Austin Jenkins

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

In February, Tiffany Krueger and her business partner Joanna Sather fulfilled their dream of opening a small training gym focused on serving women in the Olympia area. Athena Fitness and Wellness offered large group workout classes, small group training, a Himalayan Salt room, a sauna and even child care.

And then the coronavirus pandemic struck.

“I think it’s like the worst timing ever,” Krueger said in a recent interview.

This story is part of an NPR nationwide analysis of states' revenue and budgets during the pandemic.

In Washington state, tax collections are expected to tumble by $8.8 billion over the next three years. For context, the state's current two-year budget is about $53 billion.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected an appeal by former Washington state Auditor Troy Kelley who sought to have his 2017 convictions for possession of stolen property, filing false tax returns and making false statements overturned.

Kelley was previously sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison, but has remained free while appealing his case. 


 A soiree outside Camas last week for Republican gubernatorial candidates in Washington was held in defiance of state public health laws while coronavirus cases spike across the state.

Washington’s typically sleepy August primary will test the endurance of voters as they navigate a larger-than-usual crop of candidates. The robust turnout of would-be officeholders may be, at least partially, the result of the state making it easier to qualify for the ballot in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

For the first time since Herbert Hoover won the presidency nearly a century ago, the state of Washington won’t have a statewide initiative to the people on the November ballot in a presidential election year.

At the Secretary of State’s office, the 5 p.m. Thursday deadline to submit 259,622 valid voter signatures to qualify an initiative came and went quietly. No campaigns made an appointment to drop off petitions, according to a spokesperson.

A review of Washington’s initiative history reveals that not since 1928 has the November ballot been bereft of an initiative to the people in a year when voters were electing a president. 

Over the objections of a bipartisan group of nearly two dozen state senators, Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) has decided to stick with its plan to repost online the financial disclosure statements of elected officials, candidates and other government officials following a one-month “pause” to review security concerns.

Hours after Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee announced a statewide mandate for people to wear masks in public, a Republican sheriff in southwest Washington appeared to urge open defiance of the order.

“Don’t be a sheep,” Lewis County Sheriff Robert Snaza said to loud applause from a mostly mask-less crowd gathered in a church parking lot. 

After weeks of relying on voluntary compliance, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday afternoon announced an enforceable, statewide requirement that people wear face coverings when in public, including outdoors when six feet of separation can't be maintained. The new public health order, to be issued by the Secretary of Health, takes effect on Friday.

At Christmastime last December, Sharon Gowdey was a healthy 56-year-old woman with Down syndrome. A video from a holiday party shows her in a Santa hat dancing to a Michael Jackson song as strobe lights light up the dance floor.

Four months later, Gowdey was dead of COVID-19.

“When they turned the ventilator off, it was less than five minutes and she passed away,” said her sister Kathleen Hesseltine.

Gowdey’s decline happened suddenly.

In a move not seen since the Great Recession, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday canceled pay raises for some state employees and ordered furloughs for many more through at least this fall. The move came the same day a new state revenue forecast projected an $8.8 billion drop in tax collections over the next three years.

Stepping up an attack he began on Twitter last week, President Trump on Monday spent more than four minutes at a White House meeting inveighing against Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the six-block protest area on Capitol Hill now known as CHOP.

As the state of Washington grapples with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers are bracing for a bleak revenue forecast on June 17 that could portend a $10 billion drop in state tax collections over the next three years.

Already, a preliminary forecast in May predicted state revenues would crater by $7 billion over that same time period. The official forecast is likely to be worse. The state’s current two-year budget is approximately $53 billion.

“We know that we are faced with a big problem over the next few years,” said David Schumacher, the governor’s budget director, in a recent call with reporters.

A nearly 100-year-old historical marker has been mysteriously stolen from Washington's Capitol Campus and, with no leads on who took it, the state patrol is now asking the public for help solving the crime. 

The bronze plaque commemorated the location of the home of Washington's first territorial governor, Isaac Ingalls Stevens. Washington's first post-statehood governor, Elisha P. Ferry, also lived there when he served as a territorial governor. 

At the request of a powerful Democratic state senator who warned of “foreign intrusion,” Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) on Sunday temporarily suspended public, online access to the personal financial statements of elected officials, candidates and other public officials.

Saying that it’s time for the legislative branch to “intervene” in the state’s COVID-19 response, Republican leaders in the Washington Legislature on Thursday called for a special session of the Legislature to begin in June.

While Gov. Jay Inslee and majority Democrats in the Legislature have said a special session is likely sometime this year, they have not yet committed to a specific date.

As Washington Gov. Jay Inslee exerts his emergency powers to battle COVID-19, behind the scenes legislative leaders are exploring the idea of a special session of the Legislature, perhaps as early as next month. 

“We are very much deeply in the weeds on trying to figure that out and I think in the next week or two we should have some more clarity,” said Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig, a Spokane Democrat.

Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins was a first grader on a school camping trip near Mount St. Helens when the volcano erupted on May 18, 1980. Austin recently unearthed his scrapbook from that time and interviewed several others who were on that memorable trip. On this 40th anniversary of the eruption, Austin recounts their harrowing escape.

On May 18, 1980, I was 6 years old and about 20 miles, as the crow flies, from Mount St. Helens.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has instructed the state Department of Health (DOH) to prepare to test all nursing home residents and staff for COVID-19 in the coming weeks, according to the physician leading the state’s testing strategy.

“Last week, Governor Inslee gave us the directive to test everyone, both resident[s] and staff in the nursing homes in the state,” said Dr. Charissa Fotinos in an interview on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

Previously, the state's goal was to test all residents and staff in facilities where someone had tested positive -- something that has not yet been achieved, according to a Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) spokesperson. 

When Washington Gov. Jay Inslee first issued his stay home order in mid-March, Deanna Martinez was supportive. A registered nurse from Moses Lake who’s active in Republican politics, Martinez thought the Democratic governor’s drastic action was necessary to stem the spread of COVID-19.

“I felt like Inslee really did do the right thing as quickly as he possibly could,” Martinez said.

But after eight weeks and two extensions of that order, Martinez’s support for Inslee’s COVID-19 response has evaporated.

“I don’t feel like my voice is being heard … as a person living in rural Washington,” Martinez said.

For the second time in a month, opponents of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s extended “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order – many of them openly carrying firearms -- rallied at the state Capitol Saturday in an event that brought together sign-waving citizens, conservative state legislators, Republican and Libertarian candidates for public office and members of far right groups.

The unpermitted “Hazardous Liberty” event, which drew an estimated 1,500 people and stretched on for more than four hours, was smaller than a previous protest in April, but no less defiant in its message.

More testing will allow Washington state to relax some social distancing measures, because we'll be able to identify sick people early and keep them isolated. Here's how we can get there.

If you feel sick and think it’s COVID-19, how quickly can you get tested for the virus?

Until last week, if you had close contact with a COVID-19 positive person, but developed no symptoms, you may have been told to just stay home. Now the state is recommending even some asymptomatic people be tested.

At the end of March, Dr. Luke Hansen, an Olympia emergency room physician, was watching news of hospitals in New York overrun with COVID-19 patients. Then he heard Gov. Andrew Cuomo issue a plea for healthcare workers from elsewhere to come to New York to help.

“I really felt a call to go there and help,” Hansen said in an interview this week.

With his current stay home order set to expire in less than a week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday strongly suggested  that, even though the COVID-19 peak appears to have passed, he intends to leave in place most of the current restrictions for the foreseeable future.

“The major part of our order, I believe, will stay in place after May 4th,” Inslee said in a one-on-one interview on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

In a dramatic example of COVID-19’s impact on the criminal justice system, the number of people in Washington jails has plummeted in recent weeks, ending virtually overnight an overcrowding problem that plagued many facilities for years. Today, a few of the state’s smallest jails are reporting inmate populations in the single digits.

“Honestly, I would never have expected to see something like this in my lifetime and I’ve been doing this for 20 years now,” said Jose Briones, the chief deputy of the Island County Jail on Whidbey Island where the population has dropped by approximately half.

In recent weeks, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has repeatedly thanked Washington residents for complying with his emergency orders to shutter their businesses, avoid crowds and stay home unless absolutely necessary. He often praises Washingtonians as heroes who are saving lives in the face of a global pandemic.

But while most may be complying with his orders, not all are. In fact, there’s evidence of growing restlessness with the shutdown of the economy, the skyrocketing job losses and the infringement on normal, daily activities. And in some places there are examples of outright opposition.

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