State rep who texted teen could be first to face expulsion in Connecticut

Photo: Connecticut House Democrats

Connecticut state Rep. Angel Arce is resisting resignation — and state lawmakers may be forced to take extreme measures to remove him.

After his creepy text messages to a teenage girl were exposed, Democratic state Rep. Angel Arce could become the first Connecticut legislator in history to be expelled from the state’s General Assembly using an untested provision in the state Constitution.

The 57-year-old’s bizarre messages to the 16-year-old, which were sent in 2015, first came to light after they were given to The Hartford Courant at the beginning of March. Arce faced immediate backlash from members of his own party, including House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and Gov. Dan Malloy, who called for him to resign.

When Arce resisted, Aresimowicz stripped him of his committee assignments and his title as assistant majority leader. On March 7, Arce informed Aresimowicz that he would be stepping down. Nearly two weeks later, however, Arce has not handed in his resignation letter and is still a paycheck-collecting state representative.

On Friday, it was reported that Speaker Aresimowicz was exploring options to remove Arce from the legislature by force. A spokesperson for Aresimowicz has said that staff counsel James Spallone is researching “disciplinary and expulsion options and procedures that are available.”

Expulsion would be an unprecedented development in Connecticut, although state representatives were recently expelled from legislatures in Arizona and Colorado over sexual misconduct.

Initial reports suggested that no mechanism exists in Connecticut to remove a legislator. As it turns out, that is not entirely true.

Article III, Sec. 13 of the Connecticut State Constitution states that each house of the General Assembly can “punish members for disorderly conduct, and, with the consent of two-thirds, expel a member.”

Whether that provision can actually be applied in Arce’s case is still an open question. It is unclear whether “disorderly conduct” is a prerequisite for expulsion. If it is, there are further questions about whether Arce’s inappropriate contact with the teen qualifies.

“Disorderly conduct” could be more narrowly interpreted to mean violating “the rules of [the chamber’s] proceedings” referenced earlier in the same section of the Constitution. Arce’s conduct in this case relates primarily to his personal life rather than to behavior on the floor of the Connecticut House of Representatives.

There are few cases of Article III, Sec. 13 being used for any reason, and no cases of expulsion — leaving little precedent to guide legislators as they consider what to do about Arce.

In 1980, the provision was used to censure a state representative over his use of the n-word in a written correspondence. A motion to expel him was considered but never voted on.

In 2007, a state senator faced a special committee over misdemeanor charges when he allegedly asked a man with organized crime connections to threaten his granddaughter’s husband. Like Arce, that senator faced talk of expulsion for his conduct outside the legislature, but he ultimately resigned before the special committee made any recommendations.

Beyond that, legislators have little to go on regarding expulsion conditions and procedures. It seems likely at this point that if Arce does not formally resign soon, legislators will attempt to activate the expulsion provision.

However, since there is no precedent, and since his offense might stretch the definition of “disorderly conduct,” Arce could challenge his expulsion in court. That could hold up efforts to replace him and potentially allow him to continue collecting his salary until the case is resolved.

In any case, this strange saga appears poised to continue on Angel Arce’s terms.