Tulalip leader, state lawmaker John McCoy to retire

In a 17-year career, McCoy gave a quiet, firm voice to those without one in the political process.

State Sen. John McCoy

State Sen. John McCoy

TULALIP — Sen. John McCoy, a Tulalip tribal leader who established himself as a tireless force for those with the least financial resources and political power in the state, announced his retirement from public office Thursday.

One of the first Native Americans elected to the state Legislature, he was at the forefront of efforts to build and strengthen relations between the state and tribal governments throughout his 17-year legislative career.

McCoy, 76, said he has diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Those health challenges drove his decision to step down with half his current term remaining. His last day is Friday.

“It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve the people of the 38th Legislative District and our entire state,” McCoy said in a statement released Thursday.

McCoy served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force before retiring in 1981. He worked as a White House computer technician before embarking on a management career in the private sector.

In 2000, he became general manager at Quil Ceda Village, pouring a foundation for a growing commercial development that is a major piston of the county’s economic engine.

In 2002, McCoy won a seat in the state House representing residents of Everett, Tulalip and parts of Marysville. He was re-elected five times before being appointed to the state Senate in 2013. He won a full four-year term in 2014 and was re-elected in 2018. He served as chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

McCoy was a reliable vote for liberal Democrat policies. In his tenure, he led efforts to extend broadband service into rural areas and incorporate Native American history into public school curriculum. He pushed for tougher rules for oil transportation and water quality, as well as expanding production of alternative energy. He authored several bills to protect rights of lower-paid workers.

“His leadership style was quiet, thoughtful and got results,” said Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, who served nearly a decade with McCoy in the House.

Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, succeeded McCoy in the House in 2013.

“He is certainly going to be a voice we will miss in the state and in the district,” Robinson said. “He gave voice to those who did not have one in our political process.

“He was a moral compass to me,” she said. “I’ll miss that.”

Hillary Moralez, chairwoman of the Snohomish County Democratic Party, described him as an “icon” of party leadership.

“His retirement is a great loss,” she said, adding that he’s been “an unfailing, kind and dedicated civil servant, and it’s been an honor to get to work with him.”

In 2007, McCoy underwent triple-bypass heart surgery after doctors discovered a problem during a routine medical examination.

In April 2019, a bout of flu and pneumonia sidelined him during a busy legislative session.

Even before then, he had become visibly more frail. In the 2018 election, his two opponents openly questioned whether he would serve a full term.

“At the time I had the full intention of completing my term,” McCoy said in an interview Thursday. “But in life things happen.”

McCoy is looking to spend more time with his wife, three daughters, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, according to a statement issued Thursday.

Meanwhile, the process to fill the vacancy will begin.

Democratic precinct officers of the legislative district will nominate three people. The Snohomish County Council will appoint one. That person will serve through the November election, when voters will elect someone to finish McCoy’s term.

If the appointee wants to keep the job, they will need to run.

Robinson said Thursday she is considering seeking the appointment.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos.

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