Carelessly Ernest

Sometimes a snake is just a snake.

Given all the wailing, public flogging and handwringing, one would think state Rep. Ernest Hewett of New London had said something intentionally perverse and wicked, rather than simply something stupid and careless. The Democratic leadership has stripped him of his status as a deputy speaker. Republicans are calling for his resignation.

After listening to a 17-year-old girl testify before the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 20, Rep. Hewett said this: "If you're bashful, I got a snake sitting under my desk here."

Taken out of context it sounds like a highly inappropriate sexual innuendo, particularly coming from an adult man in authority speaking to a teenager. But taken in its context, the comment appears to be exactly what Rep. Hewett insists it was - an innocent (if stunningly careless) retort to her remarks.

The girl was testifying in support of continued funding for the Connecticut Science Center. She emphasized how her involvement had helped her overcome shyness and, coincidentally, her fear of snakes, a fact she repeated several times.

It was in that context that Rep. Hewett made his awkward comment. "If you're bashful," which she clearly no longer is, then he joked he had a snake - just as preposterous as the notion she was bashful.

Unfortunately for Rep. Hewett, when you are in his position, you have to think before you talk. And while we find it incomprehensible that at a legislative hearing he paused, pressed a button to activate his microphone so he could publicly issue a lewd comment to a teen girl - the reality is that it sounded outrageous. In a digital age that kind of sound bite spreads at light speed, trying to call it back and provide context is virtually impossible.

If this is an isolated incident, one ill-conceived comment, the quick decision to strip the representative of his leadership position was excessive, the calls for his resignation more so.

But make no mistake; the blood is in the water. If there is evidence of Rep. Hewett having acted inappropriately in the past, it will surface. It may be unfair that one statement can end up tanking a political career, but it's happened before.

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