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David Copeland

Many Republican office-holders in Tennessee generally and in Southeast Tennessee specifically stand on the shoulders of former state Rep. David Copeland, who died Wednesday.

Copeland was elected as a Republican state representative from Hamilton County — specifically East Brainerd — in 1968, a year when most state and local offices still were held by Democrats, and went on to serve for 24 years.

But the Central High School graduate was no mere seat holder. He went on to become an expert in fiscal matters and would be glad to tell anyone who would listen about the need for tax reform and the pitfalls of a large and bloated governmental bureaucracy.

Well before a flat tax was being advocated by national candidates, for example, he suggested one for Tennessee. And his reasoning was that with tax reform, economic growth would be stimulated and more jobs would be brought into the state.

Today, although the state didn't adopt a flat tax, Republicans across the state have pushed for lower taxes, which have stimulated more jobs, spurred economic growth and made Tennessee one of the top business friendly states in the country.

And Copeland foresaw an inevitable problem with continued government largess.

"We're running into a collision course between the rising social expectations of those who receive from the government and the ability of those that pay for government," he said in 1981. "It will be one of the greatest upheavals of our time. Unless something is done, the system will collapse under its own weight."

Copeland was the author of the 1978 state constitutional amendment which essentially forces the state legislature to adopt a balanced budget every year. Approved by two-thirds of state voters, it came to be known as the Copeland Cap.

A Korean War-era Army veteran, he was variously named Legislator of the Year by the American Legislative Exchange Council in 1978, named to the Legislature's Top 10 six times, twice was honored as Outstanding Legislator and was selected one of the state's Most Effective Legislators in each year such a list was made.

Copeland also was the chairman and organizer of the first National Tax Limitation Conference in 1978, ran for governor in 1994, and served from 1997 to 2005 as a member and later chairman of the then-Baroness Erlanger Hospital Board of Trustees.

While Republicans have controlled both houses of Tennessee's legislature since 2010, a fact that no doubt pleased him, we wish the party more often displayed the same fighting spirit, good humor and passion for the issues that he did when the party was in the minority.