Gerou, Rep. Cheri Rodgers

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .

Cheri Gerou

(1956 – )

Cheri grew up in a ranching family, attending school in Casper and spending weekends and part of every summer at the ranch south of Douglas, Wyoming.

Her first job was at an architectural office at age 16. After earning a degree from the University of Colorado (in Art History), she continued working with architectural firms, taking and passing the licensing exam to become an architect in the state of Colorado without the traditional degree in architecture.  She also holds a certificate from the National Council for Interior Design Qualification.

She and her husband, Phil, co-founded the architectural firm Gerou and Associates in Evergreen in 1986.

She was elected by her peers to serve as the president of the Denver Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and later the Colorado Chapter of AIA.  In 2006 former Governor Bill Owens appointed her to the State Licensing Board for Architects, a post she held for two years. In all three positions, she found herself at the State Capital supporting the field of architecture in numerous ways and becoming acquainted with legislators.

Pursuing politics

At the suggestion of former Representative Rob Witwer, she ran for his seat representing House District 25, winning that election as a Republican in 2008, being reelected in 2010 and again in 2012.

In 2009 and 2010 she served on the Finance Committee, which is involved in any bill saving or spending money. For her first two years she served on the Health and Human Services Committee where she learned about Medicaid, human services, entitlement spending in Colorado “at about the same time the healthcare reform conversation began nationally,” she explained. “With [education] expenses on K-12 just under 40 percent and 38 percent on Medicare and entitlements, I was challenged with how to make entitlement spending do what it was intended to do,” she said.

In 2010 she was appointed by the minority leader to serve on the Joint Budget Committee. In 2010 when Republicans were in the majority, she served as the Vice Chair of that committee, rising to Chair the following year. The Joint Budget Committee is considered one of the most powerful position in the State because of having access to all departments and a need to understand all spending that goes on.

She also chaired the Appropriations Committee.

A record for getting bills passed

Unlike most states (except Arizona and Texas), Colordo's legislature has the responsibility to write the budget; in the other 47 states, it is the governor's responsibility, Cheri explained.  Thus, as a legislator she has built relationships with the governor and with members of both parties, finding points on which they agree and working together running bills through the House.

As Chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, she could exceed the 5-bill limit imposed on representatives and was able to run as many as she wanted, sponsoring 50 bills during her one-year term.  In 2013, while serving as a "minority" member of the committee, she will exceed the 5-bill limit again because the majority (Democratic Party) has asked her to do so, demonstrating her ability to work "across the aisle" and earn the respect of both major parties.

"I am a tool," she says, defining her role in government.  "My job is a servant – to serve the district and serve the state."

She attributes her successes to following Rob Witwer's advice to 'Vote your conscience, vote your district and vote your party.' "Doing the first two makes the third one easy," she added. Additionally, she never voted as though she were needing to be re-elected.

"Tony [Grampsas], John [Witwer], and Rob [Witwer] understood the people they served and that it was not just one party," she said with pride.  She holds them all in high esteem and feels her greatest accomplishments are to have taken charge of the Joint Budget Committee the way Tony Grampsas did, serving on the Joint Budget Committee the way John Witwer did, and to have been able to work with Rob Witwer. Grampsas and the two Witwers all represented District 25 and lived in the Evergreen area.

"Jefferson County is one of the last true Republican districts," she related.  "It's fiscally conservative and environmentally sensitive," likening it to the Teddy Roosevelt standard for the national park system.  "We value what we have."

Lower North Fork Fire

During the aftermath of the Lower North Fork fire (LNFF) of March 26, 2012, Cheri worked 24/7 for her constituents in the Conifer/Littleton area devastated by the prescribed burn.  The State verbally accepted responsibility for the fire being conducted on state land when winds rekindled embers left unattended, destroying 23 homes and killing 3 people.

She sponsored two pieces of legislation intended to ease the pain and suffering of those affected.  HB #1352 was designed to give the survivors a public hearing on what happened, as well as to give them the ability to ask questions.  In addition to formally acknowledging that the State caused the fire, HB #1361 was to lift the liability caps associated with State immunity and fast-track the process for the homeowners of the 23 structures to get some type of compensation for loss of lives and property.

Unfortunately, neither piece of legislation was executed as envisioned.  The Commission for the Lower North Fork Fire did not permit homeowners to ask questions, nor did they provide answers.  Having been given no budget with which to investigate the fire, the Commission stated that it could not conduct a true investigation.  And with regard to the second piece of legislation, the Attorney General lumped the claims of homeowners in with those of the insurance companies and utility companies.  The intended three-month fast-track turned into a multi-year process. 

Two much larger fires in Colorado Springs (Waldo Canyon) and Ft. Collins (High Park) within a few months of the Lower North Fork fire eclipsed the LNFF, dwarfing it and diverting public attention.  While the other two fires received state, local, and federal aid, survivors of the LNFF received none whatsoever, with the exception of donations from their local communities.    According to Gerou, the State cannot receive any federal aid because they'd refused to act, missing the filing deadlines for FEMA funds.  "They were frozen in fear of what they'd done," she stated.

Any compensation for those affected may take years.  [In June, 2014, the victims were awarded $18 million in compensation.]

"It breaks my heart," she says of the process that had the best of intentions.  "I will not stop bringing it up."  She describes it as her biggest disappointment in life and politics.

Community involvement

Cheri is routinely very visible within the communities she serves, particularly in Evergreen.  As a member of Evergreen Kiwanis, she can be seen wearing an apron at the annual Pancake Breakfast.  And she's generally at the Friday morning meetings of Evergreen Rotary.

She has chaired the Community Caring Project, chaired the Board of Deacons at Rockland Community Church, and served on the board of the C. Henry Kempe Center.

Phil and Cheri are parents of two grown children, Greg and Sara.

Source:  Interview with Cheri Gerou