Posts Tagged ‘Rhode Island’

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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The ongoing saga of Rhode Island state Representative Robert A. Watson reached its political climax this week when local and national Guatemalan organizations demanded that Watson apologize for remarks he made at a Providence Chamber of Commerce luncheon on February 9.

As reported in several Rhode Island media outlets, Watson, a Republican and the state’s Minority Leader, said the following when discussing legislative priorities:

I suppose if you’re a gay man from Guatemala who gambles and smokes pot, you probably think that we’re onto some good ideas here.

According to the blog of The Providence Journal, Watson has refused to apologize for these comments. It reports:

Watson told The Journal Wednesday afternoon he did not feel the need to apologize.

“I apologize when appropriate and/or necessary,” Watson said by phone. “I identify this situation as representing neither circumstance.”

Alejandra Gordillo, executive director of the Guatemalan Council of Guatemalans Living Abroad, was the main speaker at the press conference. She said she was there to “express the support to the Guatemalan community and reject any offense” to Guatemalans living abroad.

“We are going to be monitoring this process, and the result of this lamentable issue,” she said.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly quoted Watson as saying, “I guess that if you are a Guatemalan gay man who likes to gamble and smokes marijuana, you probably think we’re onto some good ideas here.”

“I hope that we will be able to end this unfortunate situation,” said David A. Quiroa, president of the Guatemalan-American Alliance. “I do expect to hear an apology from Representative Watson in order to restore civility in the Rhode Island Guatemalan community.”

In the meantime, Watson also appeared on local Rhode Island news. We were able to stream the audio of the video segment and present the portion of interview where he claims that his comments were “political satire” and only offended “some” Guatemalans.

One blog post from Providence, titled Why Watson Is Not Wrong, defends his actions using the sarcasm argument. Here are excerpts of that blog post:

But what has inflamed the newest fake political controversy was that the highly articulate and intelligent Watson, in expressing his frustration about the direction in which this legislative session seems to be headed, resorted to sarcasm ( a commonly applied tool of language that is apparently often misunderstood in translation). So he put it this way: “This year, it shouldn’t be about illegal immigration, but I suppose it will be. It shouldn’t be about gay marriage, but it will be. I suppose if you are a gay man from Guatemala who likes to smoke pot and gamble, you probably think we’re onto some good ideas here.” (The pot reference was to the medical marijuana site licensing issue, and the gambling reference was to the annually recurring debate which will shift to Twin River this session)

Another column, titled Watson Has Nothing to Apologize For by Don Johnsen, states the following: “[Watson] said nothing derogatory about Guatemalans.” The column ends:

Meanwhile, the controversy over Watson’s folly serves his purpose: calling attention to the state’s looming financial meltdown. This is not the first time he has bravely invited a storm of criticism with his outspoken views on our dysfunctional legislature. It would be far easier for Watson to apologize to the Guatemalans — not to mention gays, gamblers and pot smokers. But why should he?

This same column includes the following comment by a reader named Morgan Freedman:

It could have been worse. [Watson] could have apologized with:

“To those that are here from Guatemala and naturalized, I’m sorry that you think that you’re Guatemalan first and United States citizens second. To Guatemalans living up here legally, I’m sorry that your [sic] Guatemalan and not U.S. citizens. You’re missing out. To Guatemalan illegal aliens, I’m sorry that you’re here at all. Leave and re-enter the correct and honorable way. We welcome all your poor, tired masses of gays and gamblers. Dope heads stay away. We already have too many of those.”

So in the end, all this “sarcasm” sounds a bit too familiar to Latinos. So the new word is “sarcasm,” right, ok that is good to know. Just like the BBC and the lads from TOP GEAR.

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The Providence Journal of Rhode Island reported last Saturday that the remarks made by state House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson about Guatemalans has caused an uproar in local and national Guatemalan organizations. Social media has played a role in sharing this news with others, and plans of a protest are being made.

According to the ProJo, Watson made his comments last week during the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce’s annual lunch for legislators. When asked about legislative priorities, Watson said:

I guess that if you are a Guatemalan gay man who likes to gamble and smokes marijuana, you probably think we’re onto some good ideas here.

The article continues:

David A. Quiroa, president of the Guatemalan-American Alliance of Rhode Island, said Friday that he expects that out-of-state Guatemalan organizations will send representatives to a news conference, now being organized, about Watson’s remarks. He said protests are also possible.

Quiroa also told the newspaper the following:

At the end of the day, I don’t think his intention was to directly insult us, but he did. He needs to know — people in a position of power, they have to be careful … In this case, he did use Guatemalans as the main act in the circus, if you will. That’s what I take issue with. I can see that it wasn’t intentional, but it’s just like a car accident. We don’t mean to hit someone, but we do. So this can be a social accident if you will, but nevertheless there were injuries.”

Through our network, through Facebook and the Internet network — we already have the support of all the major Guatemalan organizations throughout the nation.

Watson made additional comments last week on a WPRO talk show with Matt Allen, where he said:

I reject the suggestion that it’s insulting.

I guess my point was — and I tried to use levity — and it was not the least bit insulting … I tried to offer the idea perhaps that if you were gay from Guatemala, liked to gamble and like to smoke pot, you’re probably liking what we’ve been doing because it seems like that’s all we’ve been doing.”

It was delivered hopefully with a bit of humor, and humor has a kernel of truth on occasion. The truth of this is, we are preoccupied with a number of issues, primarily social issues, at a time when financially, we are burning to the ground … I was fairly certain that to that room of business leaders throughout our state, that were assembled in that room, I felt that it was resonating as a message.


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