Dave Ammons (’70): Cowboy journalist to government guru
By Amanda Ma -
For more than four years, Dave Ammons (BA, 1970) has worked as the communications director for 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.
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.”
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.”
Ammons says the experience of going from one passion to the next has been refreshing. While his skills from his journalism career transitioned well into his position in government, he also had to learn some new ones. “When I came over, I had to learn some more platforms including social media. It forwarded my writing and editing skills. I’ve learned about government from the inside.”
Ammons’ daily work includes news releases, writing for the blog “From Our Corner,” updating social media, communication with the press, and basically being the voice of the office as a whole. The secretary’s office also includes Washington state election work, and maintaining state archives, the library and history.
One of the things Ammons is most excited about is the Legacy Project, a collection of oral histories of influential people throughout Washington state history. The stories are distributed to libraries statewide and accessible online for free. So far, 13 volumes have been produced.
With the election just weeks away, Ammons has also been helping Reed with his farewell tour. “He’s visiting all the counties to leave a positive legacy message as well as just saying ‘farewell’ and ‘thanks’ to community leaders and people that have helped him in the past.”
With Reed leaving office, Ammons will also be looking for a new position, whether he stays in government or moves on. In the meantime, he’s staying busy teaching courses at Evergreen State College, supporting the Washington Coalition for Open Government, and participating in his church, Westminster Presbyterian.
Wherever he ends up working next, Ammons is sure that it’s the University of Washington that gave him the ability to succeed in all areas of his career. “Learning how to learn has stayed with me, and being a lifelong learner is something I’ve encouraged myself to commit to,” he said. “I’m appreciative of the high caliber of education I got at the University all those years ago. I am such a proud Husky.”