Austin Jenkins

Olympia Correspondent

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."

Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise.

Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. In 2019, he received his Master of Communication in Digital Media from the University of Washington Communication Leadership program. 

Austin's reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists. Austin was part of a team that won a 2018 national Edward R. Murrow award for breaking news coverage.

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PARKER MILES BLOHM / KNKX

A proposal to impose sweeping restrictions on police tactics and techniques in Washington is highlighting stark differences of opinion between police and reform groups.

Austin Jenkins / NW News Network

Amid the ongoing pandemic and threats by far-right protesters to "occupy" the Capitol, Washington lawmakers will convene Monday for what will ultimately be a mostly remote 2021 session with a focus on the ongoing response to COVID-19, police reform, addressing climate change and writing a two-year state budget.

As he prepares to begin a third term in office, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing a new tax on health care premiums to fund post-pandemic public health. He’s also once again urging the Legislature to pass a capital gains tax.

The tax measures are contained in Inslee’s two-year, $57.6 billion operating budget proposal released Thursday in advance of the 2021 Legislative session. Separately, the Democratic governor also released proposed capital construction and transportation budgets.

Courtesy: TVW.org

The first doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine should start arriving in Washington on Monday, with the first vaccinations of front line health care workers beginning as early as Tuesday.

An upbeat Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that timeline at a rare Sunday news conference.

“We are ready to go,” Inslee said. “We now know there will be an end to this turmoil and this trauma and this challenge.”

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

For the second Saturday in a row, a gun was fired as groups of protesters from opposing ends of the political spectrum clashed in Olympia.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

At Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, nurses with desk jobs are being told to prepare to come back to the front lines, and elective surgeries and procedures are once again being put on hold.

The desperate measures come amidst an ongoing spike in coronavirus cases in the community and as the hospital prepares for a post-Thanksgiving surge of COVID-19 patients.

“Unfortunately, I think within the next week it’s going to be a significant rise in COVID-19,” said Dr. Kevin Caserta, the chief medical officer for Providence SW Washington.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in Washington foster youth spending more nights in hotel rooms while overall reports of child abuse and neglect have declined precipitously. Those are among the pandemic-related findings of an annual report from the state’s Office of the Family and Children's Ombuds (OFCO) released Monday. 

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Because of disruptions wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, majority Democrats in the Washington House have been asked to restrain themselves and introduce no more than seven bills each during the 2021 legislative session -- and then only bills that “are urgently needed.”

Committee chairs in the House have also been instructed to limit the number of public hearings they grant and dial back the number of bills they pass out of their committees.

Courtesy Office of Gov. Jay Inslee

The director of public health in the third most populous county in the United States will be Washington's next secretary of health. 

Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced the appointment of Dr. Umair A. Shah to lead the state Department of Health beginning on December 21.

Since 2013, Shah has been executive director of Harris County Public Health in Houston, Texas. He will replace outgoing Secretary John Wiesman who has served in the position since 2013. Previously, Wiesman announced his plan to leave the post at the end of the year to take a teaching job in North Carolina. 

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Washington Republicans say the Legislature should immediately meet in special session to address the economic fallout from Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest Covid-19 orders – and even consider tapping the state’s “rainy day” fund.

Under Inslee's orders, gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums will once again have to close. Also, restaurants and bars will have to cease offering indoor dining service and limit outdoor dining to five people per table. Many other businesses will also be affected. The new rules will remain in effect for at least the next four weeks. 

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has scheduled an unusual Sunday news conference to announce new restrictions to combat what his office calls "the rapid and alarming rise of Covid in our state."

Previously, Inslee's office had said an announcement would be forthcoming as early as Monday.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

On a recent rainy morning, a long line of cars snaked around the block at Providence Southwest Washington’s drive-through testing site near Olympia.

“I’m in awe,” said Irene Wood who sat at the wheel of her Prius, mask on, having just been tested. “It’s awful and it’s amazing there’s this many people being tested.”

This was Wood’s second trip to the testing site in a week. Her first test came back negative. But then she hugged her daughter who had previously tested positive.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Predictions of a possible “Blue Wave” in Washington state did not materialize last week, despite President Trump’s unpopularity among the electorate. As of Monday, he had received just under 39 percent of the vote to President-elect Joe Biden’s 58 percent.

Initially, it looked like Democrats might be poised to pick up several legislative seats and further pad their healthy majorities in both the Washington House and Senate. But as later-arriving ballots have been counted, the advantage has swung the other way giving Republicans the edge in several tight races.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Despite intense interest in the 2020 election, and a ballot return rate that's already over 60 percent, voter registrations in Washington have lagged this year, compared to four years ago.

According to figures provided by the Secretary of State’s office, 513,000 people registered to vote in Washington prior to the 2016 election. So far this year, this state has seen approximately 440,000 new registrants, a 14 percent drop compared to four years ago. However, the last two months have shown something of a rebound.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

In the battleground states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania legal battles have raged over whether postmarked ballots that arrive via mail after Election Day will be counted. In other states, like Wisconsin, it’s already been decided -- they won’t.

Meanwhile in Washington -- a non-battleground state -- ballots that arrive up to 20 days after the election, or by November 23, will still count, so long as they were postmarked on or before Election Day.

That’s been the long-standing rule in Washington going back decades.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

State and local election officials in Washington sought to reassure voters Monday that robust security measures are in place to protect against interference with the general election, even as they acknowledged the likelihood that bad actors will try to sow distrust and undermine confidence in the national election results.

Coronavirus cases are spiking. A major election is looming. And Washington’s legislative session is still two months away. But Washington’s beer lobby has a message for top elected officials that apparently can't wait.

Washington Secretary of State's Office

State and local election officials in Washington said Thursday that election systems here are secure and haven’t been hacked. Those assurances follow multiple reports in recent days of efforts by foreign actors to interfere with the upcoming national election.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

In a year that seems all about the presidential election, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening down the ballot. In Washington, all nine statewide elected positions are up this year. But some of the fiercest action, and biggest spending, is happening in state legislative races.

For context, Democrats currently hold strong majorities in both the Washington House (57 to 41) and Senate (28 to 21 -- the 21st is a Democrat who votes with Republicans).

From Clark County to Whatcom County, from Puyallup to the heart of Seattle, only a handful of the 124 legislative contests are fiercely competitive. Some feature one Republican and one Democrat. Others are intra-party contests.

We aren’t going to get to them all. Instead, here’s a quick guide to six of the hottest statehouse contests across the state.

Note: the campaign finance numbers below were current as of October 22. For the latest numbers click here and sort by money raised or spent. 

Jay Inslee photo by Austin Jenkins, NW News Network. / Loren Culp photo courtesy Culp campaign

Washington’s race for governor is a lopsided, yet surprisingly fiery contest this year. It pits incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee against Republican Loren Culp, a first-time candidate. Inslee is seeking a rare third term while Culp is trying to pull off the upset of the century.

Credit: Kim Wyman and Gael Tarleton campaigns

For more than half a century, Republicans have had a lock on Washington’s Secretary of State’s office. This year, Democrats hope to end that five decade run by unseating incumbent Kim Wyman who’s seeking a third term.

Democrats feel they have the political winds at their back and an unusually strong challenger in Gael Tarleton, a state lawmaker and former Port of Seattle commissioner who once worked as a defense intelligence analyst for the Pentagon.

Republicans, meanwhile, are counting on a long history of ticket-splitting by Washington voters who might repudiate President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, but be willing to support a veteran elections official and familiar state Republican further down the ballot.

KUOW Photo / Dyer Oxley

The Supreme Court of the State of Washington struck down the voter-approved $30 car tab initiative Thursday morning, stating it is unconstitutional.

Lt. Governor's Office

Outgoing Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib is on unpaid leave attending Jesuit training in California and does not plan to return to his office before his term is up in January, according to his office and the office of Gov. Jay Inslee.

In a statement Tuesday to the public radio Northwest News Network and the Associated Press, the executive director of the lieutenant governor's office, Kristina Brown, said Habib, a Democrat, began his leave on Sept. 1 and notified both Inslee and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig at that time.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

“Give me three terms” might be the motto of Washington’s November election. Gov. Jay Inslee, Secretary of State Kim Wyman and Attorney General Bob Ferguson are all seeking a third, four-year term this year.

Not to be outdone, State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is going for a sixth round.

Yes, long-term incumbents hoping to go even longer is a definite theme this year.

But the statewide ballot also features some newcomers, some higher office seekers and even a congressman who wants a one-way ticket back to the state Capitol.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Former Washington state Auditor Troy Kelley plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to formally review his federal convictions for possession of stolen funds, filing false tax returns and making false statements.

The move comes after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month denied Kelley’s request for a rehearing of his case by all of the judges on that court. Previously, a three-judge panel rejected Kelley’s appeal seeking to overturn his convictions.

Washington Secretary of State's Office

As President Donald Trump intensifies his attacks on the security of vote-by-mail, county auditors and state election officials sought Friday to reassure voters the state of Washington is well prepared to pull off the 2020 vote-by-mail election.

However, those reassurances were also tempered by ongoing concerns about the United States Postal Service’s capacity to deliver and process ballots in a timely manner.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Last May, opponents of Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay home order staged a “Hazardous Liberty” rally on the campus of the Washington Capitol. Guns outnumbered masks as speaker after speaker – mostly Republican officeholders and candidates – decried Inslee’s response to the pandemic as monarchical and an assault on individual freedom.

The sign–and-flag-waving crowd cheered the speakers as they lambasted Inslee. But one speaker in particular seemed to have attained a kind of celebrity status among many in the crowd.   

“I think you know who’s coming, doncha,” boomed the emcee. “No introduction needed: Sheriff Loren Culp.”

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

It was common through the 1800s for American school children to attend a one-room schoolhouse. In 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Swanson family in rural north Olympia will attend a one-garage schoolhouse.

On a recent morning, Molly Swanson rolled up her garage door and welcomed a visitor into the classroom she and her husband created this summer as a place to educate four of their six children, plus two foster children.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

On the evening of Monday, March 23, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee delivered a televised address from his office at the Capitol to announce his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. That order effectively shut down as many as 230-thousand Washington businesses deemed nonessential.

Two days prior, a lobbyist with deep, personal ties to Inslee had contacted one of the governor’s senior policy advisors on behalf of the commercial fishing industry.

“I’m working with [t]he At-Sea processors which is the biggest fishery in the country and the second biggest in the world,” wrote Brian Bonlender in a March 21 email to Charles Knutson, who advises Inslee on economic development, innovation and global affairs.

Bonlender, whose connection to Inslee dated to the early 1990s, wanted to know if the governor was going to designate critical infrastructure -- exempt from any shutdown order -- and, if so, whether commercial fishing would be included.

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