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The Robert A. Watson debacle continues, as yesterday’s Providence Journal blog reported that Watson, the Rhode Island state legislator whose year began with a controversial joke that offended the Guatemalan community and continued with his recent arrest for drunk and marijuana possession, was ousted as House Minority Leader by his Republican colleagues.

Rhode Island State Representative Robert A. Watson

As the ProJo reports:

After a closed-door meeting, the GOP caucus announced its choice of two-term Republican Rep. Brian C. Newberry, 39, of North Smithfield, the current minority whip, to replace Watson as the leading opposition voice on the floor of the overwhelmingly Democrat-controlled House.

The closed-door vote was 6-to-2, with one member of the Republican caucus absent. Only Watson and Rep. John Savage, R-East Providence, voted to keep the status quo.

Another — Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt — left the room in anger after an earlier “vote of no confidence” in Watson, stating: “I can no longer serve with the members of this caucus.

“It’s a disgraceful group of people,” Ehrhardt said. “Rep. Newberry has organized a group to overthrow Rep. Watson’s leadership of this caucus. It’s a dark day for the state of Rhode Island. It’s a dark day for the caucus and for the Republican party….I have no wish to be associated with this group of people at this point.”

Seen on the House floor a short time later, Watson said: “Few people, if any, knew who the minority leader was. I am proud of the voice that I brought to this chamber, and the views that I have articulated on this floor. I will continue to be that voice and I will continue to fight for those issues that truly do matter.

The ProJo also brought up the issue that the small Republican caucus in Rhode Island (10 members) had supported Watson last week:

A week ago, the small GOP caucus gave Watson, an East Greenwich Republican, a vote of confidence in his leadership after he explained to them the circumstances surrounding his arrest at a police sobriety checkpoint in East Haven, Conn., and the medical reasons behind his taking a “small amount” of marijuana with him when he went to Connecticut that day to help a friend move.

Watson won a standing ovation from most of his colleagues in the 75-member House.

He said he did not smoke marijuana the day of his arrest but had found it helpful in the past in alleviating the debilitating pain of periodic pancreatic attacks and had it with him in the event he needed it.

But he acknowledged that he is not among the 3,428 Rhode Islanders legally authorized to use marijuana under the state’s medical-marijuana program — which he supported and co-sponsored in 2005 — because he feared his personal medical information would somehow leak out of the state Department of Health.

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Still stinging from his recent arrest for driving drunk and possession marijuana, Rhode Island Republican state representative and Minority House Leader Robert A. Watson is now facing demands that he resign from Rhode Island’s immigrant Guatemalan community. Watson, who offended the state’s Guatemalan community earlier this year with an ill-timed joke he had made, has indicated that he has no intent of resigning.

Mr. Watson stated that smoking marijuana is not a lifestyle for him,” said David Quiroa, spokesperson for the Guatemalan American Alliance. “Well, being undocumented is not a lifestyle for many hard-working Rhode Islanders neither. They’re just trying to make things better and better their families. [Watson] is going to lose his effectiveness. He is not going to be effective any more.

A local Rhode Island television station ran the segment calling for Watson’s resignation. Here is a video of that segment:

Watson issued the following statement as a response to Quiroa’s request:

I represent people of the towns of East Greenwich and West Greenwich. I respect the Guatemalan community and their right to their opinion.

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Karma can be cruel.

Rhode Island House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson (R), who went through a controversy earlier this year for a joke that offended the Guatemalan community, was arrested on Good Friday in Connecticut for driving under the influence of alcohol and possession of marijuana.

As reported by the Providence Journal, Watson spoke this week on the floor of the Rhode Island House and admitted that he used marijuana to treat complications from pancreatitis. Watson was hospitalized last November for this illness. In addition, Watson claimed that he did not fail any sobriety tests when East Haven, CT police pulled him over on April 22.

The ProJo recorded Watson speaking to his colleagues and posted the video on its website. You can see Watson’s entire speech below.

As the newspaper reports,

Watson, R-East Greenwich, said he took a small amount of the drug with him when he went to Connecticut that day to help a friend move because he had had a pancreatic attack the day before, and wanted the drug handy if he had another severe one.

“I confess I did treat with marijuana on one of those rare occasions where I had that debilitating pain that literally had me flat on my back and wondering at what point do I decide an ambulance comes and takes me away. And I’ve got to confess it worked. It provided relief. And it alleviated the pain.”

“I didn’t smoke marijuana that day because I didn’t suffer a relapse,” he said of the Friday of his arrest.

But he acknowledged that he is not among the 3,428 Rhode Islanders legally authorized to use marijuana under the state’s medical-marijuana program because he feared his personal medical information would somehow leak out of the state Department of Health.

Watson also addressed issues with his arrest and hinted that the East Haven police acted improperly.

“I wish there had been cameras there. I wish it wasn’t just my word against the police,” he said. But “I deny that I failed any of the sobriety tests.”

The East Haven police did not respond to a request for comment, but a dispatcher confirmed that none of the community’s police cruisers are equipped with cameras.

Rhode Island State Rep. Robert A. Watson

Finally, after Watson’s speech, many of his colleagues, who previously voted to keep Watson in office, gave him a standing ovation.

House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, with whom Watson has often sparred, said afterward: “You saw how difficult that was for him. This is a time to say, ‘Let him deal with his issues. Politics has no role to play in this, and we’ll see what happens’… I feel for him on a human level.”

Asked if he accepted Watson’s medical explanation for his unauthorized use of marijuana, Fox said: “It is not my duty to judge whether it is believable or not.”

Rep. Michael J. Marcello, D-Scituate, was not among those who stood to applaud Watson after his speech. A lawyer, Marcello said: “It is more appropriate that this plays out in a courtroom, not this room.”

Rep. Roberto DaSilva, D-East Providence, did applaud.

A Pawtucket police lieutenant, DaSilva took some offense to Watson’s characterization of what the Connecticut police did that night. “I was not there. But there are two sides to every story,” he said in an interview after Watson’s speech.

But, “A lot of what he said here makes a lot of sense. He has a medical condition that he’ll have to deal with. His constituents will judge him on his actions and decide if they want to return him here, and his colleagues have given him a vote of support,” DaSilva said.

Watson is schedule to appear in a New Haven court on May 11. Initiall, according to the ProJo, Watson had denied the events the Monday after Easter, but on Tuesday, he began to reveal more details.

“Well I encountered that event … confident that I was neither intoxicated or under the influence,” he said. “The police asked me had I been drinking. I was open and honest as I always believed that you should be with police. I told them yes, I had several drinks at dinner, which is true.

“They asked me where I had been. They asked me where I was heading. They asked me for my license … [and while] I was retrieving my license, another officer took note of the legislative ID card in my wallet and wanted to know what it was, and I informed him. Well, I am a legislator.

“It seemed from that moment on, the whole dynamic changed. It appeared that the police suddenly became ‘agendized.’ I was ordered to park my car and exit the vehicle. I was immediately told that I would have to submit to a field sobriety test. … I complied with every request asked of me.”

“I was asked to submit to a Breathalyzer test. I complied because I was not intoxicated. I was not under the influence. I took the test. And, it came in well below the legal limit. It came in at 0.05, consistent with somebody that just had several drinks at dinner, well below the legal limit to operate a vehicle.”

Watson said the depiction of him, in the police report, as someone “incapable of standing and incapable of speaking” is “belied by the fact that I was processed and released in an hour… Police do not release intoxicated individuals. They detain them for [their] own personal safety and the safety of the public.”

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