BRISTOL, R.I. (WPRI) - State Rep.-elect Laufton Ascencao said Wednesday he will step down rather than take the oath of office, bowing to public pressure after he admitted he lied about a campaign invoice.
In a statement, the 25-year-old Bristol Democrat again apologized for his actions. "I’ve spoken to lots of the people I hoped to represent and it is clear that, given my mistakes, I cannot represent our shared values at the State House as well as I would want to and as they deserve," he said.
"Values to me are not just catch phrases used on a campaign; they are the only good reason to get involved in politics," he said. "When an elected official doesn’t live up to those standards, it’s important that the community be able to hold them accountable. I messed up and I need to own that."
State law calls for a special election to be held in House District 68 within 70 to 90 days of Ascencao's official resignation. Bill Hunt, the Libertarian candidate defeated by Ascencao on Nov. 6, told Target 12 he will "absolutely" run again. Democrat Andrew Tyska, who lost to Ascencao in the September primary, also said he will run.
District 68 is currently represented by Democrat Ken Marshall, who abruptly abandoned his own re-election race earlier this year after revealing thousands of dollars in unreported campaign money. Marshall supported Tyska to be his successor and later endorsed Hunt over Ascencao.
Ascencao apologized Tuesday after he acknowledged he misled members of the Warren Democratic Town Committee about a political mailer he falsely claimed to have sent out. After committee members questioned him, he even provided a fake invoice from a Fall River printing company and a copy of a check to show he had.
Ascencao's announcement came shortly after leaders of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, which had endorsed him, said they were "shocked to learn of the unethical actions," suggesting it would "be in both Ascencao’s best interests, and in the best interests of his constituents, for him to step down." The Warren Democrats had already called for him to resign.
According to a complaint to the R.I. Board of Elections obtained by Target 12, Ascencao sent a text message to committee member Keith Phillis, telling him the Warren candidates on the mailer should report $413 of in-kind contributions from him in the campaign-finance filings. But Town Committee Chairman Steven Thompson told the candidates not to file the reports after he grew suspicious.
One of the candidates for council who was supposed to be on the mailer, June Speakman, said she repeatedly asked Ascencao about the mailer and for documentation to back up the spending. She said Ascencao eventually replied with a curt email.
"In his response he appeared irritated and pointed out how much he had done for us in our campaigns," Speakman told Target 12.
In his statement, Ascencao acknowledged his error. "Viewing the inability to get a political mailer sent in time as a personal failing is a pretty silly way to see the world," he said. "Trying to cover it up was a mistake so unnecessary that it’s clear to me that my judgment has become skewed."
Ascencao was a member of the group of 21 current and incoming House Democrats who have broken with Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and dubbed themselves "the Reform Caucus." The caucus denounced him for his behavior Wednesday.
Not everyone agreed Ascencao needed to step aside. Another influential progressive organization, the Rhode Island Working Families Party, expressed disappointment in Ascencao on Tuesday but stopped short of saying he should not take his seat.
Asked earlier in the day why he recently removed the biography section from his official website, Ascencao said he was reworking the site in expectation of becoming a lawmaker.
"This now doesn’t seem credible to anyone but I was working on a full rewrite of website text to transition to a more elected official website and thought the bio page was all about asking people for their votes," Ascencao wrote. "I wanted to replace it with a much shorter bio and then start promoting legislative work."