Berger Finds a Way to Give Back
By Krista Rinehart, CSG Toll Fellows Program Director
While traveling in France in 1991, Wyoming Rep. Rosie Berger was involved in a car accident that she calls a life-changing event that awakened her desire to serve and give back to her community.
She suffered a head injury that left her unable to recognize people and stripped away a level of comfort around people that she had depended on for years as a community member and volunteer.
“I realized the importance of the place where I live and the community that had nurtured me,” said Berger. As she recovered, Berger realized she wanted to do more. “I wanted others to have the same opportunities that I had to be engaged in volunteer organizations, to start my own business, to enjoy living in a small community.”
After years of local service—including a stint as president of her local chamber of commerce—Berger ventured outside the Big Horn community in 2002 to participate in Leadership Wyoming.
“Leadership Wyoming gave me the opportunity to better understand my state and to meet a diverse group of government and business leaders,” said Berger. Those leaders encouraged her to run for the state legislature. “With that push from others, I quickly realized that this was exactly how I could move my community involvement to a higher level.”
Berger was elected to her first term in the Wyoming House in 2003 and continues to be motivated nearly a decade later by the opportunity legislative service provides her to make a difference in the lives of others. Because she benefited from the guidance of local leaders and business stalwarts when she was a young woman starting her own business, Berger is especially mindful of the role she can play as a role model and mentor to today’s younger generation. She also welcomes the opportunity to encourage a new generation into public service.
“I have the opportunity to work with and look for ways to help young people who have their own ambitions to succeed in life,” said Berger. “Being a rural representative allows me to see democracy at its best.”
Encouraging the next generation of civil servants is just one of the many opportunities Berger has found to impact the future of her community and state. She wants to help solve the big problems facing her state and the West. Responsible use of regional energy sources and natural resources as well as international relationships with Canada and Mexico are among the issues Berger sees as most pressing for Wyoming and the West. She believes building understanding and relationships and maintaining civility are keys to effectively lead her state.
“I always try to be an accessible leader,” said Berger. “It is so important to build relationships, to understand the issues that concern others and to understand their perspective.”
“In order to reach bipartisan compromise, we need to be inclusive, and work to educate and inform all decision-makers,” she continued. “If we listen, building relationships, communicate and show flexibility, we can find consensus and overcome deadlock.”
At a time when partisan bickering is at an all-time high in many states and on the federal level, Berger is thankful she serves in a state where respect and civility still rule the day.
“We have different views and must work to do what we each think best,” said Berger, “but bipartisan bickering is not a problem for us in Wyoming as it has been in some locations.”
As a member of the 2007 Toll Fellows class, Berger has continued working to improve her own leadership skills through training and networking opportunities like the one that initially resulted in her run for office. In 2012, she will serve as chair of CSG West.
“I have come to recognize how important the legislative process is to the everyday lives of people around me, even if some of them might not agree,” said Berger. “I have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people, hoping to improve the lives of many.”