State Rep. DebraLee Hovey's Facebook post sparked a national controversy when she told former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords to "stay out of my towns!" when the shooting victim traveled to Newtown to console victims' families of the Sandy Hook School shooting. Though Hovey, who represents the 112th District covering Monroe and a portion of Newtown, quickly apologized, there are some who do not believe it went far enough.
An online petition was started calling on Hovey to resign. However, so far, most of the posted comments in favor are from town Democrats or written as "Anonymous".
"I'm not resigning," Hovey said Monday. "I represented the sentiments of the victims' families and continue to have as a priority constructive forward actions for both Newtown and Monroe."
Hovey said she attended 19 funerals and wakes in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook School tragedy, which claimed the lives of six adults and 20 children.
Of her Facebook comments, she said, "I am not perfect and never pretended to be and I relate to people in an honest, open way. I apologized and there has been criticism of that. After the Sandy Hook crisis, I would have hoped people would focus on positives and supporting each other."
Some readers who were angry over the Facebook comments wrote that they wanted Hovey out of office before she can collect a state pension. But Hovey, who is in her sixth term, already became eligible during her fifth term.
'Doing Her Job'
Hovey has been popular among the majority of her constituents, consistently winning over 50% of the popular vote. Last November, she easily won reelection, taking 64.4% of the vote.
"I have excellent working relationships with the leadership of both communities," she said Monday.
Republican leaders in Monroe are still expressing strong support for Hovey as the town's representative in Hartford.
Monroe First Selectman Steve Vavrek, a Republican, said he has not been following the Facebook controversy closely, but added, "I think she's done a great job overall. What she does in her personal life and her personal comments are her own business."
Vavrek pointed out that Hovey apologized, adding she has done a good job of securing state funds for the town.
"As far as I'm concerned, she's doing her job," Vavrek said.
Blown Out of Proportion?
Monroe Republican Town Committee Chairman Jeff Guttman also expressed his unwavering support of Hovey on Monday.
"I think that DebraLee's comment to Gabrielle Giffords was blown out of proportion," Guttman said. "I'm sure she didn’t mean in any way to start a controversy and people should remember all that DebraLee did for Monroe and Newtown as their state representative. It's a shame how people forget all the good things someone did. When one or two bad things happen, all of the good gets pushed away. The Monroe Republican people are still behind DebraLee. It's business as usual."
The last time a state representative resigned amid controversy in Monroe was when Republican William Varese stepped down after his second DUI arrest in the 1990s. Guttman believes the Facebook incident is no comparison.
"There was no point in her stepping down for a comment," he said. "If we asked people to step down over comments, we would be switching people in parties on a daily basis. Let's grow up people. Whenever somebody does something bad or wrong the political pundits seem to come out of the woodwork."
When State Rep. Christine Ayala of Bridgeport took heat for arrests for evading and a domestic incidents and for not living in the district she ran in, Guttman said Republicans didn’t call for her resignation.
Guttman's counterpart, Monroe Democratic Town Committee Chairman Nick Kapoor, says it's up to Hovey to decide whether or not to stay in office.
"Resignation is a personal decision for Representative Hovey," Kapoor said. "She has to decide if she will be able to be an effective representative for Monroe and Newtown for the next two years. If this incident is going to overshadow her duties as a legislator, then she will have a very difficult decision to make."
Kapoor criticized Hovey's Facebook comments.
"I think that Representative Hovey's comments were very insensitive to the situation and I'm not positive that her apology accomplished what it was meant to accomplish," he said.
Former Monroe DTC chairman, Patricia Ulatowski, signed the online petition calling for Hovey to resign.
In an email Tuesday morning, she said, "State Rep. Debra-Lee Hovey's recent politically-charged venomous public assessment of U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ recent meeting with the parents of the slain Sandy Hook children only enforces my view of her priorities and personal character. The time will soon come when she no longer holds office and is out of the political spotlight. I wonder if circumstances are similar to what occurred this past month, would she travel cross-country to console total strangers with no alternative motive in sight? Knowing her as I do, I doubt it!”
'A Knee Jerk Reaction'
J.P. Sredzinski is a Republican who serves on the Town Council and assisted on Hovey's last two campaigns, serving as her manager in 2010.
"I can only speak for myself," he said Monday. "She made those comments on Facebook, she knew she made a mistake and apologized for it. To make it a partisan thing right now is inappropriate. This is not about politics. It's about Newtown as a community and Monroe as a community as well."
"DebraLee attended many of those funerals and showed her support," Sredzinski added. "I couldn't imagine going to one and watching someone bury their babies. She has provided support for the families."
Sredzinski said Hovey's intentions were to leave the families alone and to let them grieve.
"She knew what she said was a knee jerk reaction and apologized," he said. "I support DebraLee. I would never ask her to resign. She was elected by a wide majority. Clearly the voters support her."
Those who do not will have a chance to vote her out of office next election, Sredzinski points out.
"She deserves to fulfill her term," he said. "She didn't do anything illegal. That's why we have elections every two years."
Monday marked the one-month anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy and Kapoor said emotions are still raw.
"Gabrielle Giffords was a private citizen who came here to help these families, because she herself went through this," Kapoor said. "It wasn't a superficial thing. She had been here because she had been through just this type of situation. I was not pleased to say the least to read DebraLee Hovey's comments. This brought a lot of national press to the situation."
Kapoor noted how bills on gun control are now being proposed at the state and federal level.
"It's time to put a period on what happened," he said. "Let the families grieve. Let Newtown heal. It is now time for our elected leaders to take action."
Hovey, who participated in the ongoing Legislative Session in Hartford Monday, also plans to move forward.
"I have been in contact with many of the families and am only echoing their thoughts," she said. "These families need to be given time. They need to be given space to heal and to grieve."
Hovey pointed out how investigations into the Sandy Hook shooting have yet to be completed.
"We're waiting to get all that information," she said. "And when we do have all the information, we will move forward."