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.

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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.

Washington Office of the Governor

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is emerging as an unlikely gay rights activist both at home and on the national stage. Her role in helping pass a same-sex marriage law this year has made Gregoire a sought after spokesperson for the movement. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins explains.

Photo courtesy of the White House / Northwest News Network

Northwest gay rights supporters are cheering President Obama’s comments that he thinks same sex couples should be able to marry. But organizers of a petition drive to repeal Washington’s new marriage equality law hope to capitalize on the President’s new stance.

The Great Recession has taken its toll on morale at Washington’s largest state agency. Employee satisfaction at the Department of Social and Health Services has plummeted over the past couple of years. That’s according to a new employee survey.

Photo Courtesy: Silvia Buoniconti / Northwest News Network

“Heartbreaking” and “Preventable.” That’s how the mother of an Army helicopter pilot describes the midair crash that killed her son and three others last December. It happened during a nighttime training exercise at Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord. A report released this week finds that commanders knew about radar and radio limitations in the training area where the crash happened. But apparently those communication gaps went unresolved – despite other near misses.

Courtesy Brown's office / Northwest News Network

One of the most powerful members of the Washington state legislature won’t seek re-election this year. Senate Democratic Leader Lisa Brown made her surprise announcement Thursday at the Capitol. But she didn’t rule out a future run for statewide office.

Photo credit: Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire has a message for both leading candidates to replace her next year. The state will need to find a new, dedicated source of funding for education. The Democrat made her comments Wednesday at a ceremony to sign a newly rebalanced state budget.

Northwest News Network

The burgeoning roll-your-own cigarette industry in Washington is preparing to do legal battle against the state. Governor Chris Gregoire is expected to sign into law Wednesday a new tax on do-it-yourself smokes. That will likely trigger a lawsuit.

Photo credit: Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Pilot negligence - not a mechanical failure- led to a deadly midair crash last December of two Army helicopters from Joint Base Lewis-McChord . But poor communication and moonlight might also have been factors in the nighttime accident. Correspondent Austin Jenkins has details on an internal investigation released Monday.

Photo courtesy of US Army

For the first time, the U.S. Army is confirming it was a midair collision that brought down two helicopters last December at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The results of an internal investigation into the crash that killed four pilots was released Monday. It blames pilot error, not a mechanical failure.

Photo credit: Austin Jenkins

Combat brigades at Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord will soon get a new layer of supervision. That announcement from the Secretary of the Army comes nearly two months after a Washington-based soldier allegedly killed 17 Afghan civilians.

Photo Credit: Tom Banse

Backers of last year’s initiative to privatize liquor sales in Washington said the new law would avoid a raft of new corner booze outlets. But in this week’s auction of state run liquor stores, mini-mart and gas station owners won a piece of the action.

A fight over unwanted sexual behavior may have led to the apparent murder of a patient at Washington’s Western State Hospital. Prosecutors have not yet filed charges in connection with the death last Friday.

Photo credit: Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Lobbyists have been pounding down the doors of Washington state lawmakers for the last several months. But now that the legislature has adjourned, the roles have suddenly reversed. Just ask lobbyist Nick Federici who advocates for human services organizations.

Nick Federici: “It is a little bit ironic that in a week’s time they went from ‘oh my God I don’t want to talk to you ever again’ to ‘oh, by the way, could you send me a check?’”

Photo credit: Wikimedia userPujanak / Wikimedia Commons

A man some call the “father” of Washington’s solar industry faces a state ethics complaint. Former Washington State University employee Mike Nelson is accused of using his state position to help a solar company win an important state certification. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins reports Nelson then went to work for the company.

For liberal activists in Washington, it has become the Holy Grail of tax breaks. We’re talking about a deduction banks can claim on some mortgages. Last week, the Washington legislature voted to end this tax exemption for large, out-of-state banks. But now some on the left are calling it a “hollow” victory.

Photo credit: Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It was a dramatic night at the Washington state capitol as lawmakers missed a midnight deadline to rebalance the state budget. That forced Governor Chris Gregoire to declare yet another overtime session. Just a short while later lawmakers wrapped up their work and adjourned.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington lawmakers missed a midnight deadline Tuesday night to rebalance the state budget. But they didn’t go home. Instead, Governor Chris Gregoire called yet another overtime session. At this hour, lawmakers are still voting on a final budget deal. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins has the latest.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Marathon negotiations over state spending continued Tuesday in Olympia. This is the last day of the 30 day overtime legislative session. Lawmakers are up against a midnight deadline to complete their unfinished business. Governor Chris Gregoire gave this short status update as she passed through the senate wings.

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