A longtime Connecticut state representative was stripped of his deputy speaker position this week after he made a lewd comment to a teenage girl during a budget hearing.
The 17-year-old was speaking about how a program at the Connecticut Science Center had helped her overcome her fear of snakes, the Connecticut Post reported.
“I am usually a very shy person, and now I am more outgoing. I was able to teach those children about certain things like snakes that we have and the turtles that we have… ,” she said. “I want to do something toward that, working with children when I get older.”
“If you’re bashful I got a snake sitting under my desk here,” Rep. Ernest Hewett (D) replied after her remarks, according to audio of the Feb. 21 incident.
Connecticut House Speaker and fellow Democrat Brendan Sharkey on Wednesday stripped Hewett of his deputy speaker title and its accompanying $6,446 extra pay, according to the Post.
“It’s hard for anyone who heard the audio or was there to think it was anything other than a sexual innuendo,” Sharkey told the newspaper. “I guess the best word I can use to describe this is disturbing.”
Hewett, a former mayor of New London, Conn. now in his fifth term in the state House, said he wants to apologize to the teenage girl, whose name he doesn’t know.
“I take full responsibility for my actions. In hindsight, I can really see how this can be misconstrued as something sexual,” Hewett said.
But the chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party dismissed the punishment as “less than a slap on the wrist” and urged Hewett to resign instead.
“Representative Hewett’s offensive remark was a disgrace and an embarrassment. The fact that it was made to a 17 year-old intern visiting the State Capitol to attend a public hearing sends an absolutely atrocious message,” state GOP chairman Jerry Labriola Jr. said in a statement.
He added, “The legislature has at its disposal a number of ways to sanction Representative Hewett, ranging from an official censure to calling on him to resign. I urge Rep. Hewett to save the legislature some valuable time and make the decision to step down himself.”