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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Local Elections 2022October 6, 2022

Farmers, teachers, actors, possum hunters: The many walks of life to local office

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

This year’s local elections are attracting candidates from a wide range of occupations.

A whopping 3,119 different people have put their name forward to run for local office this year across 583 elections. But who are these fearless frontliners? Are certain professions more likely to run than others? Are farmers campaigning for more environmental harmony or less restrictive regulations? 

In search of answers, I dug into the database of candidates running for office around the country. This data isn’t perfect – around half of all candidates have responded to the questionnaire, and most but not all have identified their occupation outside of politics, which have been grouped into categories. Nevertheless, the database does yield some interesting, impressionistic insights about who is running for local office and what drives them.

Professionals and businesspeople dominate

An analysis of candidates’ responses to the questionnaire reveals professionals and business people are the most common categories of occupation among candidates running for election this year. 

To break that down, “professional or manager” is the most prominent with 156 responses, followed by “business owner, businessperson, or self-employed” with 87 responses. In third place, with 77 responses, is “teacher, educator, researcher or academic”.

What’s motivating the major occupations? 

Among businesspeople, the most prominent reason for running is to be a voice for the community – which, to be fair, is a major motivator across most occupations. 

Perhaps contrary to perception, mother nature also ranked highly amongst the suits and entrepreneurs. Concern for the environment, such as action on the climate crisis and preserving ecology, were more common motivations among the business crowd than the more on-brand motivator of infrastructure and economics. 

Teachers and other educators are the third most common occupation overall, but are the second most common occupation running for local boards. Being a voice for the community was also a major motivation for teachers, who seem to place particular weight on being a voice for the marginalised – whether that means being “a voice for the voiceless”, a voice “for those in need” or to represent “voices that are seldom heard”. 

Many teachers also cited climate change or the environment as a motive for standing. These responses were varied, from the urgency of dealing with coastal erosion issues to a mellow promotion of harmony with the natural environment. 

Then there’s farmers the archetypal New Zealand career. Representing rural voices and communities is the most common motivation for those with a farming background. But contrary to city-dwelling, EV-driving perception, the second most cited reason for farmers standing in local elections is the environment. A few cited the value of “freshwater and biodiversity”, others want more action on climate change adaptation.

A third prominent issue in this occupation is economic, including keeping rates down, promoting financial literacy and strategic thinking for the betterment of the local economy.       

Retirees vs students 

While the age of local election candidates tends to skew older, retirees and students are surprisingly equally represented, with 43 candidates describing their occupation as retired and 44 describing themselves as students. 

Around double the number of student candidates mentioned the environment or climate change as a priority than retirees. Among environmental issues, students gave greater precedence to climate change, while retirees emphasised the “natural environment” and caring for lakes and rivers. 

A notably odd mention goes to Miles Stapylton-Smith (retiree), running for Mayor of the Waimakariri District Council, who states “CO2 is the bogeyman but we will die from lack of oxygen long before CO2 is corrected.”

And now the niche

In the nooks and crannies of candidates’ previous occupations, James Sainsbury is a honey bee scientist, running for Matamata-Piako District Council for the humble reason that “Matamata is [his] home and [he wants] it to be a great place to live.” 

Phil Paterson, running for mayor in the Westland District Council cites “possum hunter” as his occupation before politics. Paterson wants to see more accountability from council representatives, particularly in regards to the “aerial poisoning of our environment and the use of 1080.”

Other notable, niche professions include aesthetician, freshwater ecologist, aquafit tutor, boat builder, factotum and motorcycle postie.  

Last but certainly not least, Actor Roy Teweringa Snow is running for Environment Cantebury, with a rich acting resume including Shortland Street, Outrageous Fortune and apparently something called Captain Amazingly Incredible and the Space Vampires from the Evil Planet. After years of “patting [him]self on the back for separating the recycling” Snow says it was time “to actually do something.”

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