general election.

The Ooltewah businessman was a major force on fiscal affairs and unlike most colleagues also had a firm command of House rules. Both earned him respect from majority Democrats.

"David Copeland is the model for a fiscal conservative," said Tom Griscom, a former Chattanooga Times Free Press publisher and executive editor who earlier as a reporter in the 1970s covered state government. "As a member of the legislature he spent all of his waking time trying to figure out how to make the state spend less than it had."

His best-known achievement was the Copeland Cap. What it says is the rate of growth in state spending can't exceed the estimated growth of the state's economy as determined by law. No state appropriation in excess of the limitation can be made unless state lawmakers pass a standalone law acknowledging they are breaking the cap and stating the specific rate and dollar figure.

Voters approved it in 1978. When Democrats were in control, they usually didn't mind busting the cap and acknowledging the fact. But under GOP legislative control, it's become a major issue. Just last year, Tennessee's attorney general said in a legal opinion that if the excess money went into the state's "Rainy Day" emergency reserve, it wouldn't bust the cap.

A Tampa, Fla., native, Copeland's family later moved to Tennessee where he graduated from Central High School and later took courses at a local business college. He served in the the U.S. Army in the early 1950s. 

In 1966, Copeland co-managed the 3rd Congressional District campaign of Republican Lamar Baker. Two years later, Copeland himself successfully ran for the Tennessee House, working his way onto the Finance Committee. 

Copeland lost his House GOP primary in 1992 to fellow Rep. Ken Meyers after Democrats put the pair in the same seat during legislative redistricting.

In later years, he served as chairman of the Erlanger Board of Trustees.

Copeland is survived by his wife, Mary, and son, Mike Copeland, and daughter, Valerie Copeland Rutledge. Funeral services will be held at 12:30 p.m. June 11 at Chattanooga Funeral Home's East Brainerd Chapel. Burial is at the Chattanooga National Cemetery with military honors.