There's a certain ambiguity in state Rep. Ernest Hewett's crude response to a teenage intern's testimony at a Feb. 20 budget hearing. But that ambiguity doesn't excuse what the New London Democrat said.
The teenager, speaking on behalf of the Connecticut Science Center, said her internship there had made her less shy and had helped her lose her fear of snakes. Mr. Hewett's at best unthinking response: "And if you're bashful, I've got a snake sitting under my desk here." (Readers can hear for themselves by going to this link: http://www.courant.com/snakecomment.)
There are several possible explanations for what he said — all of them bad. Sexual innuendo? Twisted joke about a teenager's fear? His words were unacceptable in that setting no matter his motivation.
Connecticut residents have a right to be treated with respect when they appear before their elected representatives. Teenagers should be able to plead their case before government without being subjected to comments that could make them uncomfortable.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey called Mr. Hewett's words "disturbing," and said that "it's hard for anyone who heard the audio or was there to think it was anything other than a sexual innuendo." Others disagree. Nonetheless, "disturbing" is the right word. Elected officials should know better.
Over the years The Courant has not been shy about recommending that certain miscreant officeholders — Republicans and Democrats — leave the scene. Usually they had been the subjects of criminal investigations or otherwise were at odds with the law or ethics rules. Mr. Hewett is not in that category.
He has been punished — stripped of his deputy speaker title. He's apologized, saying, in part, "In hindsight, I can really see how this can be misconstrued as something sexual."
We wonder how he can continue to be an effective representative, given the uproar over his remarks. But his constituents should be the jury.
Editor's note: This editorial updates an earlier version based on new information.Copyright © 2015, CT Now