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Rhode Island GOP Chairman responds to backlash over convention speech

[anvplayer video=”1029326″ /] PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s Republican chairman is standing by his controversial comments made on the convention floor, taking his three minutes of live, national airtime to blast Rhode Island’s Democratic party leadership and poor business climate.

“The state is run by a corrupt Democrat political machine for the last 80 years,” Brandon Bell said during the state-by-state roll call vote at the Republican convention that ultimately nominated Donald Trump. “We are constantly ranked near the bottom, recently ranked 50th worst in terms of our business-friendly climate.”

Delegate chairs typically use the brief national airtime during the roll call to brag about their states. Bell began by talking about Roger Williams and religious tolerance, then launched into the criticisms.

“He had an opportunity to talk about our assets,” said Rep. Joe McNamara, Rhode Island’s Democratic Party Chair. The party sent out an email Wednesday criticizing Bell for taking “cheap political shots” against the Ocean State.

McNamara said Bell should have been touting Rhode Island’s great beaches and seafood, especially during tourism season.

“All of that advertising and free promotion of positive things going on in our state were lost for cheap sarcasm and political points with the Trump crowd,” McNamara said.

“To call out and degrade our state like that I think was a missed opportunity to say what’s really good about this state,” said Evan Smith, president and CEO of Discover Newport. “Calling it the home of Hasbro and Mr. Potato Head would have been fun. It could have been whimsical or different.”

Congressman David Cicilline took to Twitter Wednesday night to list 20 things in the Ocean State the GOP could have bragged about on the convention floor, from Newport’s Cliffwalk to Del’s Lemonade.

Reached by phone in Cleveland Wednesday, Bell defended his words to Eyewitness News.

“We have a beautiful state, but very little to brag about with these corrupt scandals,” he said, specifically mentioning former Rep. Ray Gallison and current Rep. John Carnevale, both of whom are currently mired in separate scandals.

Bell said he didn’t exactly plan his comments, but decided on the fly as other states bragged about their accomplishments.

He also had a suggestion for those who had a problem with his comments.

“Don’t watch my convention then, buddy,” he said. “Turn it off.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.