Last month, when Amanda La Bell entered the race for House District 54, she offered Democrats renewed hope of increasing their dominance in the Oregon Legislature.

Earlier in the summer, Democrats had withdrawn support for their nominee in the district, Dr. Nathan Boddie, when allegations of sexual harassment emerged against him.

So when La Bell, who manages a law office in Bend, signed on to run as the nominee of Working Families Party, Democratic leaders, including U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Gov. Kate Brown, shifted their support from Boddie to La Bell. But they apparently didn't vet her, either.

WW has learned that La Bell, 41, has a history of financial problems, got herself in a legal scrape in Florida, and apparently made a false statement in the Voters' Pamphlet (potentially a class C felony).

"It certainly begs the question of whether Democrats did their homework," says Preston Mann, a spokesman for the House Republican campaign committee. "And it reeks of desperation."

Amanda LaBell
Amanda LaBell

Getting a three-fifths majority in the House, a so-called "supermajority," is the holy grail for Democrats. That's because Oregon law requires a three-fifths vote of both chambers to pass new taxes, and all new tax measures must start in the House.

House Democrats currently hold a 35-25 advantage over Republicans, which means if they pick up just one seat currently held by the GOP, they will have a supermajority in 2019 for the first time in a decade. (Democrats also need just one more seat in the Senate to gain a supermajority there.)

Republicans, on the other hand, are desperate to block the supermajority. They've even set up a new political action committee, the No Supermajorities PAC, and seeded it with $450,000.

Of all the House seats up for grabs in November, the one in District 54 held by state Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend) was Democrats' best chance of gaining a supermajority. (Buehler is running for governor.) Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 6,000 voters in Buehler's district, an advantage of about 11 percentage points.

Earlier this summer, however, disaster struck Boddie's campaign.

As allegations grew more specific over the summer, public employee unions and environmental groups also called on Boddie to leave the race.

When he refused to go, the Working Families Party recruited La Bell, a registered Democrat, to run on its ticket because the party had not previously nominated a candidate in Buehler's district.

Aaron Fiedler, a spokesman for the House Democrats, says the caucus campaign committee is not involved in La Bell's candidacy. But a list of endorsements shows the Democratic establishment is fully behind her.

La Bell entered the race with the endorsements of three of the state's most influential Democrats: Merkley, Brown and the woman political consultants say is the most beloved politician in the state, former Gov. Barbara Roberts.

La Bell, who moved to Bend from Texas in 2017, acknowledges she had not met any of the three prior to receiving their endorsements. "I think they like my profile," she says.

It is unclear, however, whether anybody in the Democratic or Working Families parties vetted La Bell before backing her candidacy.

Public records show she faced a felony theft charge in Florida in 2009. (A car dealer dropped the charges against her on the eve of trial.) In 2011, while living in Tennessee, records show La Bell and her husband were sued by a health club over an unpaid debt of $8,000.

La Bell says the felony arrest was the fault of the man she lived with at the time. She didn't remember the case in Tennessee.

"I've struggled financially and been through some unpleasant situations," La Bell says. "When the recession hit, I was making six figures one week and out of work the next."

People who've worked in the Capitol say the job requires a higher standard.

"Given that legislators' only constitutionally required job is to balance a multibillion-dollar budget, having competence in financial matters is of great benefit," says former Oregon Legislative Counsel Greg Chaimov. "Coming to the Legislature with a strong ethical background and good judgment is also important."

Voters will decide whether La Bell's arrest matters. But in describing herself to them, she may have committed a felony. In her Voters' Pamphlet statement, under "educational background," La Bell wrote "BA, Valdosta [Ga.] State University."

But when WW contacted Valdosta State, the registrar's office reported she'd attended just one semester and did not graduate.

La Bell declined on Monday to answer WW's questions about the discrepancy. On Tuesday morning, The (Bend) Bulletin first reported La Bell's false claim. She told The Bulletin her claim of having earned a degree was "inadvertent" and made in haste, although her bio on the website of the Bend law firm where she works also includes the claim.

The secretary of state's elections guide says making a false statement in a voters' guide "is a violation of Oregon Election Law and the candidate may be convicted of a Class C Felony."

On Tuesday afternoon, the Republicans filed an elections complaint against La Bell; meanwhile, Merkley and Brown withdrew their endorsements.

Mann, the GOP spokesman, says Democrats dropped the ball in their zeal to secure a supermajority.

"To me," he says, "it's symbolic of a level of blind partisanship that is unhealthy for our state."

This story has been updated with new reporting.