Thurston County Commissioner Sandra Romero says she hasn’t seen anything from Ramtha’s School of Enlightenment that wold prompt her to return campaign donations from the school and its founder, JZ Knight.
Video of Romero and 2nd Legislative District candidate Bruce Lachney speaking at a candidate forum at the school spliced with footage of Knight making disparaging statements about the Catholic Church has been making the rounds online. Republicans have seized on it as the election nears, calling on the two Democrats to return donations related to the school.
A school spokesperson said the video is spliced with footage of Knight channeling Ramtha, a 35,000-year-old warrior spirit, during a separate event. It shows Knight making derogatory comments about the church and references to homosexuals and Jews.
Romero, the incumbent candidate for Commissioner Position 2, received a combined $3,600 during the primary and general election from Knight and the school.
“I asked if they could just give me some demographics of who the school is, and they sent that to me,” she said.
Those statistics showed the Ramtha school has students from 48 countries and uses six to 14 translators at its events, Romero said. There is also an instructor from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community, she added.
“I haven’t found anything yet to show that (Knight) is bigoted in any way,” Romero said. “All I am seeing is they are very inclusive.”
Challenger Andrew Barkis said the woman who circulated the video, Virginia Coverdale, has not worked for his campaign but did volunteer by doorbelling and handing out fliers. He called the video “deplorable.”
“I think there is no context; she (JZ) said what she said,” Barkis said. “Anybody who views that would find that offensive.”
Barkis said he met with Coverdale over coffee at the end of September after learning about the video.
“I did my due diligence and wanted to find out where this was coming from,” he said.
Barkis said he asked about Coverdale’s background and her involvement with the Ramtha school, and listened to her concerns.
“At that point in time, she also asked me about who I was and why I was running,” Barkis said.
He said Coverdale later contacted him about volunteer opportunities.
“She was going out with other campaigns and was happy to take literature and doorbell those same areas,” Barkis said. “I said that would be great.”
Barkis didn’t say anything about the videos during the campaign, saying he instead focused on the issues.
Beyond the recent controversy, both candidates say the campaign has gone well.
Romero raised more than $60,000, according to the Public Disclosure Commission website. More than $37,000 has been spent on her campaign.
The largest contribution, $7,000, came from the Thurston County Democrats.
Romero is endorsed by 15 groups, 37 elected officials and least 110 individuals. Those endorsements include from state Sen. Karen Fraser, county commissioners Cathy Wolfe and Karen Valenzuela, members of the Olympia, Tumwater and Lacey county commissions, and port commissioners.
“We have taken the high road at every turn,” Romero said. “We have not lowered ourselves at all to negative campaigning, even though we have been told it’s effective, but we are not going to go there.”
Barkis raised almost $58,000 and has spent nearly $45,000.
His largest contributors have been the Affordable Housing Council and the Washington Association of Realtors, both of which donated $1,800 in the primary and general elections.
Barkis has endorsements from eight associations, 22 elected officials and more than 200 individual supporters, including Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza, former sheriffs Gary Edwards and Dan Kimball, the mayors of Yelm and Rainier and members of the Lacey Fire District 3 commission and Port of Olympia, according to his website.
“We have run on the issues; we have run with energy,” Barkis said. “I devoted my whole year to this, and had incredible people supporting me and an incredible team.”
Wolfe is running for re-election against Olympia City Council member Karen Rogers for Commissioner Position 1.
Rogers has raised more than $44,000 and spent more than $27,000. Her largest contributor has been the Washington Association of Realtors, with two $900 donations.
Rogers has been endorsed by 10 elected officials, five associations and more than 80 individuals and business owners, including Snaza and retired sheriffs Kimball and Edwards, as well as members of the Port of Olympia and Lacey and Tumwater city councils, according to her website.
Wolfe has raised almost $39,000 and spent $26,000. Her largest contributor has been the Thurston County Democrats, with a $7,000 donation.
Wolfe has received endorsements from 11 organizations, 36 elected officials and more than 150 individuals, including past and present members of the Olympia, Tumwater and Lacey city councils, County Commissioners Romero and Valenzuela, according to her website.