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.

Ways to Connect

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Democrats in the Washington Senate are on the attack over a series of Republican-backed education reform measures. At a news conference Friday, the Democrats accused Republicans of getting boilerplate legislation from a corporate-backed education foundation run by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Democrat Andy Billig serves on the Senate K-12 committee. He highlighted two specific proposals: letter grades for schools and holding back struggling third graders.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

As Washington moves to legalize marijuana, there are fresh concerns that a parallel market for pot will continue to flourish. It’s not quite a black market. Let’s call it a “grey” market – for medical marijuana. The question now: how will highly taxed and regulated pot compete with largely unregulated medical marijuana?

Robert Nelson / Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Democratic lawmakers in both Washington and Oregon are working on measures to require background checks for all gun sales. A universal check proposal was introduced Wednesday in the Washington House. A similar bill is expected in the Oregon Senate soon.

Austin Jenkins

OLYMPIA, Wash. – One of the key battles shaping up in Olympia this year is over education reform. The Senate’s new majority coalition is proposing a series of measures aimed at getting better results in the classroom. Among the ideas: a state takeover of failing schools. Meanwhile, a key Senate Democrat says the focus should be on school funding – and proposes a new capital gains tax.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington Governor Jay Inslee says the eyes of the nation will be on the state as it creates a legal marijuana market over the next year. The new governor said Thursday that along with legalization comes the expectation that illegal pot production and sales will mostly end.

Inslee doesn’t expect a clear answer from the Obama administration anytime soon on how the federal government will respond to Washington’s new marijuana law. He met earlier this week with US Attorney General Eric Holder.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The partisan fallout continues in the Washington state Senate over its response to how a controversial Republican senator treats staff. Minority Democrats took to the Senate floor Wednesday to accuse the new majority of caring more about who leaked a report about Senator Pam Roach than creating a safe workplace.

Senate Democratic leader Ed Murray says leaders of the new Majority Coalition caucus are “obsessed” with finding out who leaked a preliminary report into more alleged mistreatment of staff by Senator Roach. Murray says it reminds him of Nixon’s plumbers.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. –The first public forum on how to implement Washington’s new marijuana law drew a capacity crowd Tuesday night in Olympia. The state’s Liquor Control Board is seeking input as it writes the rules for enacting Initiative 502 – Washington’s new pot legalization law.

They arrived early and in droves – the smell of marijuana clung in the air. First in line to get a seat for the forum was Leslie Tikka of Olympia. She mainly came to see a bit of history in the making.

Mischa Cowles, Washington State Parks.

It could be one of the largest Maple wood thefts from Washington State Parks land. Thieves in search of valuable “figured maple” wood cut down 21 Big Leaf Maple trees on undeveloped property in southern Puget Sound. Park Ranger Mischa Cowles discovered the theft Friday on Harstine Island. She says she first noticed a road had been punched through a wall of ferns, Salal, and Huckleberry bushes.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Several hundred gun rights advocates – many of them armed – rallied at the Washington state Capitol Saturday. Their purpose was to protest any new gun control measures. Similar rallies were organized in Salem, Boise and Coeur d'Alene as part of the national 2nd Amendment event, Guns Across America.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Washington state senator with a long record of reprimands for her treatment of staff is taking the offensive. Republican Pam Roach Thursday fired back at her accusers -- they include some fellow Republicans. The move comes just as fresh allegations of staff mistreatment emerge. And a narrow majority coalition takes power in the Washington Senate.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington’s new governor touched a nerve with some Republicans in his inaugural address. On the topic of abortion Democrat Jay Inslee called on the legislature to pass the so-called Reproductive Parity Act. It would require health insurers that cover maternity services to also pay for abortions.

Inslee said, "Washington women need the freedom and privacy” to make their own health care decisions.

That’s why I look forward to the Legislature sending me the Reproductive Parity Act to my desk, which I will sign. Let’s get this done."

Office of the Governor

OLYMPIA, Wash. – In her final state of the state speech, outgoing Washington Governor Chris Gregoire urged lawmakers to fund schools and roads. The two-term Democrat delivered her farewell address Tuesday to a joint session of the legislature.

Gregoire told the assembled legislators they should come up with an additional $1 billion for schools in the next budget to comply with a state Supreme Court ruling.

“There is no free lunch," the governor said. "We cannot cut our way out of this. We cannot save our way out of this.”

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. –A new governing coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats is now in control of the Washington state senate. The power shift happened Monday as the legislature convened for a 105-day budget writing session.

The day began as the first day of session always does with plenty of formalities – including an a cappella rendition of the national anthem.

But that harmony wouldn’t last. Soon Democrats lost a vote to lead the Senate as the majority party. That paved the way for the new philosophical majority to introduce its own governing rules.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It’s like Downton Abbey. A new season of the legislature begins with plenty of intrigue and tensions between powerful personalities.

Washington lawmakers convene Monday for the start of the 2013 session. They face a $2 billion budget problem, an unusual political dynamic in the state senate and hot button issues like gun control.

There are familiar faces and new ones. Chief among them Governor-elect Jay Inslee.

Shawn Murphy / Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A shipbuilding executive with no social work experience will head Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services. Governor-elect Jay Inslee announced that appointment and four other cabinet picks Thursday.

Inslee’s choice for DSHS Secretary is former Democratic State Senator Kevin Quigley. He’s far from an agency insider. In fact most recently he was a president with Vigor Industrial, a major shipbuilder. At one point Quigley ran the company’s Everett shipyard.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – We’re starting to see real world fallout from some of the state budget cuts made in last few years. One of the clearest examples in Washington is juvenile parole. It turns out that the chief suspect in a recent high profile bar shooting had committed a previous murder – but did not qualify for intensive parole supervision because of cutbacks. One study finds juveniles who don’t receive parole are far more likely to be re-arrested within nine months of their release.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – An ethics hearing is underway for a former top Washington prison official. In opening statements Wednesday, the state accused Belinda Stewart of misusing state resources. Her attorney calls it a “political prosecution.”

Washington Department of Corrections

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It’s been nearly two years since Washington corrections officer Jayme Biendl was murdered on the job. But the union that represents prison guards says safety is still a major concern. The Teamsters plan to rally Thursday at the Capitol to demand safer work conditions. They also want the right to call in an arbitrator to resolve bargaining disputes.

Union representative Michelle Woodrow says since August seven officers have been assaulted at three different Washington prisons.

US Army

A new Army report confirms it was a mid-air crash that brought down two Army helicopters at Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord a year ago. It happened during a night vision training exercise.

The heavily redacted 190-page report aims to recreate the events of the night of December 12, 2011. That clear, moonlit evening two Kiowa Warrior helicopters took off within a minute of each other. On board each chopper was an experienced pilot instructor and a newer pilot in training.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington initiative promoter Tim Eyman says he wants to make it easier to put an initiative on the ballot. Eyman submitted nearly 350,000 signatures Thursday for his latest ballot measure. But critics are suspicious.

Eyman’s so-called "Protect the Initiative Act" would give signature-gatherers new protections from harassment. It would also stretch the time initiative backers have to gather signatures in Washington from six months to one year. By comparison Oregon allows up to two years.

Office of the Governor

OLYMPIA, Wash. – One measure of success for governors is their ability to get better results out of schools. As Washington Governor Chris Gregoire prepares to leave office, the state’s high school graduation and dropout rates have improved, but not a lot. And there’s still a significant achievement gap between white and non-white students.

High Desert Warrior. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales

The top forces commander at Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord has decided to seek the death penalty against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. He’s the 39-year old soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians earlier this year.

Bales is accused of conducting two predawn raids on villages in southern Afghanistan. The victims were mostly women and children and the Army says some of the bodies were burned. Prosecutors had asked for a death penalty trial and top commanders at Lewis-McChord agreed.

Andreas Klinke Johannsen / Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington’s jobless rate has dropped below 8 percent for the first time in nearly four years. The November jobs numbers out Wednesday peg Washington’s unemployment rate at 7.8 percent. That’s down from 8.2 percent in October – the largest one month drop since 1977.

But chief labor economist Joe Elling cautions the state is still far from what he would consider full employment.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington Governor Chris Gregoire will leave office January 16th. During her eight years as governor, the Democrat often referred to herself as a “recovering lawyer.” Polls showed the former attorney general struggled to connect with voters. She could come off as a fierce technocrat. But her two-terms in office were marked by challenges that affected her on a deeply personal level.

State of Washington

2005

Jan. 12 - Inaugurated over Republican objections
May 17 - Signs 2-year, $26B budget, includes tax hikes on liquor and cigarettes
June 6 - Chelan County Judge Upholds Gregoire Victory – 133 votes

2006

Feb. 15 - State Revenue Forecaster warns housing market showing signs of a correction
Feb. 16 - Signs landmark Columbia River water deal to protect fish and farms

2007

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington Governor-elect Jay Inslee says in the days to come he will be listening for ideas on how to prevent the kind of school violence that occurred in Connecticut Friday. Inslee did not indicate if that would include gun control proposals.

Mike Donlin heads Washington’s School Safety Center. He says all Washington schools now have safety plans -- but normally a visit by the adult child of a teacher would not trigger alarm.

The White House

OLYMPIA, Wash. – President Obama’s first comments about marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado leave more questions than answers. The President tells ABC News that federal agents have “bigger fish to fry” than recreational pot users.

In the interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters, President Obama says about marijuana enforcement: “It would not make sense for us [to go] after recreational users in states that have determined that it’s legal.”

Office of the Governor

OLYMPIA, Wash. – When Washington Governor-elect Jay Inslee is sworn in this January he’ll get more than just the keys to the office. Outgoing Governor Chris Gregoire plans to leave behind a book for future governors to consult when it starts feeling lonely at the top.

In the midst of the Great Recession, Gregoire went in search of wisdom from past governors. Her chief of staff Marty Loesch says Gregoire consulted the state archives.

“And found there’s just precious little there to provide guidance to somebody like her who was facing those kinds of challenges,“ Loesch says.

Wikimedia

Washington Speaker of the House Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) will “have to learn” to negotiate. That tough talk comes from former Republican Governor Dan Evans in reaction to the announcement that a philosophical majority of Republicans and two Democrats have formed to take control of the state Senate for the 2013 session.

Washington Legislature

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Some Washington Democrats are reacting angrily to a power grab in the state senate. A coalition of Republicans and two breakaway Democrats announced Monday they will seize the majority, but share power.

The chair of the Washington State Democratic Party says Senators Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon are turning their backs on their own party. The two Democrats say they will join forces with Republicans to govern the chamber from the middle.

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