Democrat Laufton Ascencao of Bristol, elected in November to a state House seat, was right to call it quits Wednesday over his scandalous conduct during and since the campaign.
Initially, the 25-year-old political organizer passed his actions off as a mere misjudgment — “a stupid and immature thing.” But it was clear to many that his conduct spoke of a willingness to engage in lies and fraud, showing he could not be trusted with public power.
Mr. Ascencao — who changed his name from Mr. Longo last spring — made a commitment during the campaign to four Democratic Warren Town Council candidates to send a mailer in their behalf. After failing to do so, “I told them it had gone out,” he admitted.
Specifically, according to Steve Thompson, chairman of the Warren Democratic Town Committee, Mr. Ascencao said the mailer had been printed and distributed to 424 Warren households, starting three days before the Nov. 6 election.
He then informed the four that they should each report $413 of in-kind campaign contributions to the state Board of Elections. Such reports are made under the penalty of perjury.
Repeatedly pressed for evidence the mailer had gone out, Mr. Ascencao provided a digital image of the purported mailer, a cashed check and an invoice from a Fall River printer. When one of the Warren candidates, June Speakman, checked with the printer, a manager there said both the invoice and the check had been altered.
The Warren Democratic Committee called for Mr. Ascencao to step down and filed a complaint with state election officials.
“I would say this falls into the category of the cover-up is worse than the crime. Not sending the mailer is a far less serious transgression than lying about it,” said Ms. Speakman.
Let’s review: Mr. Ascencao made his peers a promise he did not keep, then lied to them, then tried to cover up his lies while encouraging them to file fraudulent documents. When caught, instead of taking full responsibility, he initially offered the excuse that he was a kid who made a stupid mistake and deserved a do-over.
He was right to announce Wednesday he will not take the seat, permitting a special election, which must take place in 90 days. His goose was cooked at the State House. Any House speaker would have had to be crazy to put him on a committee, never mind in a leadership position. He would have lacked the trust of his colleagues. Such a person could not serve his district effectively.
The State Police should also look into whether any laws were broken in the course of this caper.
As a side note, the name-shifting Mr. Ascencao was a member of a group of 21 that, claiming moral superiority, tried to bring down House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, who has striven to represent all Democrats, including moderates, instead of merely the party's hard-left fringe. Mr. Mattiello understands the need to have a strong economy in Rhode Island to provide opportunity for citizens and generate the tax revenues required to pay for compassionate government.
The group's self-styled name, the Reform Caucus, seems especially ironic now.