Cheri Gerou had a successful career as an architect under her belt, but when Rob Witwer announced on Aug. 8, 2007, that he was walking away from his House District 25 seat, Gerou was ready to pick up the torch, announcing her bid the next Wednesday.
A lifelong Republican, Gerou is making her first run for elected office. She was not Witwer’s handpicked choice as successor, Gerou said, although he later gave her his endorsement and is now her campaign manager.
Gerou (she pronounces it juh-ROW) grew up in Casper, Wyo., and spent weekends and summers on her grandparents’ ranch in Douglas, Wyo., the only girl in a family of five. She learned how to ride a horse, herd cattle and take care of animals.
After working her way through the University of Colorado at Denver, Gerou graduated with a degree in fine arts and became an interior designer. She loves to knit, do needlework and go hiking.
About 10 years ago, she was licensed as an architect. She and her husband, Phil, opened an architectural design studio, Gerou and Associates, 21 years ago in Evergreen close to their home in Kerr Gulch, so they could take turns at work and avoid putting their two children in day care.
A self-described introvert, Gerou finds being the center of attention the most difficult part of running for office.
“It’s awkward talking about myself,” she said. “I never intended to run. I never thought I would be in this position. What drives you is you have to give more of yourself. You see a need that makes you go outside yourself. That’s what it was.”
Her motivation to be a candidate stems from a desire to give back to the community and is a logical extension of her former role as an elementary-school volunteer, she told the Canyon Courier over coffee at Java Groove.
She has served as president of both the American Institute of Architects of Denver and Colorado and was appointed by Gov. Bill Owens in 2006 to be on the State Licensing Board of Architects, Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors.
Gerou’s grandparents are her role models.
“They were raised on a ranch in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “What your neighbor does has an impact on you. It’s like here. You have the mutual dependency. We don’t take things for granted, like water, sewer and electric. If you don’t work hard, you don’t get anything.”
Gerou faced Eileen Diepenbrock at the Republican county assembly in March 8 and emerged with 78 percent of the delegate vote to Diepenbrock’s 22 percent, enough to keep Diepenbrock off the ballot.
She thinks the deciding factor was that Diepenbrock, although very well qualified, was a former state employee, while Gerou is a product of the private sector. It helped that she got endorsements from Rob Witwer and Sally Hopper at the Republican Assembly.
“She is very smart, but she is also someone who listens, and this is essential to being an effective legislator,” said Hopper, of Lookout Mountain, a former state senator in the 13th District. “Above all, Cheri likes people.”
Republicans in House District 25 are a different breed, Gerou says. They are business oriented, transportation sensitive and more environmentally conscious. But being a Republican and the protg of Witwer doesn’t mean the election is in the bag already, she said.
Of the 100,000 voters in the district, Republicans make up 41 percent, Democrats 26 percent, and independents 33 percent, which means independents will be the deciding factor in November’s election.
Husband Phil Gerou, who has been married to Cheri for 29 years, said his wife’s interest in politics wasn’t at all a surprise.
“She has always been very involved in giving back to the community and with statewide activities. That’s what architects do. They try and help shape the community.”
The big surprise is how much time it takes. “It’s a lot more involved than what we expected,” Phil Gerou said. “There are more meetings to attend and more people to meet. You understand as someone seeing the ads on TV, but until you are in middle of the process, you don’t realize what a huge commitment it is.”
John Anderson of Evergreen, the founder of Anderson Mason Dale architectural firm of Denver, is a longtime friend of the couple.
“I think she is particularly thoughtful,” Anderson said. “She is good at analyzing and solving problems, which is what architects do.”
“This is kind of unusual because I’m a Democrat. But I think she would be an excellent legislator. She has been president of AIA Colorado, and I have seen her run meetings.”
Another person who has known her 15 years and also is a Democrat thinks Gerou is a “very good planner.” “The year she was president of AIA Colorado, we probably saved more money than we have ever saved before. We came out much better as an organization,” said Kin DuBois. “ee Part of her effectiveness is her people skills and the ability to work with people who have different opinions.”
Grounded in small business
Gerou is defined by her long history and experience as a small-business owner in Jefferson County who has lived in Evergreen for 25 years and in Jefferson County for 29 years.
To her, the important state issues are largely economic.
“We have to maintain fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, enjoy less government and leave it to business to have as much control as possible its own environment.”
She is concerned that Colorado has no rainy-day fund and that the bark beetle epidemic could spawn a forest fire with devastating impact on area watersheds.
She thinks higher education needs money to improve the physical facilities, not to provide free tuition. Launching a scholarship program means bringing more people into a system that is already “bursting at the seams,” she said.
She expects the solution to I-70 congestion will have to do with some form of public/private partnership and possibly light rail. She believes that volunteer fire departments need more support from the state, particularly in less well-funded districts such as Coal Creek Canyon and Indian Hills, where firefighters must pay from $200 to $1,500 for their own gear.