A veteran House member from New London was stripped of his deputy speaker title this week after he made a lewd comment during a budget hearing.
Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey said Thursday that Rep. Ernest Hewett made a remark perceived as sexually harassing during an exchange with a 17-year-old intern from the Connecticut Science Center.
After the teenage girl said that working at the science center helped her overcome a fear of snakes, Hewett allegedly made reference to a snake with him, under his desk top.
“The public needs to know this is an environment where they will be respected,” Sharkey said. “That kind of language shouldn’t be used in any public setting.”
After hearing an audiotape of the incident, which occurred Feb. 21, Sharkey stripped Hewett of his deputy speaker title Wednesday. With the removal of the title goes $6,446 in extra pay above the rank-and-file rate of $28,000.
“After I first heard about it, I thought maybe in the broader sense maybe he was misunderstood and it may not be that big a deal,” Sharkey said in an interview.
“But based on the audio, it’s hard to interpret it that way. It’s hard for anyone who heard the audio or was there to think it was anything other than a sexual innuendo.
“I guess the best word I can use to describe this is disturbing,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey last week ordered sexual harassment training for all House Democrats who are not in their first or second term. In addition, he has invited women members of the 99-member majority caucus to meet with him and Hewett on Tuesday.
Hewett, a former mayor of New London who is in his fifth term in the House, said Thursday that he wanted to apologize to the young woman, whose identity he did not know.
“Secondly, I want to apologize to my colleagues for the statement I made,” he said.
“I take full responsibility for my actions. In hindsight, I can really see how this can be misconstrued as something sexual,” Hewett said.
Rep. Kim Fawcett, D-Fairfield, one of the lawmakers invited to the sit-down with Hewett next week, said lawmakers must find the 17-year-old intern.
“The apology needs to go to the 17-year-old girl who testified and the Connecticut Science Center who brought their intern to the Legislature, which submitted her to that kind of harassment,” Fawcett said.