Commentary: Reflections from former House Republican Leader J.T. Wilcox


Prior to stepping down earlier this year, I had the privilege of serving as House Republican leader in the Washington state House of Representatives for five years. In that role, I worked closely with some of the finest public servants our state has to offer — including the three individuals who represent the 20th Legislative District. 

This newspaper has afforded me the opportunity to reflect on my time as leader and share my experiences working with Sen. John Braun and Reps. Peter Abbarno and Ed Orcutt. In this two-part series, I hope to leave you with a clear picture of who these men are and how they are working on your behalf to make this county and state a better place to live. John and Peter will be the focus of this piece, with Ed at the center of the next one. 

If I had the space, I could write 5,000 words on my admiration for John. He is smart and disciplined, and as steady a leader as I have ever come across. As my counterpart in the Washington state Senate, we worked hand-in-hand every day to challenge the majority party and promote real solutions to the ever-growing list of problems facing our state.

Because of our tight-knit relationship, we were able to trust one another and tackle issues in a productive way. We both operated from the belief that we were stronger when united as one, especially considering the makeup of the Legislature. Democrats came to understand they would not be able to create a rift between us. 

Of John’s many accomplishments, perhaps none is greater than his ability to convince Senate Democrats to move legislation more toward the middle when House Democrats advance far-left bills. His calm demeanor, strong relationships and masterful command of the facts have made a significant difference in improving some of the worst bills devised in our state’s history.

For this, John deserves an enormous amount of credit — though he would never claim it for himself. As long as he is in the Legislature, Senate Republicans and the 20th Legislative District will be in good hands.

As far as Rep. Peter Abbarno goes, one could make the argument that no other House Republican has had more of an impact in such a short amount of time. In only his second term, he has already been elevated to a position in leadership as assistant floor leader. That is not by accident. Peter is highly motivated and has a relentless work ethic when it comes to advancing good policy in Washington state.

Peter has been one of our best communicators on a wide range of issues, which is why I chose him to be our hard-nosed, House Republican negotiator on the state drug possession legislation debated earlier this year — even though the policy was not initially in his wheelhouse. He was crucial during negotiations and delivered for our state, helping negotiate the Blake “fix” bill that required a one-day special session in May. With Peter’s leadership, the Legislature passed a measure that strikes the right balance between accountability and compassion for those suffering with addiction.

Peter also serves as the ranking Republican on the House Capital Budget Committee, which appropriates money for the construction and repair of public buildings, as well as thousands of community projects across our state. His detail-oriented approach to budgeting will ensure these dollars are going toward the most important infrastructure projects, including the 20th Legislative District. 

As someone who has been a lawmaker for a long time now, I know how difficult the job can be. It is not for everyone. It requires a unique set of leadership skills that both John and Peter possess. You are fortunate to have them as lawmakers, and I hope you will take advantage of any opportunity you have to sit down with them and work together on solving the biggest challenges facing this community. It is an honor to serve with them, as well as Rep. Ed Orcutt.


State Rep. J.T. Wilcox, a Republican from Yelm representing the 2nd Legislative District, earlier this year stepped down as House Republican leader.