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Gentzler: Looking back on my top 3 stories

Today is my final day writing for Washington State Wire. It’s been a pleasure and a welcome challenge covering the politics and policy of Washington State, an experience I reflected on shortly after the 2019 session ended.

“105 days later, I’ve developed an elementary knowledge on what session actually is, and admiration for all the people who make it happen,” I wrote in April. “The legislators, staff, lobbyists, TVW, and the press corps all dedicate so much energy and time to session. It’s what makes our state republic work — and what allows us to hold it accountable. And I feel very lucky to have been a part of it.”

As I move on from reporting on the Legislature, DJ Wilson (the Wire’s publisher) asked me to reflect on the stories I’m most proud of writing in my time here.

So, here are my top three, with a bit of context as to why:

What election night felt like in Washington’s 30th LD

Election Day was just two weeks after my start date at the Wire. My assignment: Keep track of the State Senate races and find a battleground Legislative District to visit.

I chose to spend my night in the 30th LD, where Republican incumbent Sen. Mark Miloscia beat Democrat Claire Wilson by 10 points in the primary — another Dem had claimed 14 points.

Not knowing exactly what I was looking for, I spent the early hours of the evening with Mark Miloscia’s team at a restaurant, talking to Miloscia about how the night felt to him. After quickly transcribing my notes in my car, I drove to Claire Wilson’s watch party. I arrived just before results rolled in that showed her early lead. Wilson stepped outside for a quick conversation with me in the midst of celebration.

With the night fresh in my memory, I found a bar with WiFi, sipped on an IPA, and wrote until about midnight.

What I got, I think, were two authentic perspectives and a unique look at the political dynamics at play in the election.

A few days later, Miloscia sent me a message about my “very fair article” on the race. About a month later, I got somewhat similar feedback from Wilson. Altogether, writing this piece put a little wind in my sails ahead of session.

Why didn’t the death penalty bill see the House floor?

This article is the best example I have of putting my head down, turning around a story quickly, and digging into legislation at a level beyond the bill’s text.

My pursuit of the story started because a bill to eliminate the death penalty in Washington State died before getting a House vote.

Why? Sen. Reuven Carlyle offered a take that took me aback:

“This was simply a decision by the Speaker not to allow a vote. It’s no more fancy than that. That’s it. It was his individual, personal choice. And he made it.”

I called around and filled in other details after that conversation. But, of course, I wasn’t the only reporter who followed that lead.

After my story published, I found that James Drew of The News Tribune had broken it earlier that day. My stomach sank; but, I later realized I should celebrate that I had followed a lead and written a story similar to that written by a skilled reporter who has more experience than I have.

Again, validation that I was doing OK!

Long-term care benefit bill receives all supportive testimony in hearing

In the early days of session, I made a habit of sitting in on committee meetings to listen for points of interest — maybe for a story, maybe for my own education. In one of the early House Health & Wellness Committee meetings, I found it interesting that what sounded like a payroll tax didn’t attract any opposition in public hearing.

I caught up with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, after the meeting and wrote up an article about the public hearing. Ultimately, I ended up building off this piece at several of the Long-Term Care Trust Act’s stops along the way to becoming law.

What makes me proud of this particular piece isn’t necessarily the substance, but that I got lucky and identified a topic early on that other outlets picked up later.

Bonus: Q&As with legislators and stakeholders were some of my favorite experiences. Nothing gave me a window into the Legislature like one-on-one interviews, and I’m especially grateful for that.

Those interviews included Sen. Maureen Walsh, Rep. Monica Stonier, Sen. Reuven Carlyle, Rep. Cindy Ryu, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, Sen. David Frockt, Rep. Paul Harris, Sen. Steve O’Ban, Sen. Randi Becker, Sen. Mona Das, Meg Jones of AWHP, Rep. Laurie Jinkins, Mellani McAleenan of WSAC, Patrick Connor of NFIB, Sen. John Braun (Parts I, II, & III) and Alison McCaffree.

Note: My byline isn’t disappearing from the World Wide Web. To keep up with what I’m writing about next, follow me on Twitter!

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