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Little fear or loathing on the hustings

There have been claims across New Zealand that the current election campaign is being marred by unusual levels of aggression, including intimidation, physical violence, and break-ins – but local candidates have told the Times-Age their experience has largely been trouble-free in Wairarapa.

Although anecdotal evidence suggests vandalism of campaign hoardings has been widespread, only one candidate reckons there’s been an obvious increase compared to previous elections – with the rest saying their biggest adversary has been the wayward winds.

Labour’s Kieran McAnulty said he’s noticed a larger number of signs being vandalised – and stolen – and that he’s “conscious that it isn’t just us that have been targeted”.

When a sign is stolen – by people or Mother Nature – parties must report the loss to the Electoral Commission, as each sign must be accounted for by midday October 13 when they are required to taken down. McAnulty said stealing a sign is “an utterly pointless exercise.”

Independent candidate Jared Gardner has also noticed many vandalised hoardings and suggested to the Times-Age that signs are easier for constituents to take their frustrations out on if they feel candidates weren’t hearing them.

“My hope is that people have the opportunity to speak with us all in person about their frustrations,” Gardner said.

The Greens’ Celia Wade-Brown, Act’s Simon Casey, NZ Loyal’s Pete Arnott, and National’s Mike Butterick all agree that the wild winds are wreaking the most havoc on campaign signage.

“It has certainly kept our hoardings team busy,” Casey said.

Even though all candidates agree they represent vastly different ideologies, they uniformly report respectful interactions between the competing parties.

Butterick said he is very deliberate in maintaining respect because he acknowledges that all the candidates want to support their wider communities – it’s just that they differ on their preferred pathways for going about it.

“No one would appreciate gutter politics [in Wairarapa],” he said.

Green candidate Celia Wade-Brown said she appreciates incumbent MP McAnulty sharing his knowledge as an MP and minister with fellow candidates.

Although she noted that Wairarapa is “lucky” to have candidates who are respectful of one another as people, Wade-Brown also made clear her respect doesn’t extend to some of the policies they advocate.

“It seems strange that men as apparently pleasant as Mike and Simon endorse the growing inequality our country is suffering from,” she said.

As a political newcomer, Arnott is appreciative of the way his fellow candidates have
been genuinely supportive.

“I hope they have found me to be amicable and respectful as well,” he said.

Arnott recalled an incident after a ‘Meet the Candidate’ evening in Woodville where a man shook his hand and told him that although he disagreed with his policy, he appreciated his attendance and demeanour.

“It is so good to know that people can disagree but still get on,” he said.

McAnulty said he made a conscious effort to approach the other candidates when the electorate list was announced to introduce himself and set a respectful tone for future debates, noting that “I’m all about playing the ball, not the person.”

McAnulty said his campaign team had prepared for “some sort of activity” after he’d received death threats during his term in office, but the campaign has so far been an incident-free success.

“The feedback locally has been really positive,” he said.

Casey said the biggest challenge is the way the size of the Wairarapa region makes engaging with people in remote locations more difficult.

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