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Constituents Weigh In On Rep. Watson

The story of his arrest last week may have gone national, but it's the people of East Greenwich whose opinions will count come election time.

When news of state Rep. Robert Watson’s arrest in East Haven, Conn., last Friday night was reported Sunday, it went viral, first in Connecticut and Rhode Island, then nationally. But here in East Greenwich, where Watson and most of his constituents live, is where the story comes home to roost. After all, voters here will decide in November 2012 whether or not to re-elect the long-term legislator.

Watson, a Republican, was arrested on charges of driving under the influence, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, after being stopped at a sobriety checkpoint by East Haven police.

When reached Thursday, Watson declined an interview.

“At this point, I’m going to make no further comment,” Watson said in a phone conversation Thursday. “I recognize I have a personal issue, a political issue and a legal issue.”

Asked if he would like to address his constituents, Watson said he would not comment beyond what he’d said to his colleagues in the General Assembly “until I’ve addressed the matter in the legal aspect.”

“I made a statement to my colleagues, and my constituents” on Tuesday, he said.

In that speech, House Minority Leader Watson acknowledged he had had “several drinks at dinner.” He denied, however, that he failed field sobriety tests. According to the police report, Watson did fail field sobriety tests. The report also described him as being glassy eyed and having slurred speech. At the police station after his arrest, his blood alcohol level was .05, below the legal limit of .08.

He called into question the treatment he received by the police in East Haven once they learned he was a legislator. “It seemed from that moment on, the whole dynamic changed,” he said Tuesday.

Watson acknowledged in the speech that he could have participated in the medical marijuana program, but that he had chosen not to. He said he had not smoked marijuana on the day of the arrest, but that he had smoked it on occasion to deal with pain from pancreatitis attacks he’d suffered starting last November.

“I’m not certain I want to participate in the medical marijuana program,” he told his colleagues, citing a concern that his privacy could be in jeopardy because of his public stature.

Watson voted no on the first medical marijuana bill that passed the General Assembly, in January 2006. That bill legalized marijuana for people with certain medical conditions. He voted yes to the bill that in 2009 that allowed for the establishment of marijuana drug dispensaries.

Many East Greenwich residents who were asked to comment on Watson’s arrest declined to make a public statement, including Town Council president Michael Isaacs, School Committee Chairwoman Deidre Gifford, School Committeeman David Green and Superintendent Victor Mercurio. Town Manager Bill Sequino and Police Chief Tom Coyle did not return phone calls.  

Others were more willing.

“I just think it’s important that we don’t be too quick to judge him,” said resident and real estate agent Allen Gammons. “Bob’s done an awful lot for our community and he’s a friend and I’d like to see that he has his chance to explain himself.”

“I want to hear all the details first. He’s entitled to due process,” said Marie Schaller, a resident and owner of the Chocolate Delicacy with her husband, Dave. But, she added, “I’m really against driving impaired.”

“If it was my kid, I’d be angry and disappointed in his judgment,” said Dave Schaller.

“It’s fine with me if people use marijuana medicinally,” said Janet Joyce, a resident and the longtime head of the Barbara M. Tufts Cooperative Preschool. “I know he’s been in the hospital really sick. I guess it’s always nice if they have a prescription for it. I do have friends where it’s the only thing that helps.” But, she added, “I think that he should get that prescribed.”

“I think our politicians should hold themselves to a higher standard,” said town substance abuse coordinator Bob Houghtaling.

“It brings up a whole bunch of issues as his story comes out. It brings up the whole medical marijuana use,” he said. “I think kids get so many ambivalent messages.… We the adults send so many mixed messages. We have to really come out and be clear about what our standards are.”

Watson said Thursday he will be at the Town Council meeting on Monday in which EG state legislators are scheduled to discuss State House issues with the council. He is due to appear in court in East Haven on Wednesday, May 11, on the arrest charges.

Elizabeth Smith April 29, 2011 at 01:52 PM
I have been a resident of EG for 11 years. Up until I heard about this I was proud of that. I am embarassed and outraged by this. Mr. Watson you have disgraced our town. you must step down immediately.
peter masterson April 29, 2011 at 03:08 PM
Why don't we let Bob face the situtation that confronts him. As he does that, and until it is over, let he who has not sinned cast the first stone. I know that can't be me, anyone else want to step up? Peter Masterson
Elizabeth Smith April 29, 2011 at 03:49 PM
Excuse me? This guy obviously does not represent the EG I know, unless my head is in the sand. I did not realize EG is filled with alcoholic pot heads!!!
BOB I April 29, 2011 at 06:18 PM
right on peter
Heather Larkin April 29, 2011 at 07:49 PM
.05 does not an alcoholic make, Ms. Smith.
02818 April 29, 2011 at 08:06 PM
Its like the commercial says, "buzzed driving is drunk driving". If you drink & drive you have an alcohol problem.
Judy Bailey April 29, 2011 at 11:32 PM
I agree with Peter Masterson. Let's give Rep Watson an opportunity to have his day in court before passing judgement.
Nancy O'B April 30, 2011 at 06:06 PM
Seriously, Bobby had deicated most of his adult life to public service. He is a good man that is being targeted because of his position. Our society has such pension for knocking down people for entertainment it makes me sick. Hang in there Bob.
Elizabeth Smith May 02, 2011 at 01:56 PM
I'm not a New England native. Where I come from common decency and restraint from substance abuse is preferred and not celebrated.
Saji May 03, 2011 at 11:44 AM
@Elisabeth Smith Are you from America? Where is your common decency and restraint when you are making judgements against a person before allowing him his constitutional right to defend himself? Marijuana obviously has some positive effects for users, including pain management. Rep Watson didn't run anyone over or even so much as drive erratically. Give the man a break!
EG Lurker May 03, 2011 at 12:41 PM
who's celebrating? and it's a bit of a rush to judgement to refer to blowing a .05 and being caught with some weed as "abuse"...
Kelvin May 04, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Rather than being contrite, Mr. Watson evidently refused in front of the EG Town Council to reject the further use of marijuana without having a doctor's prescription. Talk about hubris. What a great example to the youth of EG. He should be ashamed of himself. I think it's time for him to step down from the House. Let's give someone else the opportunity to represent E.G. I certainly don't want him as my rep.
JOHN HOLMES May 05, 2011 at 07:32 PM
He had a bag of weed in his jacket in case of a medical emergency, give me a break.
JOHN HOLMES May 05, 2011 at 07:48 PM
Who was his ILEGAL dealer? Will he help the police arrest his connection? I think not. He is a hypocrite, the law is for other people not Law & Order politicians like him. I had been known to enhale a few bones in my younger days and if arrested and tried to use his medical excuse I would have been laughed out of court. I think pot should be legalized, I bet he would vote NO on that. SO IT GOES
Elizabeth Smith May 05, 2011 at 07:51 PM
Maybe I should run for his seat. hmmmm... I'm a real Republican.

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