Sunday, August 14, 2016

Endorsing around

Most of the time, it seems, we only get to vote for a political candidate who’s merely “okay”, or maybe just “not as bad” as the other one. But, if we’re lucky, sometimes we get to support a candidate enthusiastically. Most of the time, that’s probably from a distance, a politician we don’t actually know. This year, I get the chance to support people I actually know and can enthusiastically support.

Nominations for our local government elections closed on Friday, and among the candidates running for Auckland Council from our ward is my good friend, Richard Hills, who I’ve mentioned a few times in the past. Here’s what I said on Facebook:
I've known Richard for several years now, and I can honestly say he's the Real Deal: Honest, hard working, committed to and passionate about making things better for our communities, and he's relentlessly positive. Those may be rare things in many politicians, but they all describe Richard. I've worked with him on political campaigns and projects in our local community, so I've personally seen all this in action. I'm honoured to count him as a friend, and I couldn't possibly be more enthusiastic about endorsing him for Council.

I hope everyone in North Shore Ward will join in me in helping to elect Richard Hills to Council!
I shared a post Richard had made on Facebook that included the graphic above. He wrote:
Big news. After a lot of discussions and encouragement from across our community, I have decided to stand for the North Shore Ward. I love this place and I want to be a part of positive change for our region, I will continue to advocate for more efficient and affordable public transport, walking and cycling initiatives and Rail to the Shore, parks, sports field and reserve upgrades, and making sure young people have just as much say as everyone else in the decisions for our future. I am excited but I do need your help. Please like my page https://www.facebook.com/RichardHillsCouncil/ and please donate here, anything big or little will make a huge difference. Each billboard costs $40 and $30 is 1000 pamphlets. I would appreciate your support.
I’ve taken part in political campaigns for 40 years this year, and I supported candidates even before that. But most of the times I’ve been able to cast a vote for a friend, it’s been here in New Zealand.

Richard’s also seeking re-election to the Kaipātiki Local Board (campaign graphic at right), a position he’ll have to forfeit if he is elected to Council, and two of his running mates on the Kaipātiki Voice ticket this year (Ann Hartley and Lindsay Waugh) are also friends I can enthusiastically support, so I’m really lucky. I said on Facebook about them: “The entire team has done a great job, and I'm sure the five of them will do even more great things for the Kaipātiki community in the next term,” though, as I said, if Richard is elected to Council, he can’t serve on the Local Board, so there will be four of them.

Here in New Zealand, with politics that are far less detached and formal than in the USA, it’s not hard for someone to get to know a politician personally, or to become friends with them—even politicians with a national profile. It’s one of the things I truly love about this country.

And so, because of the informal nature of New Zealand politics, when I used the word “endorsing” in my Facebook post, I was really being a bit playful, not just because ordinary people like me making “endorsements” is kind of unimportant, but especially because that’s not really a thing in New Zealand. In the USA, who does (or does not) endorse a candidate is treated like news, with journalists turning in numerous stories about politicians not endorsing other politicians, or not rescinding such endorsements when they’re provoked.

In the USA, it’s expected that high-profile politicians will receive endorsements from politicians and famous people, including celebrities, all of whom may be transferring some of their aura onto their chosen candidate—though some clearly want to get some of the politician’s. We just don’t have that in New Zealand.

In this country, newspapers don’t make political endorsements, and it’s a given that national politicians support others of their party (or remain silent) because of party discipline central to the Westminster-style system of parliamentary democracy. In local races, where the national parties barely compete (if at all), prominent members of a community will sometimes band together as supporters of a candidate, but even that’s pretty rare.

In New Zealand, politics on the local level is mainly personal—who voters know or, at the very least, have heard of. Personal recommendations can matter, but real endorsements of the type Americans are so familiar with are pretty rare.

So, by using an unusual word, I was kind of hoping to subtly underscore my message. Because this year, I get the chance to support folks I actually know and can enthusiastically support. I hope my fellow voters will join me in voting for my friends, because they truly deserve our votes.

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