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Veteran Olympia observer reflects on 45-years of capitol coverage

Former Secretary of State Sam Reed (c) and current officeholder Kim Wyman honor veteran Olympia reporter and communications director David Ammons (r) at an event commemorating his retirement after 45 years in Olympia. (Bobbi Cussins via Twitter)

For the last 45 years, he’s been a fixture around the state capitol in Olympia.

But when the legislative session gets underway next week, there will be a noticeable absence after the retirement of veteran insider David Ammons.

You might not know his name, but if you’ve read or followed the goings on in Olympia the past four decades, you know his work.

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Ammons first arrived there as a cub reporter with the Associated Press following his graduation from the University of Washington. He never imagined he’d still be there four decades later, becoming the longest serving member of the Capitol press corps.

It was the heyday of political journalism in our state. The public was engaged, the press corps thriving.

“There were probably 12-15 (reporters) year round, most of the cities had newspaper reporters here, television stations had bureaus here during the legislative session,” Ammons reminisced as he packed up the last of his belongings.

When he arrived in Olympia, AP alone had three full-time reporters and added a fourth during the session, along with interns.

But alas, times have changed. The newspaper industry continues to crumble, and cutbacks have gutted the number of people keeping an eye on state government. Even the AP has just one full-time reporter left in Olympia, supplemented by a second reporter during while the Legislature is in session.

“It’s one person trying to cover both houses of the Legislature, the governor’s office, the agencies, the courts, and anything that happens in the region,” he said.

Given the growth of blogs and social media, some would argue we can still get all the information we need without an independent press.

Ammons vehemently disagrees, especially in light of the increasing assault on unbiased sources.

“The content has to come from someplace. And hopefully, it’s not going to be fake news from special interest folks that you’re reading and listening to and paying attention to. It’s going to be professional journalists with no dog in the fight,” he said.

That’s especially important with so many critical issues — and our tax dollars — on the table.

“We need that independent voice and the voice of people that are actually looking at demonstrable facts. They’re reading the budget, they’re reading the bills. They’re interviewing people who actually know what they’re talking about, and they’re writing in a way that I hope will illumine what’s going on in Olympia,” he said.

Perhaps the most fitting metaphor for the decimation of the Capitol press corps is the dilapidated original Olympia homes that still house the ever dwindling number of reporters.

They were bought by the state for a future office building that never happened.

“They’re two houses that were actually condemned by the city, they’re falling down,” Ammons reminisced.

Even sadder, the longtime press house cat recently died, and lone AP reporter Rachel La Corte says rats have moved in.

As for Ammons, he left the AP a few years ago and moved to more spacious and stately digs across the street, serving as communications director for Secretary of State Kim Wyman until his retirement.

And as he spent his final day as an official government servant, he lamented the growing partisan divide and disdain for government and issued a challenge for everyone who complains about Olympia or government, in general, to get off their butts and actually do something about it.

“We need people who will pay attention. It’s not glamorous and certainly, now there’s a lot of criticism,” he said. “People are very willing to criticize and to say government doesn’t understand them. Well, I say the government is us. It’s all of us.”

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