In Short

Complaint alleges Oregon House candidate lied about earning graduate degree

By: - October 26, 2022 5:09 pm

A supporter of Rep. David Gomberg, D-Central Coast, alleges that his Republican challenger, Celeste McEntee, falsely claimed a graduate degree. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

A supporter of incumbent state Rep. David Gomberg, D-Central Coast, on Wednesday asked the secretary of state to investigate whether Gomberg’s opponent lied about her education on the state-issued Voters’ Pamphlet. 

Celeste McEntee (Campaign photo)

Newport restaurateur Celeste McEntee lists a “graduate degree” in conflict resolution from the University of Utah. Depoe Bay resident Monica Kirk’s complaint, a copy of which was shared with the Capital Chronicle, claims that the university only offers conflict resolution as a non-degree certificate program.

In an email, McEntee said she attended the year-long program to earn a “certified diploma” and that she never claimed she earned a master’s degree.

“Again, this is simply another attempt by Gomberg and his supporters to try and take a simple twisting of my words to the extreme to distract everyone from his negative scare-tactics and bullying throughout his campaign,” she said. “I’m proud of my post-graduate studies, and will even use this education to help build consensus in the Oregon House of Representatives.”

Lying about educational or career backgrounds in the Voters’ Pamphlet is a class C felony. In 2018 and 2020, the House Republicans’ PAC filed complaints against Democratic candidates who falsely claimed bachelor’s degrees; neither candidate was elected. And former Republican U.S. Rep. Wes Cooley was fined and ordered to do community service following a 1997 conviction for claiming he served in Korea during the Korean War when he never left the U.S.

McEntee’s Voters’ Pamphlet statement in the primary election said that she attended undergraduate and graduate programs at the University of Utah, but it didn’t specify whether she earned degrees. Her statement for the general election lists a bachelor’s degree in communications and a graduate degree in conflict resolution. 

The University of Utah offers a two-semester, non-credit certificate program in conflict resolution. Students who pass the program don’t receive a degree, but it counts for an educational requirement for court-appointed mediators in Utah. 

In her complaint, Kirk wrote that the university wouldn’t confirm whether McEntee completed her bachelor’s degree or the certificate, citing student privacy. Kirk, who recently published a letter to the editor in the Newport News-Times urging support for Gomberg, said in an email that McEntee repeated the claim that she had a graduate degree during a candidate forum on Tuesday night. 

McEntee previously claimed two erroneous endorsements on her submission for the Voters’ Pamphlet. State election officials fact-check endorsements before copies of the pamphlet are printed and mailed to voters, but those false endorsements made it onto a rough draft of the pamphlet shared with military and overseas voters.

She didn’t return calls or emails from the Capital Chronicle and other news outlets about the false endorsements last month but instead sent a press release two days later baselessly claiming that news organizations were aligned with her opponent and threatening litigation. 

And in August, she received a written warning in lieu of a $1,500 fine from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission for failing to file required paperwork disclosing her sources of income, debts and investments before an April 15 deadline for legislative candidates. McEntee blamed that error, as well as the erroneous endorsements, on staff.

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.