[Image via washingtonstatewire]
David Ammons, communications director for the Washington Secretary of State’s office, is retiring at the end of the year – a well-deserved break after over four-and-a-half decades as a reporter and public servant in the Evergreen State.
I’ve always known Dave as a deeply knowledgeable and truly friendly voice on election stories – sharing potential blog ideas, helping with access to a source or even saying thanks for covering a Washington State issue – but in doing some research I discovered that he also has a fascinating background as a journalist. Here’s a 2012 piece from his alma mater, the University of Washington:
Dave Ammons (BA, 1970) [is] communications director for [then-]Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, and is responsible for all of the agency’s internal and external communications. For 37 years before that, he was a staple at the Associated Press, serving on the Capitol Press Corp longer than anyone in Washington state history. His transition from reporting to working in government has gone smoothly, but it wasn’t the easiest decision for him to make.
Ammons said he never thought he would leave the comfort of the AP, the company he joined in 1971, fresh out of college. “I assumed I would retire out in the Press Corp. AP was a great employer with the highest caliber of integrity and full standard of American journalism,” he said.He worked as the contact between the Legislature and the Press Corp and enjoyed sitting “at the left hand of the governor” at press conferences. Gregoire is the seventh governor he has covered.
He has reported on numerous legislative sessions, campaigns and elections in his time as a journalist, with “very intense” moments. “Being a public policy guy, I really enjoyed following the issues through the whole process.”
He also covered many big news stories outside of politics, including the search for D.B. Cooper after the airplane hijacking in 1971, and the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, “my favorite all-time story,” he said. “My stories went all around the globe, just like the ash did.” Natural disasters were also his territory, including floods and an avalanche on Mount Rainier where nine people perished.
Like many journalists, Dave tells a good story, and this one about his encounters with an eventually notorious murderer doesn’t disappoint:
Ammons also remembers encountering the now infamous serial killer Ted Bundy in his line of work. Bundy worked on the Truth Squad in the Evans campaign in 1972, recording former governor Albert D. Rosellini at campaign events to track his consistency among the groups to which he spoke.
Later, Bundy went to work for the state Republican Party and was headquartered in Olympia, where Ammons went to numerous lunches with him. “I, of course, only saw the good Ted Bundy, and not the mass murderer,” he said. “I remember coming back to the office and telling people, ‘We should watch this guy, he’s going places. So sharp.’ That gave me some humility as to my judge of character.”
Fortunately for SoS Reed – and his successor, Kim Wyman (pictured with Ammons above) – Dave made the decision in 2008 to transition from covering the news to helping to share it in Olympia:
Ammons’ passion for writing and his interest in politics went hand-in-hand throughout his career. Growing up in a politically aware household certainly had an impact on the career path he chose.
“My father enjoyed following elections, campaigns and public policy. He was a very interesting and engaged person, so I think I picked it up from him.” He also credits “excellent government teachers” for encouraging his studies in politics.
Despite his interest in everything political, when he was presented with the opportunity to work for Sam Reed, he knew he had a tough choice to make. First, he had to get past the negative viewpoint of how journalists see working for the government, in general.
“Being a reporter, you’re kind of a cowboy. You have nobody telling you what you need to do, you just call it as you see it,” Ammons said. “I always figured if you’re working for government you would be asked to spin the truth.”
Making that decision of whether to leave a job that’s spanned his entire professional career was a difficult one, Ammons said. “But after I made the choice, quickly it turned out it was the right choice for me. It helped me reinvent myself professionally.”
The selfish side of me is sad that Dave is moving on; in my experience, no one in the electiongeek business today is more deft at balancing the sometimes-competing needs to promote “the boss” and serve as an honest and accessible broker for information. That said, after 46 years, I’m happy that he will have the chance to tick off what he described in an email as “bucket-list stuff” including some writing projects based on his experiences in and out of Washington State government. Doesn’t mean we won’t miss him, though.
Godspeed in retirement, Dave … can’t wait to see what’s next. I’ll definitely stay tuned.