Pugh awaits National Party nod

By Laura Mills and Brendon McMahon

Prospective National Party candidate Maureen Pugh’s main rival says the Westland ratepayers — saddled with
$15.5 million of debt and the highest rate rise in New Zealand — would be the best to judge her merits.
Mrs Pugh, who stepped down last month as Westland mayor, is the only name in the hat for the National Party nomination for the West Coast-Tasman electorate.
The party’s West Coast-Tasman division chairman Andy Thompson confirmed late yesterday that Mrs Pugh’s application for nomination as a candidate — with the notified retirement of list MP Chris Auchinvole — had been accepted at a pre-selection electorate committee meeting in Nelson.
She would still have to undergo a formal vote by eligible party members on December 14, but as National’s formal candidate application and pre-selection process had now closed, Mrs Pugh’s name was effectively the only one on the hustings, he said.
Even if she does win the party’s confidence as the National Party candidate, that would not put her in Parliament unless she beats Labour’s Damien O’Connor, who holds the West Coast-Tasman seat, or is accepted and floats high on the party list to become a list MP.
Mr O’Connor, now in his 20th year in Parliament, said today he had faced a range of opponents and candidates over the years, and had respected them all.
Asked to rate Mrs Pugh as a rival candidate, he said: “The best people to ask are the ratepayers of Hokitika.”
Green Party list MP Kevin Hague, who chases the party vote, not the seat, said rather than the person, it was more a question of the National Party’s record and policies.
“Essentially, it’s been terrible for New Zealand. It doesn’t matter who’s on the stage.”
When asked about the Westland council debt, Mr Hague said National represented itself as the party that could handle the economy, but in reality, that was a “superficial image”.
Mr Thompson said Mrs Pugh was the only candidate at the moment, but she still had to be selected or voted on by the members.
She would now appear before three meet-the-candidate meetings for the party to be staged throughout the electorate — in Westland-Grey, Motueka and Murchison — before a secret ballot of members after the Murchison meeting, on December 14.
“We are very, very pleased to have Maureen put her name forward,” he said.
“The committee was very pleased with her nomination and very impressed with her presentation and we had no hesitation in sending her forward.”
Mr Thompson said the party’s candidate application and pre-selection process was rigorous and conducted by a sub-committee within the electorate, and decided upon at its annual conference.
“There is no outside interference — the members get to have the say.”
Mrs Pugh herself said she could not make any comment at this stage.
Mr Thompson confirmed that the party rules around selection prevented any candidate from making public statements until the final vote was held.
Mr Auchinvole, who is retiring, also could not comment but said he would once the selection process was over.