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.
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.
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!
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.