‘One of Us’
Sherry Menor-McNamara hopes to be a voice for the neighbor islands as the state’s next lieutenant governor.
Summertime reminds Sherry Menor-McNamara of one of her favorite childhood memories: visiting Grandpa Angelo and Grandma Paulina at their Pāhoa farm. She remembers the beautiful anthuriums and being surrounded by tangerine, mountain apple and ‘ulu trees — and how all of those living things were the culmination of her grandparents’ hard work.
Never one to shirk hard work herself, a young Menor-McNamara would help crack macadamia nuts and then accompany her grandparents to town, where they’d sell the day’s wares to local families.
“They were so community-focused,” she says. “Even if they didn’t have a lot, they’d give whatever was on their farm to those who needed it.”
That’s the heart she wants to lead Hawai‘i with as the state’s next lieutenant governor, and aspires to move one step closer after the primaries on Aug. 13.
The Hilo native is the only nominee on the ticket who grew up on a neighbor island, and hopes to be a voice for the underrepresented if elected. And though she now calls O‘ahu home, her heart is and always will remain on Hawai‘i Island.
“What I admire about Sherry is that she never forgot where she came from,” shares Waiākea High School classmate Neil Azevedo.
“Even from small-kid time, we all knew that she would grow to be successful and make a difference for our state. She understands our community because she was raised with us. She will fight for our community because she is one of us.”
As a representative for the entire state of Hawai‘i, Menor-McNamara wants to make sure all voices are heard.
“Sometimes decisions are too Honolulu centric,” she says. “I have a desire to make Hawai‘i a better place for all of us, and it’s the values I grew up with that will help me do that. I’ve applied them to every job I’ve had.”
And that’s saying something considering she’s worked at big-name companies like Sony Pictures Entertainment, Elton John Production and Estée Lauder, as well as public service appointments in the office of U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka and the Executive Office of the President. Most recently, she’s brought those core values to her position as president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawai‘i (she’s currently on sabbatical during the campaign), where she made her mark as the organization’s youngest and first female leader in its 173-year history, as well as the first person of Asian descent to serve as CEO of any state chamber. And, she led the organization to a national “Chamber of the Year” award — another first for any Chamber in Hawai‘i.
Breaking new ground is standard for Menor-Mc-Namara, who made the decision to run for lieutenant governor during the pandemic. As head of the Chamber, she saw how the last couple of years have affected the more than 2,000 businesses (80% of those are small businesses) that are part of the organization’s network.
“It impacted us heavily and there are challenges that have not improved,” she says. “When you look at it, a lot of times it’s the same leadership in office. I felt that during this pivotal, defining moment in Hawai‘i that it’s time to move forward and do things differently.”
Menor-McNamara might be a newcomer to the big stage of Hawai‘i politics, but got her feet wet in the world of student government as president/vice president of her classes, finally becoming student body president her senior year.
The importance of giving back to the community through public service was a value instilled in her by her dad, Barney Menor, who served in the state House from 1964 to 1970 before going on to become the Managing Director of Hawai‘i County.
As the only candidate to come from a business-minded background, Menor-McNamara relies on her personal experience and educational background to provide a solid framework for the state’s second-highest office. As head of the Chamber, she’s worked with numerous legislators and administrators on all levels of government and knows the intricacies of how state entities work. In addition, she earned her bachelor’s in political science from University of California at Los Angeles, as well as higher-ed degrees from University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law and Shidler College of Business.
And, she’s up for the challenge, which she likens to running a marathon (she’s completed five already and is looking forward to the upcoming Honolulu Marathon in December).
“It’s challenging my mindset,” explains Menor-McNamara, who’s also a certified yoga sculpt instructor. “The first several miles you’re on a high, and after you get tired, you push through it.”
First and foremost, she’s committed to working shoulder to shoulder with the state’s future governor to address the many issues facing Hawai‘i, namely the cost of living and price of doing business. She also wants to build up the state’s education and workforce development, specifically honing in on how high schools, community colleges, universities, educators and community organizations can work together to strengthen the talent pipeline.
Then there’s the need for a comprehensive recovery plan that includes support for local entrepreneurs, who are the backbone of the state’s economy.
Seeing her grandparents operate their small family farm — bought with money saved up from working the sugar plantations — was Menor-McNamara’s introduction to the world of entrepreneurship and the joys small businesses can bring.
“I have seen firsthand growing up the challenges and sacrifices it takes to run a small business here in Hawai‘i,” she notes, adding that her mom Naomi, an immigrant from Japan, started her own business four decades ago that’s still going strong.
And entrepreneurs are taken with this first-time contender who wants to shine a light on the importance of small businesses to Hawai‘i’s economy — and has concrete plans to help them flourish.
“Sherry does so much behind the scenes to make sure we all have the best opportunities to succeed,” notes chef Sam Choy. “For me, that means not just fighting for my restaurant and employees, but supporting the farmers and fisherman where I get my food, so I can showcase and serve the best local products and cook with the finest ingredients in the world. This Big Island wahine has vision.”
Menor-McNamara has plans to be a hands-on type of leader, one who goes out into communities across the islands to talk, learn and collaborate — not one who remains stuck on the fifth floor.
“I’ve had a lot of experience in my career on a winding path,” she says with a laugh. “And I was able to gain a lot more experience, skills and relationships, and learned to keep an open mind in navigating difficult issues.
“After 16 years with the Chamber, now is the time to do my part,” she adds. “Together we can build a better Hawai‘i.”
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