Ernest Hewett, a five-term state representative from New London, is losing his leadership title for a comment he made to a 17-year-old girl during a budget hearing.
The Connecticut Post reported on Thursday that House Speaker Brendan Sharkey has stripped Hewett of his deputy speaker title after hearing an audiotape of the comment, which was perceived as sexually harassing.
Hewett had an exchange with the intern from the Connecticut Science Center, who said working at the center helped her overcome a fear of snakes.
After the girl spoke, someone asked if there were any questions.
"And if you're bashful, I got a snake sitting under my desk here," Hewett said.
We have posted what the teen said, and what Hewett said later. The audio has been edited together for the purpose of time. Hewett spoke after someone in the room asked if there were any questions.
Everyone laughed after he said it.
Hewett told the Post he wanted to apologize to his colleagues for the statement and understood how it could be misconstrued as sexual.
He told the Hartford Courant that he did not intend for it to be an innuendo.
“It came out the wrong way. …It had nothing to do with sex, in my mind, but I can understand how people would think that by hearing it,” he told the Courant.
Hewett, a Democrat, was appointed Deputy Speaker in January. In the role, he would have presided over the House when the Speaker was not in the chamber.
He will lose $6,446 in additional leadership pay.
Gabe Rosenberg, communication director for the House Democrats, told the Courant that first- and second-term House Democrats have recently gone through sexual harassment training and the Speaker is now ordering others to go through the training as well.
“As the agency mandated to study and work toward the elimination of gender discrimination, of which sexual harassment is a part, we look forward to working with the leadership from both sides of the aisles to make sure State government has a zero tolerance policy toward this kind of behavior – whether unintentional or not," the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women said in a statement. "After all, in addition to being the seat of government, the State Capitol is also a workplace, and this incident shows that inappropriate behavior happens in workplaces everywhere – a fact borne out by the frequent calls to our office from women in many employment situations. But in this case, it’s especially important for an engaged citizenry to know that their government will treat them with the respect they deserve whenever they come to testify.”