State Representative Robert Watson – the sometimes bombastic and always quotable East Greenwich Republican who served for years as the articulate voice of GOP opposition in the House — is leaving the General Assembly after more than two decades.
The news came early this morning as the House of Representatives saluted departing colleagues. Although Watson’s political future has been a subject of speculation, it still came as something of a surprise when his exit was announced following that of Newport Representative Russell Jackson.
Watson has been a fixture in the General Assembly. He served one term as a senator before winning election to the House in 1992 as part of a big incoming class (along with Speaker Gordon Fox) following the state credit union crisis.
During his tenure as House minority leader, Watson kept a sharp rhetorical focus on the foibles of the Democratic majority, giving voice to the GOP’s tiny caucus in chamber. He was out-front, back in the late 90s, in warning about a looming pension crisis.
More recently, Watson was in the news for less flattering reasons; He was arrested in Connecticut for operating under the influence last year and then in South Kingstown for marijuana possession this year. The GOP caucus stripped Watson of his post as minority leader after the first arrest, and the headlines sparked questions about whether he’d seek re-election. Watson declined to answer such inquiries.
And then a funny thing happened. Who but Bob Watson emerged as the most prescient and probing of all 113 state lawmakers in the aftermath of the debacle of 38 Studios? Watson’s long had a healthy dose of skepticism. And he was the only legislator to vote against the stand-alone bill creating the bulked-up state loan guarantee fund that now has Rhode Islanders on the hook for about $100 million.
Democrat Mark Schwager announced plans last year to run for the seat held by Watson. Just how that figured into Watson’s decision to give up the General Assembly is an open question; he didn’t return a call seeking comment today.
Regardless, Watson will be sorely missed in the House of Representatives — both by his colleagues and the reporters who’ve savored his rhetoric and fiery stemwinders. Speaker Fox acknowledged as much, describing how he “really, really” likes Bob Watson.
So Watson goes out of a high note, leaving the General Assembly on his own terms.