McKenna wants to return to Dist. 18 seat


William McKenna retired from state service less than a year ago, but it has been decades since he served in the General Assembly. Now, the Democrat is itching to get back to the State House as he launches his campaign for State Representative in Cranston’s District 18.

A former Representative from that district, McKenna has worked for the state in other capacities as well, as a budget analyst in the State Budget Office and as a planner with the Office of Strategic Planning and Economic Development. Outside of government, he served as the guidance director at Our Lady of Providence High School.

He holds a Master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a Master’s in theology from Providence College. He participates in the Right to Water and Sanitation study group at the Kennedy School, and also volunteers to teach English to native Korean speakers at the Way of Life Korean Presbyterian Church in Cranston.

McKenna is an Eagle Scout from the former Troop 23, has served on the school board of St. Patrick’s School in Providence, on the board of Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee and on the finance committee of St. Paul’s Parish, where he is a communicant.

McKenna will turn 61 years old in April and is single, though he has 10 Godchildren.

It seems a dicey time to return to the legislature, but McKenna doesn’t feel his views are being represented on Smith Hill. His district is currently represented by Rep. Art Handy (D-Cranston).

“We have different world views,” he said of Handy, adding, “I don’t think he’s been seriously challenged.”

While the state is worse off than it was when he last ran in the 1980s, McKenna says many of the problems are the same. He called the state’s troubles “déjà vu.”

Raising taxes, he said, is not the solution, nor is Governor Chafee’s alternative plans such as raising the meals and beverage tax.

“I don’t think we’re in a position where we should raise taxes,” he said. “I understand that taxes are necessary for the common good, but I think we’re overtaxed in Rhode Island and I think we should be conservative in raising taxes.”

And while he understands the need to save or raise money to balance the budget, McKenna said the state cannot lose sight of the importance of certain services. In particular, he is disheartened by cuts to the developmentally disabled, which he sees as the state’s most vulnerable population.

“I know we sometimes have to say no to people, but I think now we’re losing a certain commitment to the developmentally disabled,” he said, citing $24 million in cuts to that community. “I think we should find at least half of that and restore it.”

He suggested reappropriating some of the additional funding for education in Rhode Island, and sharing that with human service agencies that serve the developmentally disabled.

“My candidacy is all about the sanctity of human life and the dignity of people,” he added.

The sanctity of life, and the sanctity of religion. McKenna believes that religious liberty is consistently challenged. He is pro-life, and also advocates for banning partial birth abortions. He would also have, for example, voted in favor of a religious exemption clause proposed to the civil union bill that, if passed, would have protected religious institutions from being penalized for declining to provide services for same-sex couples.

“To not stand up and protect a church or synagogue who wants to not have their church hall used for, say, a party after a civil union ceremony, to me, is really imposing a secular agenda on the rest of us,” he said.
In terms of priorities, McKenna would push several issues, including environmental protection, creating jobs and supporting working moms.

“I think the big bang for the buck is conservation,” he said.

McKenna believes the state should be the leader in energy efficiency, and cut down on its carbon footprint. He is a supporter of alternative sources of energy, a topic he advocated for while in the legislature, where he sponsored legislation for tax credits for solar and wind power.

He practices what he preaches too, as he has a license but has not driven in years and does not own a car. McKenna uses public transportation and would support funding for RIPTA if elected.

Unemployment and getting Rhode Islanders back to work will surely be a hot topic this election season. McKenna said the state’s primary problem is that there is a “job mismatch.” He would support the Community College of Rhode Island’s efforts to train the workforce, and suggested that tuition waivers could help get unemployed people on their feet. He also believes that veterans should be credentialed in civilian life based on their military experience, and that the state should cut back on red tape to make it easier for small businesses and start-ups to open and expand in the Ocean State.

“We have to really try to facilitate start-ups because that’s where a lot of the new jobs come from,” he said, adding that he would like to work with the RI Economic Development Corporation to improve access to capital and expedite the permitting process. “What businesspeople want is an answer quickly. Time is money.”

To help keep families intact, McKenna proposes developing a policy to have state offices cut back on full-time positions where possible and opt for part-time positions that could be available to working mothers. He believes this approach would offer flexibility to families, save the state some money and set an example for other businesses.

Other problems he sees on the horizon are human trafficking and elder abuse. He would like to fight both problems at the state level, opposes assisted suicide as a “recipe for elder abuse,” and is a supporter of the Jessica Lundsford Act, which would require first-degree child molesters to wear electronic monitoring devices.

As his list of causes grows, McKenna said he is looking forward to knocking on doors on the campaign trail and getting to hear from voters. He is hopeful that his neighbors will be supportive, and would like to roll up his sleeves and get back to the State House.

“I love public policy,” he said. “I’ve studied it, I’ve been a policymaker, and I think you can do a lot of good with it.”

For more information about McKenna’s campaign, visit or e-mail


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