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Changing The Game: Politics, Policy, And 21st Century Leadership With Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt

November 14, 2022
6:00 pm
- 7:30 pm



Rhodes Conference Room, Sanford School of Public Policy
201 Science Dr
Durham, NC 27708 United States
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Event Sponsored By

Polis: Center for Politics

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Photos by Brittany Gabriel (MPP ’24)

Described as a “rising star” in politics, Mayor David Holt (R) is the youngest mayor that Oklahoma City has had in nearly a century and the first Native American to serve in the position. He joined POLIS for a conversation about his pathway to public service, his strategies for governing a “purple” city in a highly partisan age, and his conviction that elected officials can and should tell voters difficult truths. The discussion was be moderated by Sanford Professor Kristin Goss.

Event Recap

Rosa Golchin Headshot
Rosa Golchin (Trinity ’24) is majoring in Political Science and Biology. She enjoys studying energy and environmental policy and hopes to work in shaping energy policy through intergovernmental institutions.

On November 14th, POLIS hosted a discussion with Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt on politics and 21st century leadership. The discussion was moderated by Kristin Goss, a professor of political science and public policy in the Sanford School. Goss opened the discussion with an overview of Mayor Holt’s history of public service, from working for the Speaker of the House in the last year of his undergraduate degree to joining President George W. Bush’s office in the early 2000’s. Mayor Holt shifted from the federal level to the state level as a state senator and eventually, the local level where he felt he could make the biggest impact on his constituents. “It seems like mayors are getting things done at a different level than other levels of government,” he noted.

A primary focus of the discussion was the unique challenges of managing a purple city in a red state and subsequently achieving a wide supporter base. Mayor Holt explained that he ran Oklahoma City as a nonpartisan and was re-elected with blue and red votes. He attributed this in part to the wide popularity of the MAPS program which he oversaw for its third and fourth years. MAPS is a billion dollar program supported by a 1% sales tax which has supported various public development projects. The most recent MAPS will go towards the construction of parks, youth centers, senior wellness centers, improved transit, and a multipurpose stadium. Mayor Holt credits MAPS’ wide appeal and investment in many different Oklahoma City communities as the reason for its overwhelming support as compared to previous iterations of the MAPS initiative. Goss summarized his approach as “pragmatism, pluralism, and compromise.”

Mayor Holt emphasized that he takes great pride in his position as mayor and finds the position rewarding. However, the challenges of compromise and truly serving the electorate is nothing short of “hard work.” Mayor Holt said sometimes disappointing the electorate is inevitable, even with having their interests in mind: “This is an art. Practice it.” Referencing his piece in The Bulwark, he explained that although people will often be mad or disappointed when you explain their ideas are not viable or likely to occur, you are more likely to gain their respect and trust through earning a reputation for truth-telling.

Reflecting on his time as an undergraduate at George Washington University in D.C., Mayor Holt said “You’re in this school because you have a heart for service, and I had that myself.” This “heart for service” ultimately led him back to his hometown of Oklahoma City where he felt he would be the “most successful and authentic.” In 2006, he served as the chief staffer to the Mayor of Oklahoma City, joining the highest ranks of city officials. When he assumed the position as mayor in 2018, Oklahoma City was the 27th largest city in the U.S.; it has since grown to be the 20th largest. This was due in no small part to the power of sports, a subject that resonates with the audience, and specifically the arrival of the NBA. In rounding out his conversation of college and the foundation it set for his political career, Mayor Holt called on the students in attendance to get involved in public service. “Your community has invested in you,” he said, “And we need you now.”

This recap was written by Polis Student Assistant Rosa Golchin (’24)

Duke Tour with Polis Student Committee Members

Polis Student Committee members (from left to right) Jonathan Pyka, Calvin Cho, Rosa Golchin, and Ranjan Jindal gave Mayor David Holt and his son a tour of Duke’s West Campus. The tour included stops at Perkins, WU, the BC Plaza, and the Bryan Center. Mayor Holt and his son were even able to go inside Cameron Indoor Stadium!

About Mayor Holt

Mayor David Holt has served as Mayor of Oklahoma City since 2018. A member of the Osage Nation, he is the city’s first Native American mayor. Oklahoma City is the nation’s 20th-largest city and Mayor Holt has presided over the city’s continued growth and emergence on the national stage. Mayor Holt serves in the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the National League of Cities and is often called upon by national leaders and media to speak on issues facing American cities.

Though a Republican by registration, Mayor Holt oversees a nonpartisan government and has utilized a unique governance style that embraces pragmatism, pluralism and compromise. Punchbowl News called Mayor Holt “a whip-smart technocratic Republican who seems out of step with the party’s current slash-and-burn mentality.” Mayor Holt’s signature achievement thus far was leading the development and landslide passage of MAPS 4, a $1.1 billion initiative that will invest in 16 challenges and opportunities.

Additional Resources:

The Case for Pluralism in a Tribalistic Nation,” The Hill
In Praise of Those Who Resist Temptation,” The Bulwark