Working Families Party candidate Amanda La Bell filed to run for the Oregon House of Representatives on Aug. 24, less than eight weeks before ballots were to appear in mailboxes across District 54. Despite her late entry, a number of prominent Democratic and left-leaning office-holders rushed to endorse her, including Sen. Jeff Merkley, Gov. Kate Brown and Bend city Councilor Barb Campbell. Even an untested candidate about whom voters know next to nothing was preferable, it seems, not only to disgraced Democratic candidate Nathan Boddie but, more importantly, to Republican Cheri Helt.

Oops.

District 54 voters now know a bit more about La Bell, and it’s something Brown, Merkley and company surely wish they’d known before pitching their tents in her camp. La Bell, in submitting information for inclusion in the Voters Pamphlet, awarded herself a bachelor’s degree from Valdosta State University she did not earn.

La Bell’s take on this? The claim was the result of “an oversight during the rapid launch of my campaign.”

Believe the “mistakes were made” excuse if you will. But people tend to remember where they went to college and what degrees they earned. Besides, the Voters Pamphlet claim isn’t a first-time fabrication. La Bell also claimed to have earned a bachelor’s degree from Valdosta State in her LinkedIn profile, which has since been amended. LinkedIn is a job-networking website.

Meanwhile, Willamette Week’s Nigel Jaquiss reported Tuesday that La Bell faced a felony theft charge in Florida in 2009, though a car dealer dropped the charges shortly before trial. Both Merkley and Brown withdrew their support Tuesday.

Though voters know little about La Bell, some, like Brown and Merkley, may have been willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. That, clearly, is a mistake. What voters learned this week is worrisome and should make people wonder if there’s other information they should know, but don’t.

The District 54 mess is, among other things, an affirmation of the lengthy process by which holders of partisan offices are usually chosen. Forcing candidates to survive primary and general elections ensures that voters have time to learn something about their future representatives. To this end, contested primaries are particularly useful.

The mess also speaks volumes about the true priorities of those, like Brown, who couldn’t wait to endorse La Bell despite knowing precious little about her. District 54 represents an opportunity for Democrats to flip a seat now held by a Republican, Knute Buehler. Electing a Democrat would allow the majority party to raise taxes without help from Republicans. And saddled with a tainted candidate of their own, Boddie, the best outcome would be the election of an ideologically aligned third-party candidate.

What the endorsements of Democratic leaders were not about is the quality of representation enjoyed by residents of District 54. If it were, Brown, Merkley and others would have given some thought to the reflexive endorsement they were compelled to take back this week.

But Bend voters should care about the quality of their representatives, not to mention their credibility. For that reason, there remains only one responsible choice in November: Cheri Helt.

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