Politics 2013 is already getting quite complicated for the casual bystander. A stunning retirement in Napier. Continuing meltdown at the Regional Council. Boundary realignment in Hastings. Wairoa and CHB – everyone, for that matter – dancing around the amalgamation issue.
A big chunk of the population seems to think that reorganisation doesn’t matter, especially if the same folks get re-elected.
Another big chunk says it doesn’t matter who gets elected, ‘they’re all the same’ anyway (which generally seems to translate to: oblivious to ratepayers or uninspiring). So many of that group, about 56% of all HB electors in 2010, don’t bother voting at all).
Here’s one view of the Hawke’s Bay political landscape, circa May.
Napier has been in a deep political stupor, given the dominance of Mayor Arnott, apart from the occasional anti-amalgamation burp from Councillor Dalton and the ‘will he or won’t he’ mayoral flirtations of Stuart Nash. With Nash re-declaring his parliamentary ambitions, we had all settled down for a long winter’s nap.
But then the Mayor dropped ice cubes down everyone’s back by announcing her electoral retirement. And now candidates are proliferating.
As I write, Councillor and previous mayoral candidate Michelle Pyke (4,476 votes to Arnott’s 13,515 in 2010) and Councillor John Cocking have indicated an intention to stand for mayor. Lawyer and Business Hawke’s Bay chairman Stuart McLauchlan is considering the run. And Councillor Dalton can’t be far behind, no doubt claiming ‘public clamour’ to do so.
Many Napier business leaders stoutly criticise the Arnott/CEO Taylor regime behind closed doors, and both Cocking and Dalton would be perceived as representing ‘business as usual’. If McLauchlan enters the race, he would be the most likely favourite of the business community.
While there are many unhappy with ‘business as usual’ in Napier local government, that discontent does not necessarily translate into support for reorganisation. McLauchlan, as a founding member of pro-amalgamation A Better Hawke’s Bay, would need to overcome amalgamation resistance.
In a scenario where there might be several candidates vying for 20,000 or so votes – Cocking and Dalton (business as usual), Pyke (protest vote), and McLauchlan (‘fresh face’ but pro-amalgamation) voice – who might win?
I haven’t a clue, but the winner – lucky indeed to win 40% of the votes – may have little or no clear mandate.
The big non-surprise in Hastings is that Lawrence Yule is standing for a fifth term as mayor. Talk about playing it safe! In my book, a missed opportunity to shed his Hastings focus and baggage, and instead of assigning CBD parking spaces, articulate the regional vision he insists must inspire amalgamation.
So the only issue in Hastings is who gets to lose to Yule. For whatever reason, Councillor Simon Nixon is determined to prove he can lose three times, instead of graciously passing the baton to Councillor Wayne Bradshaw, who might prove equally un-electable, but as an independent voice and community do-er deserves a clean shot at the post.
Collapsing of the presently separate Havelock North and Hastings wards into one ward throws seven incumbents (Councillor Margaret Twigg not standing) into one pot, vying for eight seats in an area that holds 58% of the entire district’s population. If they compete for council seats, this will present a challenge to Councillors Bradshaw and Henderson, who previously ran in a much smaller Havelock North ward.
The unknown variable in Hastings in 2013 will be the fluoride ballot measure. There’s no doubt that a fervent constituency wants fluoride removed from Hastings drinking water, and they will turn out their vote. For many of those voters, candidates’ positions on the referendum will be defining – i.e., they will vote against pro-fluoride candidates. How many of these ‘anti-fluoridistas’ are there?!
I suspect some interested party will commission a professional survey on this issue before election time!
During the last campaign, Regional Councillors Kevin Rose and Christine Scott declared their 2010 races to be their final ones. Watch for memory loss in both cases. Councillor Liz Remmerswaal has indicated she will not stand again. Councillor Tim Gilbertson has been coy about his re-election plans, sometimes suggesting that two new children might be enough to keep him busy.
But most likely, we’re looking at 8 out of 9 regional councillors seeking re-election.
Those incumbent councillors will probably face the toughest challenges of any races in Hawke’s Bay in 2013. Here is a group embarrassed most recently by:
- A leaky roof on its headquarters building, costing $2 million to repair;
- Dead dogs after exposure to the Tukituki, with hazardous health (human & animal) warnings posted along the river;
- Still polluting poo ponds in Waipukurau and Waipawa;
- A deteriorating relationship with the region’s primary iwi, Ngãti Kahungunu;
- Directors of its holding company seeking major increases in fees, on the back of ‘recommendations’ not reviewed by HBRC’s chief financial officer (despite his signature appearing on the recommendation memo);
- A webcasting system that fails to record the meeting where the directors’ fees debacle occurs.
All on top of public alarm at the council’s speed, lack of informed consultation and – given the above circumstances – perhaps competence to manage its $600 million dam scheme.
A number of challengers are tipped to stand against the HBRC incumbents – myself, Pauline Elliott of Transparent Hawke’s Bay, Chris Perley (former HBRC employee specializing in land use), and Paul Bailey of the Green Party. All of these are outspoken critics of the HBRC’s handling of the dam process. No doubt other contenders will put themselves forward.
Amalgamation adds a twist
Cross-cutting all the more council-specific issues and personality politics in the region is the issue of amalgamation.
Polling conducted by A Better Hawke’s Bay (ABHB) indicates that voter majorities in Napier, Hastings, CHB and Wairoa favor some form of reorganisation. But until the Local Government Commission (LGC) puts forward a ‘preferred alternative’ (to the status quo) around the end of June, it is difficult to gauge where the public might stand, or how their views might shift as candidates and lobby groups like ABHB and DAD (Dedicated and Democratic HB) make their cases.
Importantly, although the ABHB ‘One Council’ proposal has been accepted by the LGC as a starting point, it is only the starting point. Other alternatives will be considered by the Commission, including the ‘Super-sized’ Regional Council, extending from Wairoa to the Wairarapa, that sprang un-researched from the head of HBRC Chairman Fenton Wilson, if it survives final HBRC consideration.
The Hastings Council has offered an alternative based on the ABHB plan, but with two more councillors representing rural areas around Hastings and Napier. Its plan (18 councillors in total), endorsing ABHB’s recommendation of two seats for CHB and Wairoa, is an attempt to strengthen the case for rural representation, given the importance of the region’s farming economy.
Anti-amalgamation forces centered in Napier have yet to propose an alternative. With a majority of CHB councillors favouring some form of reorganisation, Mayor Peter Butler says he will personally propose that the LGC retain the status quo. The Wairoa Council may propose simply that they be left out of any amalgamation. These and any other parties must have acted by 3 May.
By July, the LGC will eventually proffer whatever plan it deems best for initial public consultation in Hawke’s Bay. Then the gloves will come off! The public will debate the LGC’s preferred alternative, then by early September the LGC will notify its official recommendation, and the debate will carry on through the election campaign window.
Surely, each candidate in Hawke’s Bay in 2013 will be expected to have a view on amalgamation – the LGC’s preferred alternative versus the status quo. Which raises the prospect of candidate tickets.
At least two groups have been discussing formation of candidate tickets for 2013 – A Better Hawke’s Bay, focused on amalgamation; and Fresh Thinking, defined by a statement of core values.
If an ABHB ticket emerges, its candidates will be united by their pro-amalgamation stance, whatever else they individually espouse. Presumably, such candidates would be recruited to some extent for each council.
Fresh Thinking has embraced more of a ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ approach. This group has developed a one-page manifesto, framed around values like sustainability, resilience, inter-generational responsibility, openness, diversity, equity, and integrity. Candidates who embrace these values would be suitable ‘Fresh Thinking’ candidates.
The difficulty with this approach is that it may be virtually impossible to find a candidate – including every incumbent officeholder in Hawke’s Bay – who does not profess to share these values. The one thing a ticket must do is clearly differentiate its candidates from ‘the others’.
That said, Fresh Thinking will prove valuable if it can marshal and target resources – people power for door-knocking, signage, social media buzz, money – in support of at least some candidates.
Apart from these two groups, those candidates especially focused on environmental issues will most likely pool resources and outreach efforts as well. They will advance a common message that more specifically points out the failures and misdirection of the Regional Council and its incumbents.
More clarity around who is standing will soon emerge. In the next edition of BayBuzz, we’ll tackle the questions: Is change seriously in the air? Can it be delivered by the same faces getting re-elected again?
For more information:
A Better Hawke’s Bay
Fresh Thinking HB: