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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Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The campaigns are winding down. The ballot counting is about to begin. But in Washington state, we may not know the results of close races until later this week.

Washington State Legislature

Washington state has strict campaign contribution limits. But candidates and political donors are experts at finding ways around those caps.

One way they do this is through a practice called surplussing.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The current and former attorneys general of Washington state are among the subjects of a New York Times special report. The Times story details how companies under investigation by state AGs try to influence those cases. It also reveals how former AGs gain special access as industry representatives.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Republicans say an out-of-state Democratic group is trying to suppress the GOP vote in a hotly-contested Washington state Senate race.

The state Republican Party filed a formal election complaint Tuesday against a group called American Values First. 

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School Friday comes as Washington voters are about to decide two competing gun-related ballot measures.

In fact, next week two parents who lost children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are scheduled to be in Seattle to campaign for Initiative 594, which would expand background checks.

mathteacherguy / Flickr

Political campaigns and committees in Washington have spent nearly $70 million so far this year. That includes statewide initiatives and legislative races.

So where’s all the money going? It’s everything from address labels to Zipcar rentals.

Austin Jenkins

The fate of a human-trafficking lawsuit against Backpage.com is now in the hands of the Washington Supreme Court. The justices heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that involves three underage victims of sex trafficking. The justices must decide if the lawsuit can proceed.

Harvey Barrison / Flickr

The top political spenders in Washington this election year include environmentalists, unions, trial lawyers and business interests.

But there’s a group of influential players who don’t necessarily show up in the campaign finance reports: lobbyists. They often work behind the scenes to guide campaign contributions on behalf the interests they work for. It’s another way that lobbyists exert their influence over the political process.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

We’re just about two weeks away from the 2014 election. It’s not a presidential election year, but there are several big issues on the ballot that have attracted big money to try to get your vote. Those issues include gun sales, class size and control of the state Senate.

Here’s a quick look at what’s on your ballot, what’s at stake and what it’s costing.

California billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer has contributed a significant amount of cash to an environmental political action committee in Washington.

Wikimedia

A new luxury resort has opened on a Tahitian island once owned by Marlon Brando and it could soon start to pay a dividend to Washington state’s retired public employees.

That’s because the Washington State Investment Board is a majority owner of the company that owns the resort.

AP Photo/Antwerp Institute of Tropical Medicine

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa means Washington state investment officers won’t be traveling to that region anytime soon.

Rachel La Corte / AP Photo

Starting in January, Washington lawmakers will be barred from accepting more than 12-lobbyist-paid meals per year. The state’s Legislative Ethics Board adopted that limit today after months of public hearings and deliberation.

The issue of free meals first came to light in May of last year when we, in partnership with the Associated Press, reported on the practice of lawmakers letting lobbyists pick up the tab.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

A ballot measure to expand background checks for gun sales in Washington has lost some support, but still enjoys a healthy lead, according to the latest Elway Poll released Monday.

Meanwhile, a competing gun rights measure appears to be in trouble.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Election 2014 is less than a month away. 

Ballots will soon be arriving in mailboxes in Washington and Oregon where the election is all vote-by-mail. Idaho voters still go to the polls, but about a quarter of Gem State ballots are cast absentee.

Austin Jenkins

This summer’s Carlton Complex wildfire was the largest in Washington history. Scores of firefighters battled the inferno in north-central Washington. Among them were prison inmates assigned to the Department of the Natural Resources. Those inmate crews were honored Thursday at a ceremony at Cedar Creek Corrections Center.

Political Action Committees in Washington have spent more than $14 million so far this year. The top spenders are teachers, trial lawyers, SEIU and a business PAC called Enterprise Washington. But there are also dozens of smaller PACs — PACs in a box — that have been set up for just this election year.

You’ve heard of a jack in the box. Single-year political action committees are sort of like that. They just pop up. And then when the election is over, they disappear again.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The state of Washington is going back to federal court over cleanup at Hanford, the nation’s largest nuclear waste site. Gov. Jay Inslee announced the latest court action Friday in an exclusive public radio interview.

The decision to return to court follows months of negotiations that failed to produce a new Hanford cleanup agreement. Inslee says the time has come once again to get the courts involved.

Colin Fogarty

The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national Republican group with a focus on “down ballot” races, is pumping money into Washington state.

So far this year, the committee has invested more than $300,000 in the state.

M Glasgow / Flickr

The National Rifle Association says it’s “very committed” to defeating a background check measure on Washington’s November ballot.

But the gun rights group says it has no plans to compete financially with the campaign in favor of Initiative 594.

Austin Jenkins

This November, Washington voters will decide whether to require background checks for person-to-person gun sales.

Initiative 594 would close what gun control advocates used to call the “gun show loophole.” But these days, much of the unregulated gun trade is happening online.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

People are lining up to buy legal marijuana in Washington state. Now the question is how to convince kids not to touch the stuff.

A panel of experts briefed Gov. Jay Inslee Wednesday on the topic of youth marijuana use.

Washington State Department of Enterprise Services

The state of Washington paid out nearly $50 million last fiscal year to people who were somehow harmed by the state. The numbers were released Tuesday in an annual report on tort claim payouts.

J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

California billionaire and climate activist Tom Steyer has dumped $1 million into Washington state.

The seven-figure contribution was made last week and became public Monday.

AP Photo/Washington State Dept of Transportation

Six months ago Monday, forty-three people lost their lives in the Oso landslide. So far, nearly 60 legal claims have been filed against the state of Washington stemming from the slide.

Attorney Karen Willie says a half-year later a “deep wound” remains from Oso. I spoke with her at 10:37a.m., the exact-six month anniversary.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

So far this year, business interests have contributed more than $16 million to political campaigns and committees in Washington.

But gifts from individual donors eclipse even that. That’s because a small group of wealthy people are writing large checks.

Washington state employees have not had a cost-of-living raise in six years. But that could change in the next budget cycle.

A tentative contract deal has been struck between the state and the union representing general government workers.

Steve Helber / AP Photo

California billionaire Tom Steyer is poised to help Democrats try to win back control of the Washington Senate. But first, his NextGen political action committee had to satisfy a quirk in the law.

Call it the ten-ten rule. In Washington, political committees have to jump a small hurdle before they can play in Washington’s political sandbox. The rule is the committee must receive $10 or more from at least 10 registered Washington voters. Now that NextGen has this bit of local skin in the game, climate activist Tom Steyer is free to start spending some serious on Washington races.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Washington Lt. Governor Brad Owen has agreed to a $15,000 ethics fine. The settlement announced Friday stems from the five-term Democrat’s use of state resources to operate a nonprofit with his wife.

The ethics investigation concluded that Owen used his office and staff to help run Strategies for Youth, a nonprofit that went around to schools, performing concerts with an anti-bullying message.

Austin Jenkins

In an unprecedented move, the Washington Supreme Court has ruled the state in contempt of court in the McCleary school funding case. However, the justices will wait to impose sanctions until after the 2015 legislative session to give the legislature time to "purge the contempt."

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