Staff writer Caleb Brubaker spent March 24 in Jefferson City with representative Ron Copeland and writes about a day in the life of our representative.
The life of a Missouri Representative to the State House is a busy one. That’s something that Rep. Ron Copeland found out quickly during the first few months of his freshman term in office.
“I thought I would have a lot more time, but that’s not the case,” said Copeland. His schedule runs at breakneck speed when he’s at the Capitol in Jefferson City. Copeland was elected to represent District 143 (Dent, Shannon, Oregon and Reynolds counties) in November 2020 and was sworn into office Jan. 6. When Copeland is on the hill, in addition to hours spent in session, his schedule is riddled with meetings of all kinds.
Upon arrival at Copeland’s office Wednesday, his legislative assistant informed me that Copeland was already on the house floor prepping for the 10 a.m. session. As I took my seat in the House Gallery, I spotted Copeland seated in the front of the house, just as Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo’s gavel boomed and his auctioneer-like voice echoed through the chambers of the House. I settled in and listened to what bills and resolutions came before the house for discussion and voting.
Copeland’s day began hours before as he prepared for session. Copeland spent the morning reviewing numerous bills that might come before the House that day. Representatives can expect that any bill currently active might be brought before them for discussion or vote, meaning that they have to maintain familiarity with dozens of bills. Copeland said that he often has to review as many as 50 or 60 bills when he prepares for the day.
After the morning session, I met Copeland back at his office where his legislative assistant, Daniel Englelhardt – who Copeland spoke very highly of – provided me a bottle of water and told me to make myself at home in Copeland’s office.
Moments later, Copeland arrived with a lobbyist from Cox Health in tow, who approached him after session to discuss an upcoming proposed amendment to a previously passed bill. I sat in on their discussion, watching as Copeland listened attentively to the lobbyist as she explained her employer’s interest in legislation and how the legislation would in her opinion improve the lives of Missourians. The bill they discussed had to do with better maintaining the chain of evidence when victims of sexual assault are brought to the hospital.
Due to Copeland’s expertise in crime and punishment – 28 years of service as a Missouri Highway Patrolman – he was able to ask well-informed and pointed questions. Copeland’s law-enforcement background also led to his being appointed to serve on the Crime Prevention Committee, a committee comprised of 10 people and devoted to legislation relevant to crime prevention.
“I’m also part of an unofficial group of 15 to 20 representatives with law-enforcement backgrounds,” said Copeland. This group allows a discourse about how best to handle law-enforcement related legislation in Missouri.
After the lobbyist exited, Copeland shifted his attention to me. Copeland explained to me about the flow of his work in the legislature and the overall legislative process.
While Copeland spoke with me, he led me through the halls of the Capitol, trying to give me a better understanding of what a day in his life might be like. Just as we were getting started, a fellow congressman who is also appointed to the Crime Prevention Committee, Rep. Rasheen Aldridge of St. Louis City, approached Copeland. Aldridge expressed the value of their differing opinions and backgrounds. After Aldridge went on his way, Copeland told me, “I really appreciate working with him as well.” Copeland told me that their differing opinions stem from very different backgrounds. The perfect example of that being that in 2014 during the well-known Ferguson riots, Copeland was there as law enforcement ,while Brown was present as one of the protestors.
“It’s important to build these kinds of relationships across the aisle,” said Copeland. Copeland said that this allows for a better understanding of needs and issues that affect citizens throughout the state. Copeland also stressed the importance of building relationships with his fellow legislators, both locally and across the state. “There may be a bill that doesn’t much directly affect my area,” said Copeland. “But if it doesn’t hurt my area and it helps another area, I have no reason to oppose it.”
Copeland said that he thinks that legislators should hold to at least one tenant of the Hippocratic oath, “First, do no harm,” he said. Copeland said that this perspective is important for the cohesion of the legislature.
“If representative in the cities, for example, know that I listened to them and tried to help them do what was best for their constituents, then maybe they’ll listen to me,” he said.
While making rounds of the Capitol with Copeland, he introduced me to a number of people, including legislators, including Sen. Justin Brown of Rolla and Rep. Ann Kelley, and various staff with other roles.
As a freshman representatives, Copeland continues to learn how best to make relationships among fellow legislators, but he said that he still has a lot to learn and lot of ins-and-outs to get used to.
“Up until about a week ago, I didn’t really believe I could make a difference,” he said. Now that he’s beginning to settle in he said. “Now I really think I’m doing something good.”
When I asked Copeland how he approaches politics in Jefferson City, he said, “You vote your ethics, your district, then your caucus.”
Copeland is not someone who originally had ambitions for politics. His view of running for office was the same view of his decades-long career in the Missouri Highway Patrol.
“I’m a service-oriented person,” he said. “That’s how I viewed my job with the highway patrol, that’s how I viewed my time when I was on my local school board. That’s how I view my job here. I’m not a career politician.”
According to Copeland, he’s just a guy who wants to do right by his constituents. Service is something he believes each citizen should ask of himself or herself.
“At what point do we start helping?” he said. “At what point do we do something?” Referring to his time on the school board, Copeland said, “I wanted the school to succeed because my daughter went there.”
He has the same view of working as a state representative.
“I want my district to succeed,” he says.
At the end of my visit, I left Copeland where I found him that morning, on the floor of the House of Representatives.
To keep up with the work of the legislature you can visit house.mo.gov.