Connecticut Democrats struggle with state rep caught texting teen

Photo: Connecticut House Democrats

Connecticut state law leaves voters and legislators with few options for dealing with a state official like Rep. Angel Arce.

Connecticut Democrats, Hartford residents, and state taxpayers may all be stuck with a state representative who has refused to resign amid a scandal involving his inappropriate messages to a teenage girl. State Rep. Angel Arce announced his resignation over a week ago, but so far no such letter of resignation has been turned in — leaving taxpayers on the hook for his salary and his constituents without proper representation.

The strange saga involving Arce began two weeks ago when The Hartford Courant revealed the 57-year-old state representative had sent a series of “affectionate”— although not explicit — text messages to a teenage girl in 2015:

Good night love and sweet dreams and thank you for coming into my life

Really hun trust I think we going to keep a lot of secrets between us

Hope you know how to keep things to yourself when we conversate

I’m going to help your mom get that job in Hartford

Text messages sent by Arce to a 16-year-old in 2015

Arce was faced with immediate backlash from his own party. Gov. Dan Malloy, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz all called for his resignation. Aresimowicz pulled Arce from all committee assignments and removed him from the position of assistant majority leader.

Although Arce initially resisted calls to resign, on March 7 he informed Speaker Aresimowicz that he would be stepping down.

On Monday, he skipped a major vote in the House of Representatives to advance the nomination of Andrew McDonald as Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice. McDonald’s nomination ended up passing by a single vote, but at that point Democrats in the General Assembly believed Arce’s resignation was imminent.

However, as of Friday, no resignation letter has been submitted. Arce is still technically a member of the legislature, collecting paychecks on his salary of over $34,000 per year.

Democrats are eager to be rid of Arce and his scandal and would like to replace him as soon as possible. But Arce has suddenly become silent, refusing to answer questions from the press and from his fellow legislators about when or even if he plans to tender a resignation letter.

That has Speaker Aresimowicz exploring options for expelling or removing him from the Connecticut House of Representatives. Aresimowicz’s legal counsel is currently researching disciplinary and even expulsion methods to force Arce out of the legislature. However, the speaker’s options are probably limited.

There are no currently known ways for a legislator to be fired from the Connecticut General Assembly by superiors or colleagues.

If Arce were a U.S. Representative or Senator, the options to leadership would be different. Although rarely used, both chambers of the U.S. Congress offer means for expelling a member based on conduct. Members can be removed by a two-thirds vote of their peers. It last happened in 2002 when Democratic Rep. James Traficant of Ohio’s 17th congressional district was expelled following his conviction on federal corruption charges. His refusal to resign led to a nearly unanimous vote by the House to remove him from office.

The subject of expulsion attracted media attention late last year when Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Alabama Roy Moore was accused of sexual assault involving teenage girls.

Moore was widely expected to win the race despite the allegations, leading to speculation that fellow Republicans might use expulsion to remove him from office.

Senate expulsion is rare. In fact, no Senator has been expelled since the 1800s. However, it has been used as a tool for dealing with legislators who refuse to resign amid scandal.

In 2011, Republican Sen. John Ensign of Nevada resisted pressure to resign amid evidence he broke federal laws while trying to cover up an affair. That led the Senate to contemplate expulsion, which finally led Ensign to give in and step down. A similar case occurred in 1995 when Republican Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon refused to leave office amid multiple sexual misconduct allegations. The threat of expulsion, however, compelled him to finally resign.

On the state level, similar procedures also allow some legislatures to remove members based on conduct. Just last month, the Arizona House of Representatives expelled Republican state Rep. Don Shooter after a series of workplace harassment allegations.

Earlier this month, the Colorado House of Representatives expelled Democrat state Rep. Steve Lebsock over his own sexual harassment scandal.

The Arce scandal highlights the need for some mechanism in Connecticut to remove legislators who have committed gross violations of public trust or are simply refusing to do their jobs. As it stands, there is nothing that can remove Rep. Arce against his will, meaning taxpayers will continue paying his salary and 4th district constituents will continue to be represented by him until he resigns or his term ends — even if he refuses to do his job.