46 episodes

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.

In The Arena Cathilea Robinett and GOVERNING Magazine

    • Government
    • 4.9 • 33 Ratings

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.

    Book Recommendations from Officials Who’ve Been “In the Arena”

    Book Recommendations from Officials Who’ve Been “In the Arena”

    As 2020 comes to a close, we take a moment to reflect on the numerous books that government officials from across the nation have recommended over the past several years.
    In the Arena’s podcast interviews have included many good book recommendations, often more than one, from government officials all over the country. The officials have suggested books for all kinds of reasons; some have enchanted them as a child, others have inspired them to pursue their current career of public service. Sometimes all the officials can manage is to list the three most recent books they have enjoyed because, as Blair Milo, Indiana’s secretary for Career Connections and Talent, explained, “I could no sooner pick a favorite star in the heavens,” than pick a single best book to read.
    Books often become favorites if they provide some sense of nostalgia or wonder. They can be an escape into an alternate reality or a world that satiates the present moment’s wanderlust. During the coronavirus pandemic, this can also act as a form of stress relief, an escape from the confines of the shelter-in-place orders. Los Angeles, Calif., Mayor Eric Garcetti turns to Jorge Luis Borges’ Ficciones, a book of short stories “and many of them are these beautiful fantastical metaphors for the universe.” But he also turns to books for hope, which can act as an escape from the fear and uncertainty of this global pandemic. He discusses how Marge Pearcy’s book of poetry, Stone, Paper, Knife, which gets its title from a poem that is “all about how, in the midst of struggle, do we still stay idealistic and hang on to hope, and hope rests in each one of us.”
    For others, a favorite book can be a connection to a cherished moment in time. For Kristen Cox, executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, it also happens to be a moment of triumph. “Because I had some vision growing up, they didn’t teach me braille. But then as I went more and more blind, I had no way to read,” Cox explains. After having her first son, she taught herself to read braille, learning a letter a day, so that she could read to her son. Eventually, she was proficient enough to read her first book in braille: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. “I love The Hobbit anyway, but to read that in braille was a huge accomplishment for me.”
    Other times, a favorite book can create a cherished moment and connection between two people despite physical separation. For In the Arena host, Cathilea Robinett, and senior advisor to the California Office of Emergency Services, Karen Baker, this unity was fostered over a mutual favorite children’s book: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. “I just don’t know what secret garden is around the corner for me,” Baker explains. “The good is about to happen.”
    Books can offer us many things during these unprecedented times, whether that is escaping to a different land or building connection between two people and the public officials who have spoken with us “In the Arena” have read it all.
    Learn more and subscribe for free to In The Arena at www.governing.com/ITA

    • 23 min
    Service Before Self: Karen Baker’s Career in Public Service

    Service Before Self: Karen Baker’s Career in Public Service

    The career public servant has served a president and in the cabinets of three governors, and is not afraid of tackling big, complicated jobs that help the disenfranchised while building better communities.
    Karen Baker was raised in Ohio with seven siblings where there was not much opportunity to be selfish. Her upbringing taught her the value of selflessness and service, which has helped shape her decades-long career in public service.
    Whether it was volunteering with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps while attending UCLA, working for a congressmember in Washington, D.C. or being appointed by President Clinton to help create AmeriCorps, Karen Baker has always been inspired by creativity and problem solving within communities.
    “I'm particularly interested in that because I feel like one of the biggest things that people miss as a leader is just the ability to really listen very hard and then create,” Baker explains. “And part of how community is created by being there for each other and serving, and I think that's the glue of our culture.”
    Karen Baker has held cabinet positions under three California governors, and currently leads Gov. Newsom’s Listos California, a multi-million-dollar initiative to educate disabled, non-English speaking, and other vulnerable populations across the state about disaster preparedness, including COVID-19. Its mission is guided by the principle of letting the community decide how best to reach its members. Baker admits it is a big and complicated job, but it is the kind of problem-solving that she knows will have a significant impact on the lives of others.
    “I think the only thing that you have to be aware of when you need to be inspired is: What are you giving?” she asks. “You have to keep doing those acts of service. Cause that's what makes you feel connected in my view. And that's where the joy comes.”
    Listen to the full interview with Karen Baker to hear more about her tremendous career of helping others, an inspiring drive-thru event in Mendota, Calif., and a special bond created over a shared favorite book.
    Learn more and subscribe for free to In The Arena at www.governing.com/ITA

    • 30 min
    The Many Chapters of Jabari Simama’s Life

    The Many Chapters of Jabari Simama’s Life

    Humble beginnings and a kind demeanor have made him a great public servant, including work as an elected county official and college president. It also has led him to foster a deep friendship with legendary John Lewis.
    Jabari Simama’s story has many different chapters. He grew up in Columbia, Mo., and attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., through a football scholarship. During a college Christian fellowship, Simama travelled to Connecticut, where he found kinship and a job the following summer. The experience led him to transfer to the University of Bridgeport, where Simama earned his bachelor’s degree. Afterwards, he found his way down to Atlanta, Ga., where he eventually earned two graduate degrees, a master’s from Atlanta University and his Ph.D. from Emory University.
    At this point in his life, Simama entered public service and served two terms on the Atlanta City Council, then worked as deputy chief operating officer and chief of staff for DeKalb County and later became the president of Georgia Piedmont Technical College. Despite the challenges, he has always found inspiration through his own childhood and his family’s humble beginnings.
    “All of my life, I felt this tremendous kinship and commitment with lifting up ‘the least of these.’ And it's probably because at one point I was part of ‘the least of these,’” he explains.
    Jabari Simama’s commitment to helping others has also come from the great support he has received from others throughout his life. A friend from the Christian fellowship organization Young Life, helped Simama travel outside of Missouri for the first time. That same friend introduced him to Jack Carpenter who headed Young Life in Connecticut and offered him the summer job. After college, a woman named Lillian introduced him to his first job in Atlanta and to her husband, the late Congressman John Lewis.
    Jabari Simama and John Lewis met in 1973 and maintained a close friendship. Simama recounts how it was good to know the human side of John Lewis and to see his loving and humble nature  even when their wives were conspiring on the phone about the lunches at their children’s shared preschool.
    “I could hear John in the background saying ‘Lillian, remember we're non-violent, we don't talk like that, we're not violent,’” Simama says. “So even in his personal life, something that didn't exactly have anything to do with civil rights, the spirit of non-violence was the way he lived.”
    Listen to the latest “In The Arena” episode to hear more about Jabari Simama’s friendship with the late John Lewis, the tenderness of his heart and the racial discrimination of hand dryers.
    Learn more and subscribe for free to In The Arena at www.governing.com/ITA

    • 37 min
    How Sheila Oliver Made a Career of Breaking Glass Ceilings

    How Sheila Oliver Made a Career of Breaking Glass Ceilings

    Inspired by trailblazer Shirley Chisholm, New Jersey’s Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver has become a powerful and inspirational leader in her own right and has already left a mark that will last for generations.
    Sheila Oliver has always been inspired by the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress. She was particularly motivated by a simple but memorable remark that Congresswoman Chisholm made in one of her speeches: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, then bring a folding chair.” Sheila Oliver has brought several folding chairs during her long and successful career in public service.
    She started her career as the director of a private nonprofit in Newark, became the president of her local board of education and then was elected a county commissioner. Later, she was the first woman to launch a competitive campaign for mayor of East Orange, N.J., but ended up losing by just 51 votes.
    “I began to connect the dots about how important it was to encourage people to vote because many people in my town said, ‘Oh, I just knew that was a slam dunk for you. I didn't even vote yesterday,’” Oliver said.
    She went on to successfully serve in the state Legislature for 16 years. When Oliver was unanimously elected to be the 169th speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly in 2009, she was the first Black woman to hold the position in the state's history. Her election also made her the second Black woman in the nation to lead a state legislative house. Several years later when she served as the lieutenant governor for New Jersey, she became the fourth Black woman in the nation to do so, the first as a Democrat.
    But her time in public service has not always been easy, especially during the coronavirus pandemic as New Jersey ranked No. 2 among states with COVID-19 cases for many months. Even as the numbers appear to be decreasing, the state still must be cautious about its reopening guidelines for the health and safety of its residents.
    “We're still on guard,” explained Oliver. “We don't feel quite comfortable that we're beyond it yet. And all of the epidemiologists that we consult with tell us that we are probably going to experience a surge in November.”
    Listen to the “In The Arena” episode with Sheila Oliver to hear more about her inspirations and achievements, her aspiration to laugh every day and New Jersey’s response to the death of George Floyd.
    Learn more and subscribe for free to In The Arena at www.governing.com/ITA

    • 37 min
    Finding Common Ground in an America That Will Not Agree

    Finding Common Ground in an America That Will Not Agree

    In a time of an extremely divided America, Bruce Bond works with his team to develop common ground and inspire others to create positive change.
    Bruce Bond has always had a love of politics; he studied it in college and has found great value in political engagement. But over the past several years, American politics has morphed into a new beast, something very different from what he had studied and admired.
    “It had come to the point where there was a lot of demonizing going on, where if you disagree with me politically, then there’s something wrong with your character,” Bruce explains. “We just felt that was a really dangerous thing.”
    He and his childhood friend, Erik Olsen, developed an idea of putting people from opposing viewpoints on stage together and then asking them to find points of agreement. The Common Ground Committee was first a side job, something Bruce and Erik would do when they had some spare time. But after two extremely successful events — one in the wake of the 2018 Charlottesville protests and another with John Kerry and Condoleezza Rice — the side job started to gain traction. Not long afterwards, Bruce quit his decades-long IT career to develop Common Ground into a full-time nonprofit.
    As the country grows more divided over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black Americans, the national response to the coronavirus pandemic and the upcoming presidential election, Bruce hopes that the public uses these meetings of the minds as the foundation for difficult but civil conversations.
    “When people are awakened to the seriousness of a problem or what is possible either way, they start to move differently and they start to think and act differently and speak differently than what they've done in the past,” he says. “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
    Listen to the complete episode with Bruce Bond to hear more about Common Ground Committee’s “grass-tops” approach, the exhausted majority and Bruce’s high school experience with the notion of try, try, try again.
    Learn more and subscribe for free to In The Arena at www.governing.com/ITA

    • 39 min
    From Literature to Water: Heather Repenning on Impacting Change

    From Literature to Water: Heather Repenning on Impacting Change

    She didn’t grow up dreaming of working in a position of power in a big city like Los Angeles, but her strong desire to help people and make the world a better place rerouted her into a career of public service.
    Heather Repenning moved to California from small-town Kentucky with the intention of earning a Ph.D. in comparative literature, but soon began to wonder if it was truly her correct path. She worried that the highly academic language of her work was not accessible to people of all backgrounds.
    “About three years into my Ph.D., I started to feel like the work I was doing was maybe not as relevant as I wanted it to be in terms of having an impact on the world,” she explains.
    After that realization, Repenning soon found herself doing field research for several political campaigns, one of which was for a young Eric Garcetti. She talked with voters and constituents about the changes they wanted to see in their communities and immediately felt that her work could have a direct effect on people’s lives.
    Now, working for Los Angeles County’s public transportation agency and serving as the vice chair of the board of directors for the region’s Metropolitan Water District, Repenning’s work impacts millions of people across Southern California. “I love to help people and I consider it a gift that I can wake up every day and get paid to make the world a better place,” Repenning says. “And right now, the needs are great.”
    Between the pandemic, the resulting economic crisis and the devastating wildfires now raging in the West, Repenning sees countless opportunities to address issues that affect people’s everyday lives, such as economic inequality, workplace diversity and climate change.  
    Repenning acknowledges that this is a uniquely difficult period and that people need to look out for themselves and their families, but she also urges people to get involved whenever possible.
    “Democracy will only be healthy to the degree that everyday people are active and actively participating in it,” she says. “Whether it's speaking out against something that you disagree with, whether it's voting, in whatever way you can, please get into the arena.”
    Listen to the episode with Heather Repenning to hear more about working closely with Eric Garcetti for 20 years, the timely values of Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and learning about the world through the availability of water.
    Learn more and subscribe for free to In The Arena at www.governing.com/ITA

    • 25 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
33 Ratings

33 Ratings

B. Beam ,

In The Arena

I've enjoyed this podcast since it's beginning. I serve as Parish (County) Administrator for Calcasieu Parish in Southwest Louisiana (Parish seat is Lake Charles). We were struck by Hurricane Laura on August 27 (about a month ago), and it was the 5th strongest wind hurricane to ever hit the United States. I am definitely feeling in the arena right now. In the midst of this though I listened to the podcast where Cathilea gave her story, and it was great. It was interesting hearing about her upbringing and her travels. Many of us feel the heavy tension in this country like she expressed, and it frankly worries me more than how we will recover from this devastating storm. On a lighter note, I got a kick out of the importance of September in this podcast (both on Cathilea's special person of influence in her life and the Earth, Wind and Fire song she likes). My birthday is in September (24th) and I happened to see Earth, Wind and Fire in 1975 when I was about 13 years old. Great band.

Julia Allender ,

Great Podcast

This is a great podcast about women in the fight for the betterment of humanity. Topics we don’t often hear about but are important to know what’s going on around us.

I highly recommend it!

Eliana.g ,

Great Podcast super informative!

I’m so glad I was told about this podcast! Definitely in my top 3 to listen to!

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