Thomas L. Copeland

Thomas L. Copeland

Tom Copeland calls himself a conservative, but he is certainly not a traditionalist. He was irrepressibly interested in the cutting edge in whatever business he was engaged: changing farming practices, the processes and mechanics of operating the Legislature, and the role and status of the Legislature as an institution. As a very young man, Tom served in the European Theater of World War II as a tank destroyer commander. He learned to lead men and machinery under grueling conditions, without loss while closely engaged with enemy forces. He then brought that same energy and drive back to Walla Walla where he expanded the family farm operations to take advantage of new techniques, crops and markets. Tom’s deeply ingrained sense of responsibility led him into politics, and once in the Legislature, into leadership positions. Metaphorically speaking, Tom was still a tank commander, as he took aim at the target of reform and planned his campaign strategy to revitalize the House Republican caucus.

Although active on several committees, Tom explains that he was chiefl y interested in "the back room." He became immersed in tracking how the Legislature worked—and how it could be improved. His main goal was to create a more transparent process, so that members and more importantly, the public could understand and participate in their government. No longer would it be acceptable for a chairman to announce a committee meeting only minutes beforehand, with no notice to the public of what bills were to be considered in a closed room. No longer would freshmen legislators spend hours proofreading bills for printing errors. No longer would members keep in touch with constituents using their own telephones and pick up the bill personally. Tom worked to open up meetings, provide calendars and other tracking services and create offi ce space for legislators with room for staff and other research services. He worked closely with the State Code Reviser, Richard White, to introduce revolutionary data processing capabilities to the legislative environment. His goal was to make the Legislature a branch of government equal with the rapidly modernizing executive branch.

Tom Copeland served in the Legislature during a period of great change and expansion. The state was experiencing rapid growth and development in the postwar era. The schools, crowded with students born during the "baby boom years," challenged systems weakened by years of depression and neglect. As the population ballooned and new businesses reshaped the economy, the state was hard pressed to provide new roads, infrastructure and services. Energetic legislators like Tom Copeland grappled with obsolete methods and brought their fresh vision and vigor to modernize the machinery of state government. They inspired and encouraged other young men and women to win seats in the Legislature and work for a transformation in government. Tom played a signifi cant role in the modernization of the Legislature; his oral history is a chronicle of reform and innovation. His legacy is embedded in what we take for granted today: open and accessible government.

Thomas Copeland: An Oral History

Combat Commander: Photographs and Timeline of Service


Combat Commander
Serving in the European Theater during World War II was a particularly formative experience for Tom Copeland. The training and habits of command he learned during these years shaped his sense of leadership, decision-making and philosophy of life. Tom brought these qualities to the Legislature and employed his prodigious energies in that arena to great effect. As his wartime experiences so informed his lifelong approach to problem solving and working as a team, a closer examination of this part of Tom’s history is warranted. Further, so many of his future colleagues in the Legislature had similar experiences that this study stands as a reminder of the signifi cance of the War for a whole generation.

Chronology of Military Service
Tom Copeland on "Tank Destoryer Units"


Modernization of Legislative Processes


Modernization of Legislative Processes
When Tom Copeland entered the Legislature in 1957 he found an institution stuck in time, employing methods suitable to a sleepier era of government. Meanwhile, the executive branch, under activist governors Albert Rosellini and Dan Evans, were reforming and reorganizing state agencies and restructuring such vital functions as the crafting of the biennial state budget, bringing in a team of expert staff that left the Legislature lagging behind. Tom and other forward-thinking members worked to address the increasing gap and make the Legislature a true partner in a modern state government.

Tom Copeland focused his energies in two main areas. He analyzed the processes by which the Legislature organized itself for its paramount duty: the passage of new legislation. From initial research of information pertinent to bill formation to committee functions to fi nding ways to involve the public, Tom worked to reform every step. He served on several interim committees dedicated to this end throughout his years of service.

His most signifi cant contribution in this area was the introduction of computers to track information on bill progress, and capture and disseminate essential materials throughout government. His work with Richard White, the State Code Reviser, is detailed in a group interview conducted with Tom, Richard White and Gay Marchesini, longtime assistant to White.


Modernization of Legislative Facilities


Modernization of Legislative Facilities
The second area of concern was the physical environment provided for the legislators. In 1957, legislators conducted all of their work at their desks in the Chambers. When they needed to correspond with constituents and others, they called a stenographer from a pool of office workers and dictated letters. A small switchboard took calls and forwarded messages, but any calls the legislator needed to make were private calls. Committee chairmen had a few more services and space, but conditions were primitive. All of these defi ciencies were related to lack of facilities. Tom served on the Space Allocation Interim Committee from 1965-1972, working to update services and provide better working conditions for legislators. Creating new spaces also allowed the legislators to employ individual assistants for the fi rst time. Concurrent with this growing need to find space on the Capitol Campus for legislators was the expansion of many state agencies and their subsequent need for new facilities. The solution was to develop a new center of government buildings adjacent to the original campus. Although complex and contested, Tom and other members worked to achieve this transformation in facilities and design.


Timeline of Capitol Campus Buildings


Current Name Previous Names Year Opened
West Campus:
Governor’s Mansion 1908
Temple of Justice 1913
Insurance Building 1921
Legislative Building 1928
Irving Newhouse Building Institutions, Highways, Labor and Industries 1934
John A. Cherberg Building Public Lands-Social Security, Public Lands 1937
Capitol Conservatory 1939
John L. O’Brien Building Public Health, Transportation, House Office Building 1940
General Administration Building 1956
Joel M. Pritchard Building State Library 1959
 
East Campus:
Capitol Court 1930
Highways-Licenses Building 1962
Employment Security Building 1961
State Archives Building 1963
Transportation Building Highways, Highways Administration 1970
Office Building Two (OB2) 1975
Natural Resources Building 1992
Employment Security Annex n.d.

Contact Information

  • Location
    Washington State Library
    6880 Capitol Blvd S
    Tumwater, WA
  • Mail
    PO Box 40243
    Olympia, WA 98504-0243
  • Phone
    (360) 704-7141