State Rep. Cheri Gerou, a prominent Evergreen Republican who is in her sixth year at the statehouse, will not run for re-election in November.
Gerou, the first female member of the House to chair the powerful Joint Budget Committee, has represented District 25 in western Jeffco since first being elected in 2008. She is planning to return to her architecture career.
“I absolutely love the time I’ve spent in the legislature, and it’s been an honor to serve,” said Gerou, 58. “But I miss my (architecture) practice. When I walk into a building that’s under construction, and I smell the plaster or the paint drying or the wood when they’re framing, I have that sense of longing.”
Gerou, whose district includes Evergreen and Conifer, could serve another two-year term before reaching term limits. She will remain in office until the end of the year; the current session of the General Assembly ends in May.
“I’ve had the pleasure of observing and getting to know Cheri Gerou over a number of years,” Republican State Chairman Ryan Call said. “I have consistently been impressed by her courage and fortitude over the years. She’s been an effective and principled leader. She really deeply cares about this state and the people in it, and I know that is what motivates and drives her.”
Rob Witwer, who held the House District 25 seat until he decided not to seek re-election in 2008, said of Gerou: “I think, first and foremost, Cheri is independent — an increasingly rare quality in elected officials these days. It’s one that can lead to criticism, but whether or not you agree with her, you can’t deny she thinks for herself, and she makes decisions from an independent perspective.”
Gerou calls her time in the state House a great experience.
“This is the best district ever to represent,” Gerou said. “People in the district have been very kind to me, (but) you know when you feel the need to move on, and I’ve just been feeling that way.”
Gerou said working in Colorado politics has led her to a love for public policy, a passion she never dreamed would interest her.
Gerou and her husband, Phil, both architects, own Gerou & Associates in Evergreen, which they opened in 1971. The firm specializes in residential and commercial architectural work, and has been involved in charity projects in Africa.
In 2012, the firm was hired by the Conifer Historical Society and Museum to prepare a detailed historic structure assessment of the Meyer Ranch House in Conifer as part of determining whether it can be turned into a museum.
‘I know who my district is’
Gerou said Witwer gave her some great advice about the job:
“ ‘When you’re considering any bill, vote your conscience, vote your district and vote your party.’ I never forgot that advice. Absolutely, I’m a Republican, but I know who my district is. That’s how I try to vote. Some of the decisions we make are really tough, but his advice helped me focus and center.”
The thing she most regrets is not being able to solve more of the issues faced by victims of the March 2012 Lower North Fork Fire, which was caused by a state Forest Service controlled burn. The blaze killed three people, charred 4,100 acres south of Conifer, destroyed 23 homes, and caused about $11 million in damage.
“I made headway,” she said, “but I didn’t get it done. That’s my biggest regret.”
Witwer said of Gerou’s departure: “I think that the district will lose a very hard worker, and a longstanding member of the community with deep community ties, a great sense of humor and a tireless work ethic.”
Starting out in politics
Not a career politician, Gerou first served in local and state architectural associations, and then was named to the State Board of Licensure for Architects, Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors. Before she knew it, she was chair of the board.
When Witwer announced he would not seek re-election, Gerou was asked by colleagues to run for the House.
“I had never thought about it,” she said. “I told my husband that people had asked if I would run for the state House. After he stopped laughing, he said maybe I should consider it. I went to lunch with Rob Witwer and a couple of people, and they explained to me what the job was. Running for office was so strange. I never thought I would do it.”
The best part of the job
Gerou says meeting with school groups at the Capitol on Friday afternoons is the best part of the job. She explains to them what state legislators do and how bills are passed.
“The last thing I’ll do, I’ll take them up, and we’ll stand on the podium where the speaker stands,” she said. “Each one gets to pound the gavel, and we take a group photo. I know I’m making a memory. Somewhere there’s a child who may someday serve the state. The idea of that is just so incredible.”
Gerou said serving on the JBC was the best way to learn everything possible about state government.
“I’ve absolutely loved learning about state government and being able to impact it so directly,” she said. “It’s the best. I never thought there would be that much power and that much knowledge to be gained.”
She said it’s been gratifying to move the state forward, even though there is only so much money to go around and never enough to solve all issues.
“Sometimes you do your best work when you don’t have the money and have to think through the problem,” she said.
There’s also the challenge of getting the budget passed by both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.
“(One year) when I ran my budget, out of the 65 members (in the House), 64 out of 65 voted for it,” she said. “I felt really good about it. I didn’t mean to do it. I think I just got lucky.”
GOP Chairman Call said of her work on the JBC: “I certainly think that she has done an impressive and admirable job as chair of the Joint Budget Committee. It’s not a position that is easy. I think she has done a good job of balancing what are often difficult and competing issues and priorities and challenges, and done so in a good way.”
Gerou chaired the JBC until Democrats regained control of the House in 2012.
More politics in her future?
“I’ve learned that you never say never,” Gerou said. “I never thought I’d be there in the first place.”
She mentioned Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, who served in politics then left, only to return again.
“He kept coming back time after time after time. I absolutely understand the attraction he felt,” she said.
“I don’t consider being in the legislature a job that I do. To me, it’s a gift of service. I’m not there for any other reason other than the fact that the more you give, the more you get back. I’m not going to say I’m not going to do something (in politics) again, but I need to step back for now.”
She doesn’t know exactly what the future holds.
“When you love to learn and when you love where you live and when you love doing what you do, you end up surprising yourself. I’m waiting to be surprised.”
Gerou said that Jan. 1, the first day in her return to life as a private citizen, will be a good one, adding: “I’ve known for a long time that this was it.”