Posted: May 14, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

No "Big Head" for Charlie Copeland. The state Senate minority leader has removed himself from a Legislative Hall leadership committee that meets about the budget and revenue.

Copeland's exit came shortly after he filed as a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor. It did not look like a coincidence, nor was it. "That might be part of it," Copeland conceded.

Big Head, a name that radiates both sarcasm and authority, is an unofficial council that represents the four caucuses in Dover -- Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives -- and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's Democratic administration.

It does not set fiscal policy, but it is the vehicle for arriving at a consensus on how to handle the state's money, whether it is budget cuts and tax increases in bad years like this one or bonus spending and tax cuts in good years.

Until Copeland pulled out, the legislative membership was: Tony DeLuca, the majority leader, and Nancy Cook, the Joint Finance Committee co-chair, for the Senate Democrats; Copeland and Liane Sorenson, the minority whip, for the Senate Republicans; Dick Cathcart, the majority leader, and Bill Oberle, the JFC co-chair, for the House Republicans; and Bob Gilligan, the minority leader, and Helene Keeley, the minority whip, for the House Democrats.

Copeland asked Sen. John Still, a fellow conservative, to take his spot. Still is a logical, if somewhat curious, choice. He sat on Big Head before Copeland ousted him last year as the minority leader.

"I'll take it. I do love the numbers, and I know how to cut," Still said.

Still is retiring at the end of the term. His return to Big Head can be regarded as a going-away present, but his upcoming departure also means he is immune to reprisals from the voters for unpopular budget-slashing and revenue-raising measures expected to emerge from the talks.

Meanwhile, Copeland gets a pass -- just what is needed for someone running with Bill Lee for governor on a ticket with an unofficial slogan of "I told you so," a reminder of the warnings Lee delivered as the 2004 nominee.

The idea is to run as an outsider, not an institutionalist. For emphasis, Copeland is giving up a safe Senate seat he first won in 2002 at the end of the term to make the race for lieutenant governor.

It frees Copeland from what happened to him last year as a member of Big Head. He was boxed into casting the deciding vote in the Senate for a cigarette tax hike, even though it went against his conservative grain and made him take one for the legislative establishment.

"Shutting down the government didn't make a lot of sense when the budget director said there was nothing we could cut," Copeland said.

Republicans think Copeland made a smart move to leave Big Head, although it did open him up to some flack from Matt Denn, the insurance commissioner who is one of the Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor. Ted Blunt, the Wilmington Council president who is the other Democratic candidate, did not return a telephone call.

From Denn's perspective, Copeland was walking away from the one assignment that gave him some clout over the state's finances as a member of a minority caucus. It put him in the room to make the hard choices that Copeland repeatedly has said must be made.

"I can't read Charlie's mind, but if I were a legislator concerned about the budget, then I'd want to be at the meeting where the budget is decided," Denn said.

Copeland, however, thinks Big Head is overrated. "It is ill-equipped to deal with the problems we have now. We need new executive leadership," he said.

How does that come about? "A November election," Copeland said.

No Big Head for Charlie Copeland. He has a bigger one in mind.

# # #

Not that anyone is popping the question, but Joe Biden and Tom Carper have their answers ready if they are asked to run for vice president.

The Hill, a Capital Hill newspaper, recently surveyed every U.S. senator not named Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama to find out whether they would accept.

Some senators were quick to rule it out. ""Once is enough. I already have the t-shirt, and I'm proud of it. I yield to my colleagues," quipped Joe Lieberman, the lower half of the Democratic ticket with Al Gore in 2000.

Others got a kick out of it. "Absolutely. Absolutely. I think it would be great. First of all, I know how to behave at weddings and funerals, and I know how to be commander in chief. I'd bring a lot of fun to the job. We would rock the Naval Observatory," said Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat.

Guess which one of Delaware's Democratic senators was enthusiastic and which was terse?

Carper: "Yes. Sign me up. I've been kidding people for years. The hours are better. The wages are just as good. Whoever heard of a vice president getting shot at? And it's a great opportunity to travel. And actually, since time has gone by, the job is robust. So, sure. Anybody here would, if they're going to be honest. The chances are slim to none, but I promise you, I would deliver all three of Delaware's electoral votes."

Biden: "I'm happy being called 'Mr. Chairman.'"

Spoken like someone who really meant, I should be picking a vice president, not getting picked.