Themis Klarides is defying expectations and redefining leadership in the Connecticut legislature.
This is the third episode of Governing's new podcast, "In the Arena," in which the president of our parent company e.Republic, Cathilea Robinett, interviews public officials about courage, compassion and creativity in public leadership.
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.
"I kind of say what I think," she adds. “Sometimes that’s rough, but I think that’s where I built my reputation of being a straight talker—without being offensive to people. People don’t want to hear the mumbo jumbo anymore. They don’t want to hear the stump speech. They want to know why they should believe in you."
Klarides goes with her gut and encourages young women to do the same. "If you feel it in your gut that that's what you feel strongly about, you should do it. If that means you stay home and raise your kids, that's wonderful. If that means you go out and become president, that's wonderful. But it's got to be what you want to do. It can't be because anybody is telling you that one thing is what you should be doing."