Yelm mayor presents longtime legislator with certificate of appreciation


With Washington Second District Rep. J.T. Wilcox’s pending retirement after 14 years in the state House of Representatives, Yelm Mayor Joe DePinto presented the longtime legislator with a certificate of appreciation during the May 14 Yelm City Council meeting.

When Wilcox announced his retirement in February, he said his decision stemmed from the fact that he’s spent a third of his adult career in the Legislature.

“That’s enough,” Wilcox wrote in his retirement announcement. “We need a new generation to put our government back together, and I am 100% sure that the individual who will replace me and the younger people I know in the House Republican Caucus … can and will do it.”

During the Yelm City Council meeting, DePinto highlighted some of Wilcox’s achievements in the Second District, which includes Pierce County, Yelm, Rainier, Tenino and Bucoda in south Thurston County.

“But he’s also served in leadership as the Republican leader for the House,” DePinto said. “That’s been a very important role, but also been very helpful for us here in Yelm. It’s good to have a legislator [where] this is his home.”

After DePinto thanked Wilcox and councilors gave the departing representative a round of applause, Wilcox shared some parting thoughts. He will retire from the Legislature after his term concludes. The primary election for District 2 Position 2 is scheduled for Aug. 6.

“Thank you everybody for this, and thank you for those 14 years. Keep doing what you’re doing, please,” Wilcox said. “The thing that I’ve told people over and over is that it’s a real privilege to serve your neighbors, but to be able to do it in a way where you can be yourself [is special]. You can serve the people you grew up with, serve the town that you went to school in, went to church in, went to Lions Club in. That’s not possible for most people. Politics, as all of you know, is hard and bitter now.

“For me, it’s been hard and bitter in moments, especially as House Republican leader during the COVID years, but never here in Yelm, and really not in the small towns that I’ve represented. It’s hard to believe Yelm is the largest town that I represent.”

Wilcox added it was nice representing small towns that “have an identity,” and ones where “people know each other.” He noted that Yelm is “way bigger” than it used to be and that he recalls when there were just four stop signs. Though Yelm has changed and evolved, Wilcox said he never had to try to change who he was in order to be a politician.

“Most people in politics have to do that at some point. When you’re not willing to sort of be a different person in front of different crowds, maybe that makes some people unhappy, but that’s still the right way to do politics,” Wilcox said. “If I could leave you with a thought, I know I can’t do politics here. It wouldn’t be right. I was scheduled through Public Resources. But I’m pretty sure that whoever replaces me is going to be good and is going to care about these small towns, as well. You were always nice enough to let me concentrate on the state of Washington without demanding that I be here a lot, or that I just pay attention to the Second District. I would ask you to be more demanding of the people that come after me.”

He added that state representatives and senators, whether they’re in the majority or minority, can always do more for their constituents.

“You’ve been smart enough to ask for a lot of things in the capital budget, and we’ve done pretty well with the capital budget,” Wilcox said. “There are other places that do even better. So I would think really hard about planning ahead for capital budget items, and I would also be pretty outspoken if you have legislators that are not really representing your interests.”

He told DePinto and councilors that they should be able to feel like they can express themselves when representatives or other state officials are “screwing up.”

“I’ve watched what happens sometimes in city council meetings and have reflected on the fact that you don’t get paid much. You can’t go back and hide in an office. You’re part of a community, and people are sometimes not very appreciative of what you do. I want you to know that I appreciate you,” Wilcox said. “I think there’s a lot more people out there that don’t speak up very much, but there’s a growing sense that real public servants, like all of you are, and I’m not just talking about the elected ones — I’m talking about the people that work here for the city of Yelm — I think there’s more appreciation out there for you than expressed.”