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. 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.

Ways to Connect

Photo courtesy U.S. Army

The summer fighting season in Afghanistan continues to claim the lives of Northwest soldiers. So far this year, 19 soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord have been killed. The Army announced the latest death over the weekend. Correspondent Austin Jenkins has more.

Boeing

Two aerospace companies plan to expand their operations in Washington. Gov. Chris Gregoire made that announcement Monday from the Farnborough Air Show in London. But the news highlights a gap between the legions of unemployed and the skills they need for many new jobs.

It looks like voters in both Oregon and Washington will decide this fall whether to legalize recreational marijuana. Backers of an Oregon ballot measure submitted a final batch of petitions Friday to the Secretary of State. In Washington, a pot legalization initiative has already qualified for the ballot. The question now: are Northwest voters ready to say ‘okay’ to getting high? Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins reports.

"Groundhog Day.” That’s what Washington initiative promoter Tim Eyman says it going to feel like Friday. This will be the third time Eyman has submitted signatures for a ballot measure to require a supermajority vote of the legislature to raise taxes. Friday is the deadline in Washington and Oregon for initiative sponsors seeking to qualify for the November ballot. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins has this preview.

Overdose deaths from a popular painkiller called Methadone appear to have peaked nationally. That’s according to a CDC report released Tuesday. The Northwest has one of the highest Methadone prescription rates in the country. Correspondent Austin Jenkins has more.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Washington Sen. Patty Murray has introduced legislation to overhaul the mental health system for war veterans. The move comes in the wake of a scandal at Washington’s Madigan Army Hospital. Doctors there incorrectly told dozens of soldiers they didn’t suffer from PTSD. One of those soldiers was Richard Kellar.

Washington’s Lands Commissioner is expected to declare the state’s first ever forest health hazard warning Monday. The formal declaration comes amid growing concern about the potential for a catastrophic fire – not unlike what we’ve seen in recent days in Colorado. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins reports.

Shocking cases of inadequate public defense in Washington have led the state Supreme Court to take an unusual step. The high court has imposed a mandatory cap on the number of cases lawyers for the poor can take. You might assume public defenders would be cheering – finally they’re going to get relief. But in fact some lawyers are downright offended and angry. Correspondent Austin Jenkins profiles one.

It’s a Wednesday afternoon at Lewis County District Court. Out in the hallway, attorney Joseph P. Enbody is meeting with clients.

Enbody: “Are you Ms. Tran?”

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

“Happy and relieved.” Those are the words Washington Governor Chris Gregoire uses to describe the Supreme Court’s decision on health care. The Democrat Thursday told a personal story about a health scare in her own family.

the Wang family

Before Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire leaves office in January, she will decide whether to commute the life sentence of convicted killer Barry Massey. His attorneys hope this week’s Supreme Court ruling on life without parole for juveniles will bolster their case for clemency.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Four Northwest postal workers are taking dramatic action to bring attention to cuts to mail service. They’re staging a hunger strike this week. It’s part of a national campaign by unionized post office employees.

Visitor 7 / Wikimedia Commons

Washington’s economy remains essentially flat. That’s the takeaway from Washington’s quarterly revenue forecast out Wednesday. It shows an increase of about a $150 million through the current two-year budget cycle.

That slight uptick in projected revenues is mostly due to legislative policy decisions this year like fund transfers, not the economy.

Tradnor / Wikimedia Commons

Washington state paid out nearly $60 million in damage claims during the fiscal year that ends this month. Nearly a third of that went to one man – a motorist who was paralyzed in a traffic accident.

Washington State Parks

Washington’s new Discover Pass for state parks might end up being a temporary budget fix, rather than a long-term solution. At least that’s the hope of one key statehouse Democrat.

Representative Larry Seaquist remembers well when two of the state parks in his district were on the chopping block. That was a few years ago. So far, Washington has managed to avoid closing parks despite the after-effects of the Great Recession. That’s largely because of the new $30 annual Discover Pass. But sales did not meet early projections. Seaquist says ultimately he doesn’t think charging park-goers is the solution.

Photo courtesy Northwest News Network

A wi-fi connection and smart phone bar codes could be coming to a state park near you. Those are just two of the ideas under consideration as Washington State Parks tries to recruit a new generation of visitors. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins explains.

Northwest News Network

An Army combat engineer has become the 12th Washington based soldier to die in Afghanistan this year. The pace of deaths has picked up in recent weeks as the summer fighting season begins.

The Army says Sgt. 1st Class Barett McNabb was killed by an improvised explosive device. He was on his fourth deployment, but his first to Afghanistan.

McNabb is just the latest soldier from Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord to die in Afghanistan. May was the deadliest month so far this year with six soldier deaths.

Northwest News Network

The campaigns for Washington governor are heading into the dog days of summer now that the candidates survived their first, formal debate. That means a return to fundraising and retail level campaigning.

Polls show Washington’s race for governor is close. According to Real Clear Politics, Republican Rob McKenna averages just a 3.5 point advantage over Democrat Jay Inslee. This week’s debate in Spokane between the two candidates could help Inslee with statewide name recognition. The former Congressman is up against a well known two-term Attorney General. David Nice teaches politics at Washington State University. He says an early debate can also plant a seed with voters.

Photo credit: Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Opponents of gay marriage in Washington vow to run a civil campaign to repeal the state’s new marriage equality law. Preserve Marriage Washington Wednesday submitted twice the voter signatures it needs to qualify for the November ballot.

The group’s Joseph Backholm says he wants a campaign about issues, not people.

Polls indicate a looming vote in Washington over same-sex marriage could be close. Wednesday, the campaign to repeal the state’s new marriage equality law will submit its petitions to the Secretary of State.

Thirty-two times in thirty-two states, voters have said marriage should remain between one man and one woman. The most recent vote was last month in North Carolina. But pollster Matt Barreto at the University of Washington says:

Matt Barreto: “It could be that Washington state is poised to make history on this issue.”

The shift to private liquor sales in Washington is affecting some 1,200 state employees. But they’re not all out of a job. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins checked in on how workers at one former state liquor store are doing under new system.

Andrea Velasquez Kessler / Northwest News Network

The cemetery at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will be the site of a Memorial Day ceremony to honor fallen service members. A University of Washington graduate is the latest Washington-based soldier to die in Afghanistan.

Army records indicate 25 year old Lt. Travis Morgado is the sixth soldier from the Army post near Tacoma killed in action so far this year.

Just before he deployed in March, Lt. Morgado spoke with NPR’s Martin Kaste outside Joint Base Lewis-McChord. He was reacting to news that a fellow soldier, Sgt. Robert Bales, had been accused of murdering 17 Afghan civilians.

Photo by Kevin Mooney / Northwest News Network

It’s no secret that interest groups influence state lawmakers. But it’s not often clear how that actually happens. Much of the action occurs behind-the-scenes. So we’re going to give you a rare glimpse inside the influence game -- to see how lobbyists help shape public policies that affect our everyday lives. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins reconstructs how a lobbyist and his iPad changed the course of a $1 billion piece of legislation.

Washington House of Representatives

Washington teachers are woefully underpaid. That’s the conclusion of a draft legislative task force report. Now a key Washington state lawmaker says teachers and other school employees deserve at least a cost of living pay raise next year.

Twelve years ago, Washington voters approved Initiative 732. It requires annual pay increases for K-12 employees. The initiative didn’t come with any funding. In recent years, because of the Great Recession the legislature has suspended those pay raises. But now state revenues are starting to recover. House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter says the state should make it a priority to ensure teacher pay keeps up with inflation.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord is at the center of yet another high-profile murder case. The Army announced Friday that Sgt. John Russell will face trial at Lewis-McChord in connection with a 2009 killing spree in Iraq.

Photo credit: Austin Jenkins] / Northwest News Network

Washington state has auctioned off its liquor stores. And private retailers are set to take over the sale of spirits June 1st. But Thursday the state Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit aimed at putting a halt to the changeover.

Northwest News Network

Job creation is emerging as a top issue in Washington’s open race for governor. But the two leading candidates often cite different jobs figures. The state’s official unemployment rate is currently 8.1 percent. Republican candidate Rob McKenna though uses a much higher number.

Washington’s unemployment rate has been getting incrementally better. But that monthly snapshot only captures people who are out of work and actively looking for a job. There’s an alternative way to evaluate the employment situation in Washington. That’s to use the federal government’s so called U-6 rate. That figure is 17.6 percent. State economist Dave Wallace says part-time workers are the biggest driver behind that more grim number.

Photo credit: Wikimedia user Jay8G / Wikimedia Commons

Washington’s jobless rate continues to inch downward. The April numbers out Wednesday put unemployment at 8.1 percent. That’s down from 8.3 percent in March. Most of April’s job growth was in manufacturing. State economist Dave Wallace says so far 2012 is proving to be a recovery year in Washington.

A series of close calls on overseas trips has led the Washington State Investment Board to contract with a top global security firm. One incident even had the potential to turn into a kidnapping.

From China and India to remote mining areas in Patagonia and Western Australia. These days Washington state investment officers travel the globe to see firsthand real estate and other investment opportunities. But visits to emerging markets come with risk. According to state documents, staff members have been threatened in Rio de Janeiro, swept up in a civil riot in Nigeria and even, in one case, eluded what could have turned into a kidnap and ransom situation in remote Southeast Asia.

Washington State Senate

This is the week candidates formally file for office in Washington. Republican State Senator Michael Baumgartner made it official Monday: he will challenge incumbent U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat. But the race is starting out as a bit of a mismatch.

Photo by Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Since the 1970s, U.S. policy toward American Indian tribes has been to encourage economic independence. Tribal casinos are probably the most visible symbol of that policy. These days, tribes are diversifying into other businesses. In 2005, the Chehalis Indian tribe in southwest Washington partnered with a Wisconsin-based water park chain to build a destination resort. The state of Washington, in turn, granted the project tax exempt status. But now, correspondent Austin Jenkins has obtained internal state documents that question whether Great Wolf Lodge really is a tribal entity and eligible for favorable tax treatment.

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