(Updated 1:25 p.m.) House Speaker Brendan Sharkey removed a veteran lawmaker from his leadership position Thursday for an inappropriate remark he made last week during a budget hearing.
Rep. Ernest Hewett of New London, a deputy speaker and member of the Appropriations Committee, told a 17-year-old girl on Feb. 20 that if she was shy then he had a live snake for her under his desk. The girl, an intern with the Connecticut Science Center, talked about being shy and overcoming her fear of snakes during her testimony.
“And if you’re bashful I’ve got a snake sittin’ under my desk here,” Hewett told the girl, according to the audio of the hearing.
“I’m sorry,” Hewett said Thursday in a phone interview.
He said he apologized to Matt Fleury, president of the Connecticut Science Center on Thursday and told him he would like to apologize to the young woman.
“Neither the student, her family members nor I clearly heard Representative Hewett’s comment and we were unaware that anything that could be perceived as offensive had been said until reading news accounts,” Fleury said in a statement Friday.
“We have passed his apology on to the student, and she has accepted it,” Fleury said. “We are honoring her desire to maintain her privacy.”
He said he honestly meant nothing by the remark except to point out that the girl had gotten over her shyness and fear of snakes. However, he admitted he could understand how it would be misinterpreted.
Sharkey reviewed the above audio before making his decision. According to sources, the sexual innuendo was too obvious to ignore.
Losing his leadership will cost Hewett $6,440 a year, bringing his pay down to $28,000.
In addition to removing Hewett from his position, Sharkey ordered all House Democrats except for freshmen and sophomores, who have just had the sexual harassment training, to go through it again. That decision was made last week, just two days after Hewett’s remarks.
On Tuesday, Hewett, who has been in politics for 18 years, will meet with female lawmakers to talk about his actions.
One female legislator who heard Hewitt last week said those types of comments are all too common in the state Capitol and something needs to be done to put an end to sexual harassment in the building.
Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, who was co-chairing the Appropriations Committee when Hewett made the remarks, said Friday that as lawmakers “we’re not allowed to make those types of mistakes.’
She said Hewett used poor judgment in choosing his words that night.