Meet Robert Watson, chair of the McCain campaign in Rhode Island

Robert Watson is both the minority leader of the Rhode Island House, and the chief chair of John McCain’s presidential campaign in Rhode Island.

He is also, according to this week’s Boston Phoenix (see post below), one of those deserving by the alt weekly of one of their annual award winners for muzzling free speech in New England:

The First Amendment not only protects the right to express oneself freely; it protects the right to do so anonymously, as well.

“Protections for anonymous speech are vital to democratic discourse,” the US Supreme Court ruled in 1995. “Allowing dissenters to shield their identities frees them to express critical, minority views,” and “protect[s] individuals from retaliation . . . at the hand of an intolerant society.”

Sadly, the trend in recent years has been to regulate political speech. One such measure is a Rhode Island law requiring that political pamphlets and negative newspaper ads identify the person or persons responsible for producing them. The law is an outrage.

But not to Robert Watson, an East Greenwich Republican who is minority leader of the Rhode Island House. When a proposal was filed to scrap the mandatory-disclosure law, Watson flipped out, going so far as to smear anonymous critics as “terrorists.”

Referring to a difficult re-election battle he had won several years earlier, Watson said on the floor of the House, “At least you knew who was firing those missiles. At least you knew who was building those bombs and lobbing them into your lap. Mr. Speaker, we’re going to have a bunch of anonymous terrorists playing in our political sandbox, and I’m not sure I agree with that.”

Watson got his way, as the measure was sent to the graveyard of a legislative committee, with politicians saying the 1995 Supreme Court ruling somehow didn’t pertain to Rhode Island.

Watson, by the way, is the state chairman of John McCain’s presidential campaign. McCain is the godfather of a campaign-finance-reform law, much praised by liberals and reformers, that, among other things, bans explicitly political ads by independent groups in the final weeks before an election.

Read the entire thing here.

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