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The former chairwoman of the General Assembly's Internship Committee said Monday that state Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, was not assigned female interns because of "a history of bad behavior" involving females.
State Rep. Mae Flexer, D-Danielson, said Monday that Hewett's "snake" comment last week wasn't the first example.
"We know he has a history of bad behavior, and we made a choice not to expose young women to that behavior just like no young woman or any young woman should have to be exposed," to it, Flexer said.
Hewett was stripped of his deputy speaker title last week, in response to a Feb. 20 Appropriations Committee meeting in which he said to a teenage girl: "If you're bashful, I got a snake sitting under my desk here."
Hewett was responding to comments made by a 17-year-old ambassador for the Connecticut Science Center who asked the committee to continue funding the center's ambassador program because it helped her overcome her shyness and get over her fear of snakes.
Hewett also told the Hartford Courant on Friday that he doesn't want to work with female interns because "that keeps me good and that keeps everybody else good."
Flexer was the chairman of the General Assembly's Internship Committee in 2011 and 2012 and now serves as a member of the committee.
Ever since she walked in the door, she said, she has known Hewett was not to be assigned a female intern.
There were "at least a handful" of incidents involving Hewett and females prior to her serving on the committee, she said. It was primarily verbal sexual harassment, which could include anything that creates a hostile work environment, she said.
Flexer said she would not go into detail because she did not want to highlight certain individuals that might not want to be in the public, she said.
"There are plenty of legislators for female interns to work with so not permitting Hewett to work with female interns is not seen as a loss," she said.
But she said Hewett's comments to the Hartford Courant about choosing not to work with female interns were "outrageous."
"They may give me a female, but I don't want a female intern," Hewett said. "That may sound sexist but I really don't."
Flexer said, "I mean, it is just ludicrous and it is so sexist and we cannot tolerate that kind of behavior or thought process. If everyone was like that there would be no women in the workplace. It's just ridiculous."
On Friday, when Hewett was asked whether he had ever had problems with female staff members he said, "I get along with everybody."
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, has called for the upperclassmen of his caucus to have a sexual harassment refresher course. Hewett will also face the women of the Democratic caucus today.
Flexer said she hopes the refresher course that Sharkey is planning will be "a little more thorough" than previous sexual harassment trainings.
Maybe this can turn into a "good thing," she said.
"Perhaps state legislators can make it understood that sexual harassment is not OK and stand by people who speak up about it," she said.
"And stop it from being a series of whispers that we just talk about and don't do anything about," Flexer said.
Hewett did not return calls on Monday.
Meanwhile on Monday, the Connecticut Republicans launched an online petition at www.ipetition.com that calls for Hewett to resign for his "wildly offensive comments to the young girl." As of 10 p.m., more than 1,500 people had signed the petition.