Tom Banse | KNKX

Tom Banse

Regional Correspondent

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Before taking his current beat, Tom covered state government and the Washington Legislature for 12 years.  He got his start in radio at WCAL–FM, a public station in southern Minnesota. Reared in Seattle, Tom graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota with a degree in American Studies.

When not sifting through press releases, listening to lobbyists, or driving lonely highways, Tom enjoys exploring the Olympic Peninsula backcountry and cooking dinner with his wife and friends. Tom's secret ambition is to take six months off work and travel to a faraway place beyond the reach of email.

Ways to Connect

A new distillery will soon begin making whiskey, vodka and gin on Chehalis tribal land in southwest Washington state. It's the first legal, Native-owned distillery to open on tribal land in the nation. The Chehalis Tribe's effort to diversify its economy by joining the craft spirits boom had to first overcome a nearly two century old prohibition on liquor production in Indian Country.

Last year, a couple who lives near Port Townsend, Washington, agreed to let the federal government drop off a dead gray whale to decompose on their semi-isolated beach. Now, the couple has a permit to keep the whale skeleton and will soon assemble the most amazing yard art.

One of the first Native American women elected to the Washington State House of Representatives says she is drafting legislation to retire Native-themed mascots and team names at public schools. This has been a goal of Native American leaders for a while, but has new-found momentum in the wake of the Washington, DC, NFL football team’s name change.

A tech startup in the Seattle area is offering new software that it says can help businesses track whether they are COVID-safe, including monitoring for whether employees and customers are wearing masks and social distancing.

One of the more unusual ways the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II is being marked this summer is with an exhibit of stunted trees. They’re bonsai trees on display at the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, Washington.

The Port of Bellingham is increasing temporary ferry service to the isolated enclave of Point Roberts, Washington. That community was largely cut off from the U.S. mainland when Canada and the U.S. closed their land border this spring to nonessential crossings to control the spread of the coronavirus.

A World War II army veteran in Great Britain achieved world renown earlier this year with a charity walk to raise money for British health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. The achievement went viral -- in a good way -- and inspired another pandemic feat by a 100-year-old U.S. Army veteran across the ocean in Portland, Oregon.

Pandemic stay-at-home orders gave lots of households extra time for spring cleaning. Some people rediscovered World War II artifacts, including inscribed Japanese flags taken as souvenirs by American soldiers from Pacific battlefields.

Now, aging veterans and their descendants are attempting to return memorabilia to the families of their former enemies ahead of a milestone anniversary. Next Wednesday, September 2, marks 75 years to the day since the Japanese surrender ceremony that ended World War II.

The months-long closure of the U.S.-Canada border to non-essential crossings has been extended again. The border crossing restrictions will last at least until late September, probably longer, due to the pandemic. The outlook is leading people who used to cross regularly to make major life changes.

It's not often that you'll read an obituary for a tree. Or that a dead tree gets a memorial service of sorts. But then there aren't many like Vancouver, Washington's "Old Apple Tree."

The recovery in airline travel seems to have hit a plateau in recent weeks, according to Transportation Security Administration checkpoint screening numbers. With the end of coronavirus pandemic seemingly beyond the horizon, the near future is turning grim for workers in the airline and airports sector.

Multiple airport tenants in Seattle and Portland issued layoff notices in the past week. But in a possible sign of optimism over the long term, the Pacific Northwest's major airport operators, the ports of Seattle and Portland, are continuing with big budget construction projects.

The Twilight phenomenon gets an injection of fresh blood this Tuesday with the release of a new installment in the bestselling vampire saga from author Stephenie Meyer. The series of novels and subsequent hit movies spurred legions of fans to visit the fictional story's real-life setting on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. But a predicted "renaissance" in vampire tourism could be bled by the resurgent virus pandemic.

Multiple nonprofits and universities that received large gifts this month from Seattle billionaire MacKenzie Scott are describing the donations as "transformative." Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, disclosed Tuesday that she made nearly $1.7 billion in donations since her April 2019 divorce from the world's richest man.

The coronavirus pandemic has served to remind many of us how much we count on strangers staying healthy so we can restock our cupboards and go about daily life. That's especially true for Alaskans who depend on a marine cargo lifeline from the Pacific Northwest for the majority of their goods.

The carefully followed death toll from COVID-19 may not fully capture the loss of life during the pandemic. Analysis of state and federal statistics for deaths from all causes shows hundreds of additional deaths above normal levels this spring in the Pacific Northwest. Some or many of those may actually be missed COVID deaths.

Four Washington state tribes have opened negotiations with the state government to introduce sports betting. Earlier this year, the legislature authorized wagering on sports, but only at tribal casinos -- unlike the broader legalization in Oregon.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the state Health Secretary are hitting the pause button on the county-by-county reopening process in response to the worsening coronavirus pandemic. Inslee announced that for at least the next two weeks all counties in Washington state will stay in whatever reopening phase they are currently in -- with a couple of exceptions.

A favorable weather forecast and the Fourth of July falling on a weekend has beach communities in the Pacific Northwest bracing for an onslaught despite the ongoing pandemic. Two beach towns that tend to be holiday crowd magnets are particularly in the limelight this year.

A former state ferry now moored on the Olympia waterfront may be headed for auction for the third time in about three years, this time to remedy months of unpaid port bills. The venerable car ferry Evergreen State was declared "abandoned" by the Port of Olympia on Friday, to the dismay of its owner.

Washington state leaders are expressing hesitancy about opening the door to the final phase of the governor's four-phase reopening plan. By the end of this week, eight rural counties will have spent the minimum three weeks in Phase 3 and can then theoretically apply to lift most remaining coronavirus restrictions.

A consultant's study of what it would take to boost east-west passenger rail service across Washington state effectively threw cold water on the envisioned trains. The report to the state legislature predicted high costs and relatively low ridership.

A study of sea otter restoration in British Columbia is giving encouragement to a group that wants to bring sea otters back to the Oregon Coast. A research report in the June 12 issue of the journal Science found that the return of sea otters yields far more in ecological benefits and ecotourism dollars than in costs to commercial fisheries.

Summer officially begins on Saturday, but it still feels like winter if you study the sailing schedule of Washington State Ferries. With ridership depressed by the ongoing pandemic, the nation's biggest ferry system is sticking to a reduced schedule through what would normally be its busiest season.

An iconic, but disappearing American institution -- the drive-in movie theater -- came to the rescue of the senior classes in several Pacific Northwest communities this month. As luck would have it, a drive-in cinema is well suited for a socially-distanced graduation ceremony.

Impaired driving citations dropped sharply across Oregon and Washington this spring during the coronavirus pandemic. There are multiple possible explanations for the decline, but people drinking and using drugs less does not appear to be a likely one.

Frustration with long delays in getting jobless benefits is boiling over into a lawsuit against the Washington State Employment Security Department. Attorneys representing two laid off workers and the nonprofit Unemployment Law Project filed the case directly with the state Supreme Court on Friday.

Washington's least populous counties will lead the way into the next phase of relaxing COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and social gatherings. This next phase allows for the resumption of team sports as well as for libraries, museums, gyms and movie theaters to at least partially reopen.

Fresh salt air and a good night's sleep to the sound of lapping waves might be just what the doctor ordered for Pacific Northwesterners left frazzled by current events. A getaway to the seashore is back in the realm of possibility as many coastal Oregon and Washington towns relax closure orders on tourist lodgings and vacation rentals.

There are a few holdout places along the Pacific Coast that are staying closed to visitors until further notice, along with considerable wariness about reintroducing a virus that has largely spared coastal counties up to now.

A Cessna commuter plane retrofitted in Washington state has taken the crown of biggest all-electric airplane now flying. Redmond, Washington-based electric motor maker MagniX teamed up with flight testing contractor AeroTEC to convert a 10-passenger, single engine Cessna 208B Grand Caravan to fly on battery power.

The county-by-county reopening of Washington state is picking up steam. The state Secretary of Health on Friday approved four additional places where closed businesses can now restart immediately if they have safety plans in place. At least a half-dozen more counties -- backed by antsy business communities -- are queuing up close behind.

Pages