Sarah G. Elmore-Hernandez
Hometown: Mangilao, Guam
Role: Chief of staff in the office of Sen. Mary Camacho Torres. Elmore-Hernandez also serves on NCSL’s Executive Committee and Legislative Staff Coordinating Committee.
Years of legislative service: Six
One thing she loves about her territory: “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen our sunset.”
Why did you choose to work at the legislature?
When we think of the Legislature, we often think of it as the branch closest to the people. But for me and many others who serve the institution, the Guam Legislature is also responsible for the limited self-government we have today. Prior to 1950, all authority of the government of Guam rested with an assigned U.S. naval governor. While there was a Guam Congress, the assembly primarily served as an advisory body with no real power. Decades of the denial of self-government and U.S. citizenship for the CHamoru people (the Indigenous people of Guam) culminated in a walkout of the Guam Congress in 1949. The protest received national recognition and the attention of the White House, resulting in the passage of the Organic Act of Guam in 1950, the establishment of a civil government and the granting of U.S. citizenship to residents of the island. A portrait of the act’s signing hangs in the Guam Congress Building today and serves as a powerful reminder that a small group of committed individuals can change everything.
What skill or talent are you most proud of?
As chief of staff, I pride myself in the ability to make Sen. Torres’ life easier. Whether it’s foreseeing potential obstacles, managing relationships or refining the message, my role is to run the office efficiently so she can focus on the work the people entrusted her to do.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“The only thing new in the world is the history you do not know.” This quote, attributed to President Harry S. Truman, applies to most of the work legislative staffers do, from drafting bills to addressing constituent concerns to dealing with daily crises. It’s a reminder not to waste resources reinventing the wheel; that reflecting on the past can inform better decision-making; and that no matter the problem, someone, somewhere, has dealt with it—and likely overcame. We should take comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone.
Who or what inspires you?
My mother, who raised me to work hard; my father, who taught me to always get back up; and my brilliant husband, who believes in me more than I do myself.
What’s one thing you love about your state/territory?
As a Filipino woman whose family made Guam home over 40 years ago, I’m most thankful for the traditional values of our island community—where mutuality is favored over individualism, respect is bestowed to our elderly and family means more than your immediate relatives. “Inafa’maolek,” which translates as “to make” (inafa’) “good” (maolek), is a system of reciprocity foundational to CHamoru culture. The local concept of giving back for the good of others is what I love most about life on Guam—that and you haven’t lived until you’ve seen our sunset.
What are you currently reading/listening to/watching?
Currently watching “Succession” on HBO, reading anything related to my dissertation, listening to Politicon’s “#SistersInLaw” podcast and, of course, “The Inside Storey,” with NCSL’s Executive Director Tim Storey.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
For its “Staff Snapshots” series, State Legislatures News is asking legislative staff about their role in the legislature. If you’d like to suggest a staffer for this series, please email Holly South at NCSL.