After retiring from a 20-year military career in 2016, the 39-year-old became compelled to do something about it, and just last month, he entered the Republican primary for Tennessee’s 1st Congressional House District.
Holding a bachelor’s degree in homeland security and a master’s degree global leadership, McKinley was confident he could do a better job than many of the people he witnessed get elected into Congress.
“I’m like, ‘How are these people getting elected?’ I have more talent and especially have a better background than a lot of these guys by the time I retired from the military. I was thinking, ‘Why not me?,’” McKinley recalled.
“I like serving other people. A lot of these guys are in it for the wrong reasons, and we continue to see people bear the brunt of their decisions. The status quo continues to get the win, while the everyday people don’t.”
While serving in the military, McKinley spent 11 years and 11 months as a senior noncommissioned officer, holding several leadership roles, before retiring as a sergeant first class in November.
While on assignment, McKinley served in the White House Communications Agency during President George W. Bush’s and President Barack Obama’s administrations.
McKinley’s entry into the political realm now creates a possible showdown with U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Johnson City, if the former Johnson City mayor decides to run for a sixth term.
Roe, who’s also a military veteran, is just the seventh congressman to hold Tennessee’s 1st District seat in 84 years.
Since being named chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in December, Roe has conquered a prostate cancer diagnosis but has yet to announce his future political intentions.
According to the Citizen-Tribune, Roe plans to make that decision in December.
“A number of people and veterans have told me that they don’t feel like (Roe) has actually represented them and their issues,” said McKinley, who pledges to serve just four terms if elected.
Specifically, McKinley said Roe should do a better job assisting Vietnam veterans dealing with health issues related to Agent Orange exposure.
“I think I could be their voice. I served 20 years in the Army, far more years than Dr. Roe did. I know the system inside and out. I’m enrolled at the VA now. I know the military side of health care,” McKinley said.
“I’m definitely going to represent veterans with every fiber in my being, and I’ll fight tooth and nail if I have to for these folks. What I don’t know, I’m willing to learn and listen. A lot of folks have told me they feel no one’s listening to them.”
While McKinley’s campaign just started, the Citizens to Elect Phil Roe to Congress committee has already raised $61,050 since January 2017, according to federal records.
Like most Republicans, McKinley wants to see the Affordable Care Act repealed, but he’s not been thrilled with Congress’ latest efforts, criticizing how everything has been done without public input, behind closed doors and during the dead of night.
In response to the recent Las Vegas shooting, which left more than 50 people dead, McKinley posted on Facebook, “Just learning of the horrible news coming out of Las Vegas, I will refrain from discussing politics today, except to say that I'll not even respond to the left's politicizing of such an event, and instead, I'll pray for those who have been killed, wounded and forever changed from this senseless violence. Please say a prayer for everyone and our nation!”
A staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, McKinley served as a state delegate to the 2017 Young Republican National Convention and volunteered on the 2017 Presidential Inaugural Committee.
Although he didn’t want to name names, McKinley claims to have contacts with senior level officials inside the White House, who previously served in the Bush Administration.
As far as addressing the opioid epidemic, McKinley said he’s not seen an overwhelming benefit from medication-assisted treatment, such as methadone and buprenorphine, but he is a firm believer that medicinal marijuana should be legalized on a federal level to treat chronic pain.
“I think we should be able to have medicinal marijuana. People say it’s a gateway drug, but all these people with opioid problems, they didn’t use marijuana as a gateway drug to opioid addiction. That’s just not true. People don’t go from marijuana to meth. That’s in a different spectrum altogether, with regards to what type of drug it is,” McKinley said.
“If you do it in a way where the patient and the doctor are working in conjunction with one another, there shouldn’t be an issue with that. To say it’s a gateway drug is a way for people to scare others. I think it’s ridiculous. There is no argument anybody can make for me to be convinced that, at least, medicinally, it shouldn’t be legal.”
So far, McKinley is the only Republican to announce his candidacy for Roe’s seat, while East Tennessee State University ObGyn Dr. Martin Olsen is planning a run as a Democrat.
The Congressional primary is scheduled for Aug. 2, 2018. To learn more about McKinley’s campaign, visit www.todd4house.com or visit his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/toddmckinley2018/.
Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.