Former Blount County resident Matt McKinney joined the Trump Administration in April as White House liaison to the Peace Corps. The appointment continues McKinney’s odyssey in various state and national Republican circles.
After graduating from Oneonta High School in 2000, McKinney attended Jefferson State Community College before transferring to Samford University, where he obtained his political science degree. He jokes that at Samford he had become known as the professional intern.
He relates he won his title following stints with the Rick and Bubba Show and with the Alabama Republican Party. Between other Washington internships, McKinney improved his foreign language skills with a summer’s study in a German language school in Berlin.Omitting specifics, McKinney reached a goal of service in the George W. Bush Administration as special assistant to the solicitor at the Department of the Interior. From there, he moved to campaign manager and staffer for then Congressman Cliff Stearns of Florida and, prior to the Peace Corps position, served in Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s campaign and staff.
He says of the campaign experiences many considered him crazy to work in some of the campaigns. In Maryland, some thought the Republican had no chance in such a heavily Democratic state. Despite some of the barriers, McKinney believes he helped his candidates enjoy their victories.
As for fulfillments at Interior and with Stearns he notes, he developed a passion for the national parks and found fulfillment in his main role with the Stearns staff. At the Interior posting, he had the opportunity to visit many of the nations’ parks and had anticipated he might return to that department after a time on Hogan’s staff.
With Stearns he wore the hat of “academy recruiter” and visited schools throughout the congressional district encouraging students to apply to the various United States academies. Seeing some of these later at an academy made him feel he had made a difference in someone’s life.
McKinney says he had some hesitancy in accepting the Peace Corps position but has now become a strong advocate for the agency. His job there is to serve the President by finding the best candidates for the agency while making sure they can also serve the Peace Corps.
In late May and into June, McKinney made a trip to former Soviet regions Georgia and Armenia. He claims the trip was both “humbling and life changing.” The Peace Corps offices there have encouraged him to consider returning as a volunteer himself.
As for evaluating his early days in Blount County, McKinney believes he learned from it and his parents “the importance of a good work ethic, the value of a dollar, and how to treat people with respect. I’d like to think a little bit of Blount County has traveled with me all these years.”
Asked about any future plans, he says he would be willing to return to Blount County “if the right opportunity presented itself.” Of any elective office thoughts, McKinney notes, “I’ve been in this business a while. I’ve seen the good and the not so good. I have my own opinions about how it could be done better.
“You also get to see the folks that you think shouldn’t be in office. Not singling out anyone in particular, but there are self-promoters in this business, and, at the end of the day, it’s public service. If you aren’t in it for the people, you are in the wrong business. So, we will see what the future holds.”
Of any next step, McKinney waxes a bit philosophic, “The older I’ve gotten and the more years I’ve lived I realize the importance of living in the right now. Tomorrow will get here soon enough. Lord knows I have no idea where the last 17 years have gone. You take it one day at a time, live in gratitude, and it always seems to work out.”