Hewett contrite on Thursday, not so much on Friday

Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, was contrite and accepted responsibility Thursday for a remark to a teenage girl at a public hearing that carried a sexual double-entendre, whether intended or not.

But on Friday, Hewett, 56, was suggesting that House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, acted rashly in stripping him of his title as deputy speaker, a job that carried a $6,446 stipend on top of his $28,000 salary.

“I have been disciplined without any due process at all,” Hewett said.

Hewett said he was not seeking a formal disciplinary process. His complaint was that Sharkey, after listening to an audio recording of the hearing, had decided to punish him without hearing Hewett’s defense.

Last week, Hewett was at an Appropriations Committee hearing when a 17-year-old girl testified in support of funding for the Connecticut Science Center, saying her work with animals there helped her overcome shyness and a fear of snakes.

Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, the committee co-chairwoman, complimented the girl for testimony that demonstrated she no longer was shy.

According to an account of the audio published by The Day, his hometown paper, Hewett then turned on his microphone and said, “If you’re bashful, I got a snake sitting under my desk here.”

Then he sat back.

Hewett said he understood how the comment came across as sexually suggestive. He said he only meant that the girl being shy was as unlikely as a snake being under his desk.

The remark apparently went unnoticed by the girl and a representative of the museum, but Hewett’s colleagues and others heard it clearly.

Sharkey reviewed the audio Wednesday, then demoted Hewett.

“Just, bam! He called on the phone,” Hewett said.

Sharkey said the audio was clear: The remark was offensive and reflected poorly on the House, whatever Hewett intended.

“The impression the comments made on everybody that heard them, either on audio or in person, was pretty universal,” Sharkey said. “I understand there might have been another explanation, perhaps.”

Sharkey is directing legislators to take a refresher course on sexual harassment. The training is now required only of new legislators.

The Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, a legislative agency that will conduct the training, issued a statement saying it was important for the legislature to have “a zero tolerance policy for this kind behavior — whether unintentional or not.”

Republican State Chairman Jerry Labriola called for Hewett to resign.

Hewett said he likes to be playful. At a recent hearing on a bill that would allow 16-year-olds to give blood, Hewett said, he told teenagers present that if he needed a transfusion, he would prefer “young blood.”