In The Arena

By Cathilea Robinett and GOVERNING Magazine

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Taken from a famous Theodore Roosevelt speech regarding his own time “In the Arena,” this podcast features government officials who are truly making a difference and challenging the status quo. Governing President, Cathilea Robinett, tours you through the halls of cities, counties and states to bring you a slice of what is best in American leadership today.

Episode Date
County Commissioner Helps Others with Resources, Compassion

Whether it’s a small county or a national stage, Mary Ann Borgeson leads Douglas County, Neb., and the National Association of Counties with compassion and the understanding of the impacts her decisions can make.

Mary Ann Borgeson did not consider running for elected office in her home state of Nebraska until her husband encouraged her to do so. But, even after nearly three decades in public office, she does not look at it as being a politician or an elected official, she simply sees a job of caring for other people, which is really her driving force.

As Douglas County commissioner, Mary Ann Borgeson honors the impact she can have on people’s lives every day through her closeness to the community. As president of the National Association of Counties (NACo), even though it is a larger scale, she still maneuvers her national role with community-level intimacy. “As president, you’re like a leader and an ambassador to the rest of the counties across the country.” She cares for counties across the nation by sharing stories, ideas and resources, to provide a network of support and connection.

Mary Ann Borgeson works, at every level, through empathy. She is humbled by her experiences with victims of Hurricane Katrina, inspired by the words of Mother Theresa and powered by positivity and giving others care. Especially in hard times, “try to take care of yourself as well as your family… Remember your compassion and love that you’re able to give to each other.”

Mary Ann Borgeson steps “In the Arena” and shares some of the joys of Nebraska, her hidden athletic talents and how she is working to support others during this national health crisis. Listen to her episode to hear more.

Learn more and subscribe for free to In The Arena at

May 22, 2020
Betty Yee, State Controller, State of California

Betty Yee uses her role as California’s state controller to uplift underserved communities, encourage women participation in politics and public office and remind others that a state is only as strong as its individuals.

Betty Yee grew up keeping track of the finances of her family’s laundry and dry-cleaning business and now she keeps track of the finances for the fifth largest economy in the world. As California State Controller, she sits on 70 different boards and commissions and is now helping to maneuver the devastating financial impacts that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the state’s budget. Her scope of duties as state controller is immense, working on everything from taxes and retirement funds to pollution control and wildlife financing. But she does not just use her financial expertise to make her impact.

Betty Yee grew up in a San Francisco, Calif., household that did not speak English, and yet she received a sociology degree from the University of California, Berkeley. She arrived in Sacramento to work in the state Senate and noticed a gender disparity in the financial arena, and yet she now holds one of the top financial positions in the state.

Even in the face of unprecedented financial crisis, Betty Yee finds opportunities for growth and betterment. She hopes that as California rebuilds its economy, it uses this opportunity to attend to communities that have been ignored in the past. “Our economy is only as strong as the financial health of each and every Californian.”

Listen to her episode to hear more about her journey to becoming State Controller, coronavirus’ impact on California’s economy and, despite it all, serving with compassion.  

Learn more and subscribe for free to In The Arena at


May 11, 2020
Serena DiMaso, Assembly Member, State of New Jersey

Whether it is a devastating hurricane or global pandemic, Serena DiMaso will be there to lend a helping hand. From the front lines and Assembly floor, DiMaso is constantly working to strengthen and uplift her community.

Join Serena DiMaso “In the Arena” to hear more about her lifelong career of helping others, the history of the term “freeholder” and New Jersey’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.

Apr 28, 2020
Clay S. Jenkinson, Editor-at-Large, GOVERNING

Clay Jenkinson, Governing’s editor-at-large and humanities scholar on Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt, tells us how literature and history can help inform leaders in this time of global national crisis.


community’s plans for containment; he describes how current government officials can find inspiration for strong leadership, bold actions, science-based serenity and an optimistic faith in the American people through the study of Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson among others; and he believes that some of the best methods of combating COVID-19 are support, tolerance and positivity.

Clay Jenkinson steps In the Arena to discuss pandemic history, that literature can teach leaders how to respond to crises like this, and how life offers more good things than bad.

Apr 14, 2020
Bryan Barnett, Mayor of Rochester Hills, MI, President of U.S. Conference of Mayors

His passion for authentic relationships helps Bryan Barnett to excel as Mayor of Rochester Hills and as President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Even in a time when the nation is without strategy, he continues to lead with integrity.

A simple card game provided community and a career in public service for Bryan Barnett. He hadn’t found inspiration for his scholastic studies until he was invited to join a card game at lunch. It didn’t seem transformation at the time, but he “said yes, met a group of people… That led me to becoming the student body president among the myriad of other leadership roles in the university.” The seemingly simple invitation ended up paving his path into serving his community as a public servant.

Listen to the full interview to hear Bryan Barnett discuss glow in the dark sidewalks, the importance of “being invited,” and how the coronavirus pandemic has caused mayors across the nation to be “In the Arena” together.

Mar 23, 2020
Ryan Coonerty, County Supervisor, Santa Cruz

Ryan Coonerty knows Santa Cruz, California. After being raised in the small coastal city and then going across the pond and country for schooling, he returned to his hometown to get connected with public policy in a way that he felt he was missing in Washington D.C.

Just because he has a passion to help his Santa Cruz community doesn’t mean that he doesn’t encounter difficulties in his role as County Supervisor. But he uses his previous experiences as city council member and mayor to help better understand that you can’t make everyone happy as an elected official, so he just continues “to just vote my conscience and let the chips fall where they may.”

Ryan Coonerty steps “In the Arena” to talk about not taking jobs too seriously, his diplomatic middle name, and his journey to continue improving Santa Cruz for the future generations.

Mar 10, 2020
Lydia Mihalik, Director of the Development Services Agency, State of Ohio

Lydia Mihalik is a fierce team leader and has a passion for improving the lives of others, two qualities that have suited her perfectly for Ohio’s public service as Director of the Development Services Agency.

Though a Hoosier transplant, Lydia Mihalik has found a home in the buckeye state. An internship in a small Northwest Ohio community helped her realize her interest in local government, especially in community and economic development, and eventually lead her to work for the city of Findlay, Ohio. Though she admits “I was pretty green,” she learned enough about how to develop, lead and grow a community that she was later elected to be the first female and the youngest mayor of Findlay.

Lydia Mihalik loved being mayor because of its “opportunity to make connections and improve people’s lives.” Luckily, that same opportunity exists in her latest role as director of Ohio’s Development Services Agency. 

Listen to the interview to hear Lydia Mihalik discuss her love for Ohio, her thoughts on leadership and her cooking abilities as she steps “In the Arena.”


Feb 25, 2020
Chris Cabaldon, Mayor, City of West Sacramento

West Sacramento has been an incorporated city since 1987 but most people living in the area never knew much about the city; Chris Cabaldon was no exception. In fact, he says the only reason why he discovered West Sacramento was because he accidentally got off on the wrong freeway exit. But he ended up finding “a place that I wanted to live.”

            Chris Cabaldon began seeing many opportunities for change and growth in his new city and used it to build his platform for his political candidacy. As a resident he was able to truly get to know the city and to be mayor “You need to know [the city’s] heart and its history and its future and its pain and its aspirations.” In his role as mayor, Cabaldon continues to use that same intimacy to embrace change and innovation as West Sacramento provides a unique opportunity “to try new things and take some risks.”

            Through these risks and keeping the residents in the forefront, Mayor Cabaldon has helped West Sacramento grow businesses and programs, like urban farms, breweries, city seed funding for college savings accounts, and bikeshares. But he is “very clear on what it is that my organization and the city itself can do, what our capacity is, what our context is,” and knows when collaboration and partnership with other organizations, cities are necessary to further the creative process.

            Listen to his interview to hear more about how community, passion, and purpose have helped navigate Chris Cabaldon’s time “In the Arena” as mayor of West Sacramento.

Feb 11, 2020
Affie Ellis, Wyoming State Senator

A passionate representative for women, Navajo people, and Wyomingites, Affie Ellis is a force to be reckoned with and she hopes to use her curiosity and patience to dig deeply into century-old tensions for years to come. Join Ellis “In the Arena” for a thoughtful discussion about cultural history, representation and problem solving that extends beyond the great plains of Wyoming.

Jan 28, 2020
Beth Niblock, CIO, City of Detroit, MI

CIO uses courage, persistence to uplift Detroit through technology. Caring, passionate, and having always pushed back against the status quo, Beth Niblock has used her role as Detroit chief information officer to revitalize the city with technology after a tough period of bankruptcy.

Jan 14, 2020
Eric Garcetti, Mayor, City of Los Angeles

Eric Garcetti says he ended up as the mayor of Los Angeles, California, “kind of by accident.” He attributes his mayoral pathway to his parents who taught him the importance of public service and listening, and his humble and inclusive heart have helped him find success in the position.

"You never win by talking. I think public service is about listening. If you hear your city, you hear your country, you hear your world, it will speak to you."

Mayor Garcetti explains that to be successful “in the arena,” you have to be humble and strong, with firm understanding that “you cannot do it on your own.”

His collaborative spirit dreams of a Los Angeles in which his daughter and her generation can afford to live, work and attend school. Mayor Garcetti envisions a Los Angeles in which the California Dream is alive and well, a place where people’s daily needs are taken care of.

Eric Garcetti steps “In the Arena” and discusses his role as mayor and how first interactions, technology, and legacy are at the forefront of his city vision.

Dec 17, 2019
TV's Ed O'Keefe: Preserving the Past and Defining the Future

From reporting on congress to building the first mobile streaming news network, small-town, north Dakotan Ed O’Keefe has extensive media experience. And as CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation, O’Keefe is creating an experience that preserves and shares Roosevelt’s legacy.

For more on the “In The Arena” podcast, visit


Dec 03, 2019
Blair Milo, Secretary of Career and Talent Connection for the State of Indiana

After five years of active duty in the Navy, including stints in Bahrain and at the Pentagon, Blair Milo saw that her hometown of LaPorte, Ind., was running out of money in six months. She thought, “How can this even happen?” This inspired her to run for mayor at the age of 28. She won and became the youngest mayor in LaPorte’s history.

In 2017, she was appointed secretary of career and talent connection for the state of Indiana. She is currently working to fill over 1 million jobs over the next 10 years and is dedicated to shaping education and workforce training for the next generation.

Nov 20, 2019
Kirsten Baesler, Superintendent of Public Instruction, North Dakota

Kirsten Baesler has a deep commitment to empowering students and a passion for raising the standards of education.

She grew up in a family of seven and was always told, "It's not a question of if you can serve, it's a question how you can best serve." This led her to find her passion in education.

Nov 05, 2019
Phil Bertolini, Co-Director, Center for Digital Government

During Phil Bertolini’s 31 years of public service, he built a world-class IT organization in the second-largest county in Michigan. As former CIO and Deputy County Executive for Oakland County, MI., Phil oversaw more than 150 employees serving over 1.2 million residents.

Phil’s efforts earned the county national attention, winning numerous awards for technology innovation and excellence. He was named one of Governing Magazine’s Public Officials of the Year and Government Technology Magazine’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers. He was also honored by the President Obama White House as a Champion of Change. 

For more on the In The Arena podcast, visit 

Oct 21, 2019
Jo Ann Davidson (R), Ohio House of Representatives

During a time when it was rare for women to seek office, Jo Ann Davidson ran for city council in 1965. Even though she lost her first election, this was the start of a remarkable career in public service that eventually led her to the Ohio House of Representatives.

As a young suburban mother in the 1960s, Jo Ann Davidson wanted to make a difference in her community. In a time when very few women were running for office, she challenged the status quo and ran for city council. Even though she lost her first election, this was the start of a remarkable career in public service that eventually led her to the Ohio House of Representatives. Sixty years later, Jo Ann is helping other women find their strength to lead.

For more on the In The Arena podcast, visit 

Oct 01, 2019
Dow Constantine, Executive, King County, Washington

A fourth-generation Washingtonian and life-long resident of King County, Dow Constantine, who lives in the same West Seattle neighborhood where he grew up, has been involved in local politics since joining a preservation effort as a law school student in the 1980s.

Throughout his service in the Legislature, on the King County Council, and as Executive of King County, Dow has consistently fought for and delivered transportation solutions, environmental conservation, public health and safety, equality and government efficiency.

For more on the In The Arena podcast, visit 

Sep 17, 2019
Harry LaRosiliere, Mayor, City of Plano, TX

Harry LaRosiliere knew he would be a mayor 20 years before it happened. Today he is serving his second term as mayor of Plano, Texas. LaRosiliere comes from humble beginnings. Born in Haiti, he moved with his family to New York as a child where his mother cleaned office buildings and his father worked in a factory. Running for mayor was a “calling,” LaRosiliere says, born out of a desire to effect positive change in his community.

For more on the In The Arena podcast, visit 

Sep 03, 2019
Rebecca Rhynhart, City Controller, City of Philadelphia

People thought Rebecca Rhynhart was crazy when she decided to run for Philadelphia controller. At the time, the city never had a woman in the position. Rhynhart also did not have a traditional political background, working on Wall Street for seven years before transitioning to city government. In Philadelphia, she took on the role of city treasurer, budget director and chief administrative officer prior to jumping into the controller race.

Despite the doubts, Rhynhart shocked thepolitical establishment by ousting a three-term incumbent to become the city’s first female controller in 2018.
Now, she’s shaking up the old-school political climate by auditing public spending and identifying ways to help taxpayers get the most for their money.

You listen and learn more about In The Arena at

Aug 20, 2019
Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University

We live in a time of political division and public fear about the future. But one conversation with Dr. Crow might just make you optimistic. Dr. Crow has been the president of Arizona State since 2002. He previously served as Executive Vice Provost of Columbia University, where he also taught science and technology policy.

In Crow’s years working with students of the digital age – the Sapiens [dot] net as he calls them – he has been comforted by their intelligence, their creativity, and their commitment to inclusivity.

For more on the In The Arena podcast, visit 

Aug 06, 2019
Toi Hutchinson, State Senator, Illinois

Toi Hutchinson knows how to make a comeback. Her first foray into politics came when she challenged an incumbent to run for atownship supervisor seat in Illinois. She lost.The day after the election, an Illinois state senator asked Hutchinson to be her chief of staff. A few years later, when the senator won a seat in the U.S. House, Hutchinson took her place in 2009. But taking on a state legislator role as the mother of three young boys wasn’t all Hutchinson had going on. She was also in law school at the time.

For more about In The Arena, visit 

Jul 23, 2019
Young Mayors: Recorded Live at GOV Summit on Government Performance and Innovation

U.S. mayors have a lot on their plates these days. From infrastructure to climate concerns, today’s rising class of local politicians are changing the way things are done and seeking out creative solutions to help their residents. Four of these promising leaders had the opportunity to speak on a panel at Governing’s Summit on Performance and Innovation last month. Mayors Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minn., Jenn Daniels of Gilbert, Ariz., Jacob Frey of Minneapolis, Minn., and Francis Suarez of Miami, Fla., shared their experiences bringing new perspectives to their governments.

For more on this podcast, or to subscribe for free on major platforms, visit In The Arena online at


Jul 09, 2019
Chris Castro, Director of Sustainability, City of Orlando

Chris Castro is full of big ideas, and he’s ready to shake up how local governments do business. Castro’s love for the environment grew on his parent’s palm tree farm in Miami. Now, he combines that passion with innovation as Orlando’s Director of Sustainability.

His project includes the city’s Fleet Farming program, which provides nutrition to food insecure communities by turning front yards into small farms. But Castro has another ambitious effort underway: making Orlando carbon-free by the year 2050.

There is more about Chris and the In The Arena podcast at

Jun 25, 2019
Kim Foxx, State's Attorney for Cook County, Illinois

Kimberly Foxx is unapologetic for where she came from and what she believes in. Foxx grew up in the 1970s and ’80s in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green public housing project, a development known for high crime rates and police neglect. Her family later moved to the more affluent Lincoln Park, but her background shaped her in meaningful ways. After moving, she started to notice the disparate opportunities available to her new neighbors versus those from her old housing project.

That seed later grew, driving Foxx to leave her position in insurance law to work with the Cook County Public Guardian’s office representing children in the foster care system. This role cemented her desire to work in public service. Foxx eventually served as an assistant state’s attorney for 12 years. In 2016, she challenged — and beat — the incumbent Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to become the first African-American to hold the position. As top prosecutor of the nation’s second-largest county, Foxx oversees more than 1,000 people. In this role she has worked to make the office more transparent, advocate for bond reform and vacate dozens of wrongful convictions.

These efforts drew Governing magazine’s attention, recognizing her one as a member of its 2019 Women in Government Leadership Program.

Jun 11, 2019
Doug Burgum, Governor, State of North Dakota

Theodore Roosevelt doesn't have a presidential library. Yet.

A nonprofit foundation in North Dakota, with the help of technologists, historians and Gov. Doug Burgum, is working to correct that oversight.

When Burgum talks about public service, he sounds a lot like Roosevelt, who said, "It is not the critic who counts. ... The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."

Burgum says that "anybody with a phone and two thumbs can be a critic." He advises public officials to "stay above it" and muster "the courage to jump in."

He did just that in 2016, when the business man made a last-minute run for political office. He tells those stories, plus reflects on his first 18 months in office, on this episode of "In the Arena," a podcast about public leadership.





Aug 08, 2018
Nan Whaley, Mayor, City of Dayton, Ohio

It is the way things have always been done in Dayton. Neighbors talk to each other over fences and on porches about what they are really thinking about. 

Tapping into that dynamic helped Nan Whaley become mayor in 2013. Even after she won, she still keeps in touch with the Ohio city’s 140,000 residents through "porch tours."

Whaley says she listens fearlessly because she has learned that in public service, you cannot be afraid of failure. Before becoming mayor, she served as one of the city's youngest commissioners.

On this episode of "In the Arena," a podcast about public leadership, Whaley talks about her porch tours and what she has learned from them.

There's more at 

Aug 01, 2018
Steve K. Benjamin, Mayor, City of Columbia, SC

Mayor Steve Benjamin is no stranger to having difficult conversations on a public scale. He got his start in politics as a student activist seeking to bring the Confederate flag down from the South Carolina statehouse.

In his new role as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, he speaks with and for 1,500 mayors about common challenges -- opioid addiction, homelessness, immigration and trade. In his town, Columbia, he is focused on the “three I's” of city life -- infrastructure, innovation and inclusion.

On this episode of "In the Arena," a podcast about public leadership, Benjamin talks about the things that make cities work at this "definitive moment" in the country's history.

Jul 25, 2018
Kristen Cox, Executive Director, OMB, State of Utah

Kristen Cox knows about constraints. After the fiscal crisis, the Executive Director of the Utah Office of Management and Budget applied the same kind of fiscal stress tests the Federal Reserve uses on banks to do a reality check on the State of Utah’s books. It surfaced both the state’s strengths and vulnerabilities. Her life is really a story about strength and vulnerability. In coming terms with becoming blind, she hit bottom in a man hole. That’s not a metaphor.  Nor is her solo skydiving.  But they do give you a sense of the highs and lows she’s confronted.  And she’ll tell you that embracing your constraints makes for good public policy – and a good life.

Jul 18, 2018
Acquanetta Warren, Mayor, City of Fontana, CA

Mayor Acquanetta Warren credits her father for her big dreams. "You've been to the moon," he used to say. There was some truth to that.

Acquanetta Warren's election in 2010 was historic. She is Fontana, Calif.'s first female and first African-American mayor. Her inspiration for public service is actually rooted in watching history being made.

“My parents would have [me] in front of the TV every morning and every evening watching the news," remembers Warren. “I was really afraid because of the civil rights [protests] going on in the South [in the 1960s]. But the more I became afraid, the stronger I became about what I wanted to do -- and that was to change things.”

On this episode of "In the Arena," a podcast about public leadership, Warren reflects on the importance of teaching kids about the legacies of MLK and JFK, her initial resistance to running for office, the pitfalls of working in public view, and why her father -- an aerospace worker -- used to tell her that she's been to the moon.

Jul 11, 2018
Greg Fischer, Mayor, City of Louisville, KY

On his Inauguration Day in 2011, Greg Fischer turned heads when he announced an experiment to make Louisville "the nation's first compassionate city."

"Nobody disagrees with the concept of compassion. But the question is, how do you operationalize it in a city?"

In the last seven years, the city has worked with local businesses and nonprofits to help answer that question. The Kentucky city's work has helped to forge a model that other cities are watching closely. On this episode of "In the Arena," a podcast about public leadership, Fischer discusses how.

Jun 27, 2018
Themis Klarides, Minority Leader, Connecticut Legislature

Themis Klarides has made a career of defying expectations.

Earlier this year, the Connecticut House minority speaker resisted pressure to run for the open governor’s race in her state. Instead, she's making a play to form a Republican majority and become Speaker.

Klarides, 52, the first woman leader of the House Republicans in Connecticut history, was first elected to the legislature two decades ago. Her path wasn't the most traditional route to public office: A former model and competitive body-builder, Klarides also did a stint as a "ring girl" for World Wrestling Entertainment. Early political opponents tried to hold that against her, she says. "I was the state rep who was a swimsuit model and worked for the WWE," says Klarides, who studied for her bar exams backstage between television tapings of Monday Night RAW.

Jun 19, 2018
Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles

On the heals of the 86th annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors in Boston over the weekend, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti says mayors have what America wants. Garcetti, 47, has been testing the waters for a potential presidential bid in 2020.  Even if he doesn't run, he hopes other mayors will. As the chief executives of cities, Garcetti says mayors are "practical, results-oriented, inclusive and decent." In a veiled reference to the current administration, Garcetti laments the current climate, "We have a lot of division, we have a lot of impracticality, we have a lack of experience in government."

"You never win by talking," says Garecetti, 47, a fourth generation Angeleno and self-described accidental public servant, the "highest calling" he says is fundamentally about listening.

He says the mayor's job is to "knit together a narrative" that explains a city to itself.  Garcetti thinks technology can help if mayors strike the right balance, saying too many are either "future phobic" or "future passive." He views himself as "future guiding" as evidenced by the city's recent recognition for its use of data in planning and operations by Bloomberberg Philanthropies' What Works Cities, and Equipt to Innovate, a joint initiative of Governing and the non-profit Living Cities.

Jun 13, 2018
Clay Jenkinson, Humanities Scholar, Roosevelt Expert

On April 23, 1910, Theodore Roosevelt gave what would become one of the most widely quoted speeches of his career. In it, the nation's 26th president used his hyperbolic oratory to bear on the themes of leadership and loneliness.

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood," Roosevelt said.

While most of the guests on this show will be public officials, our debut episode features humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson. He explores the context of the quote, which inspired the name of this podcast, and how it fits in Roosevelt's world view of power, persuasion and politics. 

"It's probably the most frequently quoted thing that Roosevelt ever said, and if you go into the boardrooms of major corporations or to the offices of CEOs and politicians, anywhere where there is some need for power to assert itself, you almost invariably find that quotation tacked to the wall," says Jenkinson. 

Jun 05, 2018

In a new podcast from Governing magazine, Cathiea Robinett interviews public officials who serve In The Arena today about courage, compassion and creativity in public leadership.  The debut season features conversations with:

  • Clay Jenkinson, Author, Educator, Roosevelt Scholar
  • Greg Fischer, Mayor of Louisville, KY
  • Acquanetta Warren, Mayor of Fontana, CA
  • Themis Klarides, House Majority Leader (D), Connecticut
  • Kristen Cox, Executive Director, OMB, State of Utah
  • Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, CA

Episodes drop every Wednesday, beginning June 6.

Jun 01, 2018