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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Northwest Lawmakers Visit Malheur Refuge On 'Fact-Finding Mission'

Washington Legislature
Washington Legislature
Washington state Rep. Matt Shea was one of six Northwest lawmakers to meet with the armed militants occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.

Six Northwest state lawmakers made a weekend visit to Burns, Oregon, the site of an armed occupation by opponents of federal land policies.

Among them were two Washington House Republicans. Matt Shea said he and fellow state Rep. Graham Hunt first met with local officials and the FBI before going out to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to meet with the armed militants.

Shea called the trip a “fact-finding mission.”

“That was our main thing, just get to the truth and because BLM actions affect Washington, they affect Idaho, they affect Oregon, they affect Nevada—those are the legislators that are involved,” Shea said. “I think it behooves us to get to the bottom of it and find out what is actually fact on the ground.”

Shea said he was assured by both local and federal law enforcement that there is no plan to use violence against the armed occupiers.

Shea said he’s not prepared yet to publicly pick sides in the situation. He’s a member of the informal Freedom caucus in the Washington House. In 2014, Shea went to Nevada to lend support to rancher Cliven Bundy in his ongoing dispute with the Bureau of Land Management. Bundy’s son Ammon is leading the occupation in Oregon.

Three Idaho lawmakers, Reps. Heather Scott, Judy Boyle and Sage Dixon, also participated in the visit last weekend along with with Oregon state Rep. Dallas Heard.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."