Last month, the Oregon Working Families Party announced that Amanda La Bell would be running on the party's ballot line in the House 54 race. Some have mistakenly asserted that it was the Democrats who made the effort to get La Bell, the founder and executive director of the Rebecca Foundation, on the ballot, in the wake of accusations of alleged groping (and other concerning behavior) on the part of the Democratic candidate Nathan Boddie. While the advent of a third candidate in the race might pose some challenging decision-making among party-line Democrats, we have found that current assertions around how that new candidate entered the race require some clarification.
While it's true that Democratic leaders including Sen. Jeff Merkley, Gov. Kate Brown, former Gov. Barbara Roberts and Bend City Councilor Barb Campbell have expressed their support of La Bell's candidacy, to say that the Democratic party itself has fielded, vetted and added this candidate to the ballot appears to be false.
The Deschutes Democrats issued a statement July 22, formally withdrawing support for Boddie. According to Jason Burge, chair of the Deschutes Democrats, the group held a number of meetings ahead of the Aug. 28 candidate filing deadline to discuss the possibility of fielding a new candidate should Boddie withdraw. Burge said La Bell attended some of those meetings and expressed interest in running—though ultimately, since time was running out and Boddie did not withdraw, the Deschutes Democrats could not field another candidate, Burge told the Source Tuesday.
According to Sydney Scout of WFP, with the candidate filing deadline approaching, a number of "community activists" in Bend—not leaders of the Democratic party—reached out to WFP to ask the party to consider adding La Bell to the ballot. After interviewing and vetting La Bell, the party found her to be a viable candidate.
Scout said La Bell is the first candidate in Oregon to run on the party's ballot line. Typically, WFP "cross-nominates" individuals from other parties—most often Democrats, said Scout. In this case, however, the special circumstances prompted WFP to add its own candidate to the ballot, Scout said. Our discussions with local Democrats and representatives from WFP have led us to the conclusion that while the situation was advantageous for the Working Families Party as a way to gain inroads in Central Oregon, this was not some vast conspiracy on the part of Democrats.
Some have also expressed doubt that having a candidate enter a race this late in the game will be a disadvantage. While this conundrum does have to fall largely at the feet of a damaged candidate who didn't withdraw, we assert that at the very least, Central Oregonians now have more than a single choice in the race—and if the newly minted candidate starts hitting the streets, she may still have a chance.
Does this entire process smack of a reminder that perhaps a two-party system doesn't best serve voters—especially when one candidate can so quickly fall from grace? It probably should. Too often, voters simply tick a box for "D" or "R" based on identity politics. In this race, we hope voters will come to the ballot box better informed.