Although the state Republican chairman has called on State Rep. Ernest Hewett of New London to resign, the GOP organization in Hewett’s district has opted not to take a stance on the matter until it is investigated further.
Bill Vogel, chairman of the New London Republican Town Committee, said the organization’s members discussed whether to join the call for Hewett’s resignation at its regular meeting on Tuesday. Vogel said the committee is not taking any action until it receives more information on the accusations against Hewett.
“There’s so much stuff coming out on Ernie each day, we felt we might as well let the chips fall where they may and then take a look at it,” Vogel said.
Connecticut House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, a Haddam Democrat, stripped Hewett of his deputy speaker title after learning of a remark Hewett made at a Feb. 20 Appropriations Committee public hearing. At that meeting, a 17-year-old girl spoke in support of funding for the Connecticut Science Center and mentioned how her work with the center helped her overcome her fear of snakes; Hewett asked to speak and commented, “And if you’re bashful, I’ve got a snake sitting under my desk here.”
Hewett said he meant to make a joking remark and later realized that the remark could be misconstrued as sexual innuendo. He apologized to the girl through the Connecticut Science Center and she accepted.
However, Hewett has also been criticized for comments in which he said he preferred not to have female interns. State Rep. Mae Flexer, a Killingly Democrat, said Hewett is not assigned female interns due to prior inappropriate behavior but did not go into details. Mayor Daryl Finizio, a Democrat, asked Sharkey to investigate this allegation, according to The Day.
Vogel said he also felt there is a need for a further investigation into Flexer’s claim.
“There’s a lot already there, but I think what people really need to know is what happened to cause Ernie to not even be suitable for female interns, and if there’s a lot of substance to that issue that would make him not a suitable candidate for re-election,” said Vogel. “And if it was really egregious enough, maybe people would call for his resignation. But if it turns out at the end of the day that there isn’t much to it, then I guess people would just wonder what the heck Democrats are doing and why Ernie won’t take a female intern.”
Jerry Labriola Jr., chairman of the Connecticut Republican Party, has called on Hewett to resign and started an online petition to support the effort. The petition—which does not allow visitors to see signatories—had 2,159 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.
Vogel said the RTC did not take any action related to Labriola's petition. He said he did not think Hewett was making an innuendo in his remark at the Appropriations Committee, but said the legislator’s subsequent comments brought up separate concerns.
“In my dealings with Ernie he’s always been a gentlemen,” Vogel said. “He’s always been very gregarious, outgoing, and friendly type of person. I never heard of any verbal sexual abuse allegations before about him. Now that this is all happening, I guess what we can hope is that it will all be cleared up and it won’t be what it seems.”
However, Vogel added that he and other RTC members thought the Democrats should have been more open on the issue.
“What people are most upset about it are basically that the Democrats covered up the problems that Ernie’s been having with interns for as long as it’s been going on,” he said. “If people in New London had known about that issue, it would have affected Ernie’s electability.”
Hewett, a Democrat who has represented the 39th Assembly District since his election in 2004, won re-election to a two-year term in November. Hewett received 4,576 votes while Republican candidate Daniel Docker had 942.