With a return of voting papers that slightly exceeded 2007, voters in Hawke’s Bay opted for business as usual in the recent local body elections.

Across the four governing bodies covered by BayBuzz — Hastings Council, Napier City Council, Regional Council and District Health Board — the voting results were, not surprisingly, a reflection of the power of incumbency. That is the main story of this election.

From those four bodies, only six incumbents out of forty-four officeholders chose not to seek re-election. Of the thirty-eight who did seek re-election, only two were defeated – Mandy Kimber in Havelock North and Anne Wilson-Hunt in Hastings.

As we’ve noted before, the incumbents – some of whom have served 9, 12, or 15 years – have all the advantages going into an election campaign. They’ve had heaps of media exposure over their years, pictures of their faces smiling at us regularly in official Council publications and websites, rivers of Council-issued media releases, invitations to all the “be seen” events … and even plenty of time to actually have accomplished something for which they might deserve public acclaim.

Consequently, it’s a heavy lift to unseat an incumbent … and most of us who tried to do so failed.

Here are some implications.

Regional Council

In my own favorite sandbox, the Regional Council, each incumbent sought re-election and none was defeated. At first glance, the simple conclusion is that the status quo prevailed. But while true, that interpretation can be a bit simplistic.

Looking more closely, for example at the Hastings constituency of the Regional Council, the “old guard” of von Dadelszen, Rose and McGregor collectively won 30,153 ticks. An alternative trio, one incumbent and two challengers — Remmerswaal, Douglas and Belford  — who share similar views on the environment that differ markedly from the old crew, won 28,308 ticks.

Indeed the biggest gainer of votes of all the incumbents, receiving 3,381 more votes in 2010 than in 2007, was Liz Remmerswaal. Liz is the “purest” environmentalist of the HBRC lot … the kind Ewan McGregor likes to call ‘environmental fundamentalists’. If her vote isn’t an endorsement of staunch, “heart on your sleeve” environmentalism, what is it?!

Those 1,845 ticks separating the two “camps” (out of nearly 60,000 votes cast) will amount to a world of difference in the direction the Regional Council will now take!

Without question, there are two hugely different voting blocks out there in the Hastings constituency when it comes to how the Regional Council should pursue its mission. They are quite evenly matched at present. But, unfortunately, elections are “winner take all” and consequently what Hawke’s Bay will get from the HBRC is three more years of faint-hearted stewardship of our environment and stale thinking about regional economic development.

Now that the old guard has weathered the election, they’ve already fallen upon one another, replacing Alan Dick as chairman in a palace coup with compromise chairman Wairoa’s Fenton Wilson, just elected to his first full term. Voting to depose Dick were Councillors von Dadelszen, Rose, Scott, Gilbertson and Wilson; voting to restore Dick were Councillors Remmerswaal, Kirton, McGregor and Dick. Read the gory story on page 3.

I see three implications.

First, hopefully Wilson, as the Council’s newest member, and the one with the least baggage, will rise to the occasion and emerge as HBRC’s “Great Peacemaker”, suppressing the internal conflict that has plagued the Council.

Second, with the Regional Council’s role under challenge from many directions, the new chairman will need to tune up his political game to protect the Council’s prerogatives … something Alan Dick did well.

Finally, some of the disaffection with the Dick regime stemmed from a belief that his plans for the Regional Council were too grandiose and expansionist. We might see a turn “back to the basics” under Wilson’s guidance.

Hastings Council

HDC will see the most new blood, with Sandra Hazlehurst, Simon Nixon, John Roil, Jacoby Poulain, Ru Collin and Scott Henderson joining the table. With some of these newbies, the verdict must be awaited as to whether fresh blood translates into fresh or independent perspective.

Lawrence Yule slid backwards a bit from 2007, from winning 55.2% of the vote in 2007 to a slightly less 53.8% in 2010. I suspect the Mayor would have liked a stronger mandate for his last term in office. But as with the Regional Council outcome, there seems to be a fairly entrenched opposition to the Yule regime, capable of delivering 46.2% of the vote against a very accomplished and long-serving politician.

Still, even on a bad day, the Mayor can probably count on seven reliable pocket votes in support of his agenda without breaking a sweat. He should have plenty of latitude to work on amalgamation!

Napier Council

Queen Barbara I still reigns, although now with a ‘mere’ 75% of the vote, down nearly ten-points from 2007. And no incumbent Councillor was defeated.

Anyone looking to averting sheer boredom over the next three years — let alone any change of direction – will need to pin their hopes on two factors. One, the team of Michelle Pyke and Maxine Boag might gain some traction with a “social conscience” agenda for the city. At least they can second one another’s motions, forcing an occasional vote on important issues.

And two, the jockeying (rumblings already) for a successor to the Queen, who — once again — has said this campaign will be her last. At least one candidate will emerge from the councillor ranks who wants simply to carry Barbara’s torch forward, and maybe another will put more distance between himself and the current regime, while outsiders will be promising some new thinking (and perhaps a new Chief Executive).

District Health Board

They’re now elected again, with the able Kevin Atkinson once more the top vote-getter. Only one new face here, Kirsten Wise, replacing the departing David Ritchie.

Nothing but huge challenges ahead for this elected group … and the handful of appointees the Health Minister will now add to the mix. Burgeoning health care needs and costs … versus curtailed funding.

But first, the big decision to be made is who will chair the DHB. By any rationale, the leadership post should go to Kevin Atkinson … he has the confidence of the community, deep knowledge of the issues, and he’s no pushover for a determined staff bureaucracy. It’s now up to the Bay’s National MPs to secure that result for the people of Hawke’s Bay.

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4 Comments

  1. I think I agree with Toms view of “The Power of Incumbency” rather than Katies view. I don’t think many voters have a handle on issues at all but go for names they recognise. Reward for good work! I think not.

  2. Having just read your November edition, giving extensive coverage to the recent elections, I wish to challenge you on two counts: the power of incumbency and the future direction of the Napier City Council.

    The Power of Incumbency….as you call it.

    You are correct….a significant feature of the elections was the return of all the DHB sitting members, all the HBRC sitting members and all the Napier City Council sitting members….an indication to me that the voters are happy with the work being done by those members and a wish for the continuation of that work.

    In Napier, the only call for change I heard on the hustings was that being uttered by the challengers who wanted to see a change that would place them on the Council. It did not appear that there was a mood to remove anyone (as has been the case in the past when there was a perception of in-fighting and disharmony) and the result was that only the seat vacated by Harry Lawson was available for a new-comer.

    You also bemoan the fact, by implication, that you were not voted for because you were not someone’s “nephew, their doctor’s spouse, their old school or sport mate, a fellow parishioner, or from a multi-generational Hawkes Bay family.” May I suggest that the truth is more likely that just not enough people knew you….despite your access to endless publicity via Baybuzz.

    There is a maxim that says that you have to play more than one good game to make the All Blacks, so you should have to play more than one bad game to be dropped. I suggest that thought is applicable to elections. Candidates (and their good works and experience) have to be known in the community by sufficient numbers to be recommended to friends and workmates over smoko or latte, for that endorsement to be translated into votes. People who put in the hours and mileage knocking on doors also benefit from the personal contact. Recent Napier City Council history shows that even if you convince enough people to vote for you, if you don’t deliver a steady, competent performance as a team member, you won’t be re-elected.

    The Future Direction of the Napier City Council.

    You contend that the impact of new councillor Michelle Pyke, and jockeying for the future mayoralty will be the only thing to keep us all awake.

    Clearly you did not attend the swearing in ceremony last Wednesday or even read the agenda for that meeting. If you had been there you would have heard the Mayor outline the work programme for the next three years and you would have seen the Council adopt a radical new committee structure and a complete shake-up of the chairmanships of those committees. Barely a committee retains its previous name and all have new terms of reference. Senior councillors have stood aside to allow less experienced councillors to have a shot at leadership.

    We could have retained the same committees and chairs and chugged along in comfort for the next three years, somehow finding a slot for the new councillor.

    Instead, we recognise the need for continual innovation and forward thinking to keep us all on our toes, inject some vibrancy and new thinking into our work and lay a foundation for the future.

    It’s not too late to ring the Council for an agenda so you can update yourself on the new structure, voted for unanimously. You might like to also take note of the meeting times for the first round so that you can be there in person and experience a council working together without the infighting you have witnessed elsewhere.

  3. Tom you are unbelievable! Fancy making such a statement that Lawrence slid backwards from 2007 in terms of proportion of the vote.

    What about the fact that Lawrence actually got over 500 more votes this time round than he did in 2007? Contenders Nixon and Nee Harland got over 1,2oo less votes between them and there was a new contender this year, Des who took some 2,000 odd votes.

    Over 1,500 more people voted this time round and mostly for Lawrence.

    Don't underestimate the intelligence of most of the idiots who contribute to this forum. It's not hard maths!

    Your sour grapes are turning into bitter raisens.

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