New London — State Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, by his own admission, did not have a good 2013.
The five-term state legislator was stripped of his deputy speaker title in Hartford, took a $6,000 pay cut, and was forced with other Democrats in Hartford to take a sexual harassment awareness class after being accused of making a sexually inappropriate comment during a committee meeting last February.
Hewett announced Tuesday he is seeking a sixth term representing the 39th Assembly District, which encompasses the first and second voting districts.
He said he learned a lot during the firestorm early last year that erupted when he told a high school student who testified during a hearing, "If you're bashful, I got a snake sitting under my desk here." The teenager had just told the committee that she was no longer shy and had overcome her fear of snakes, thanks to programs at the Connecticut Science Center.
Hewett said he was joking with the teen about her fear of snakes and meant nothing sexual. He apologized to the student, and she accepted.
"It was unfortunate, what happened, and there's no going back now," Hewett said before he officially announced his re-election campaign at the Senior Center prior to a Democratic Town Committee meeting.
"My kind of humor is not everyone's humor," he said. "Anyone that knows me, knows it is not even possible for me to think something like that, much less say something like that."
In addition to his removal from the deputy speaker position, new sexual harassment reporting and training policies were put in place at the Capitol. Some Republicans called for him to resign.
He said he's a better person for having gone through the experience.
"In hindsight, I wish it hadn't happened, but it did. ... Everything happens for a reason, and if the reason it happened was to make me a better person, it worked," he said.
Hewett, a former city councilor and ceremonial mayor of New London, was elected to the General Assembly in 1997. He said he is naming his campaign "New London First 2014." Without a leadership position, Hewett said he is not beholden to any other politicians in Hartford.
"It's so refreshing knowing no one can tell me how to vote anymore," he said.
He has a few initiatives he'd like to accomplish in the next two years, including bringing as much money as he can into cash-strapped New London and its education department. Increasing Payment In Lieu of Taxes payments and funneling some of the state's surplus into the city, where social services are available to those throughout the region, are at the top of his agenda.
He also wants to pass a law that requires DNA testing of anyone arrested for a violent felony. There is $4 million in federal funding available to states that pass the law, he said. Two years ago, a similar bill was passed, but it was watered down, he said, so that only those with a previous felony conviction can be tested.