In the first of a series of chats with political candidates over a pint at the pub, reporter Jono Galuszka gets to know more about the Hawke’s Bay entrepeneur aiming to turn Palmerston North blue.
It is always tough being the new person in town.
But, as Adrienne Pierce has found, being accused of theft is a sure-fire way to make things a bit more awkward.
She says she was out talking to a businessman about putting an election hoarding up on his property when it happened.
“He said ‘I know you. I had an employee and you stole her from me’,” she says.
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The fact she still managed to get the sign up could bode well for her in her quest to make it to Parliament in September on a National Party ticket.
She will need every piece of good news along the way. Her ranking would require National to poll well above 50 per cent – something that has not happened in the history of MMP in New Zealand – for her to get in on the list.
That leaves winning the Palmerston North electorate as her most likely path to Parliament.
Doing so would require unseating Labour’s Iain Lees-Galloway, who has held the Palmerston North seat for the past three terms, most recently fending off Jono Naylor, who was the city’s mayor when the pair battled in 2014.
And if coping with all that is not hard enough, Pierce has to struggle with the fact almost no-one in Palmerston North had heard of her before she was announced as National’s candidate.
She was a councillor for the Hastings District Council before she threw her name into the hat to run for National. She actually threw her name in for the Tukituki nomination and lost that to Hasting mayor Lawrence Yule.
She is not taking the approach of staying at home and travelling to where they might win a seat. Instead, she and her husband Alan have bought a house in Palmerston North, with Alan taking up a job with a legal firm.
“I’m in a big job application process at the moment,” Pierce says.
Applying for jobs has not been a big feature of Pierce’s career for some time. A nurse by trade, she is best known as an entrepeneur – starting, building and selling three businesses to date.
But her path from nurse to business builder was not an easy one, coming after she moved to Hawke’s Bay and her previous marriage ended.
“I had two little boys and I was on the DPB for one year.”
A “be your own boss” course with the local YMCA resulted in her starting Bay Nursing Network, which placed nurses in private homes and rest homes in the region.
Doing this while looking after two young boys saw Pierce employ some creative methods to keep family life moving along.
“I paid my sons directors fees, $100 a month. I needed them to help me so they had to do chores and get themselves off to school.”
After selling Bay Nursing Network, Pierce went on to found early childhood education provider Porse and business administration service SMART, turning her hand to politics in Hastings during that time.
“In 2011, my husband said to me ‘are you going to do anything about this central government thing?’,” she says.
A spending project in Hastings got her involved in council politics, while she also joined National’s candidates college and helped retiring Tukituki MP Craig Foss with his campaigning.
But the big difference this time around is being an outsider. Pierce, however, sees it as a positive.
“Experience is great, but my enthusiasm is as well.
“Sometimes, because you haven’t being in the game for too long, you can actually be more flexible. You’re not locked into a particular way of thinking. You’re more questioning.
“If you’ve been there a long time you possibly know all the answers – or think you do.”
But that line of thinking does not apply when she talks about National. Some have accused the party of getting third term-itis, but Pierce says the party has the country going in the right direction, economically.
“They’re an aspirational party. They’re always positive and always have stuff going on, which I find exciting.”
She also sees Palmerston North as a “bubbling economic powerhouse”, ready to kick off if it gets the right investment.
“It has been a quiet thing, but if I’ve got anything to do with it it’ll be a lot louder.”
It is something she is making part of her pitch as she aims to overcome the 2212-vote deficit Naylor conceded to Lees-Galloway in 2014.
“Let’s hope Palmerstonians will be thinking ‘let’s have someone in the conversation and not out of the conversation’.
“Being at the table is the most important thing.”