Parekura Horomia had a big heart – both literally, and symbolically. The most common word I am reading in the tributes about him was kind, and I think that is a good description of him. He was not a mean person.
My abiding memory of him will be the televised Ikaroa-Rawhiti debate between him and Derek Fox in 2008. Cam Slater and I were in the audience up in Gisborne for it, as part of our blogmobile tour.
The hall was packed. Around 300 people I’d say. And it was a debate unlike any other I had been to. The questions from the audience were not over what we may call the big issues, but on very real local issues such as school bus routes, local housing developments and the like. All too often politics is about abstract policies, and questions in debates comes from party activists, rather than genuine constituents. It was, as I said, a very good debate.
What most struck me was the closing statements. Derek (the) Fox is an accomplished politician and speaker. He got up and flayed Labour’s record, and Parekura’s record. It was a brutal devastating indictment of their time in office.
The response from Parekura was a real contrast. He spent probably most of his speech greeting the various audience members by name, citing their children, what schools they are at, what he had done for those schools or communities and just connected to the audience is a very real way. Finally he declared that not only were post of the audience part of his extended whanau, even Derek was his cousin and he loved his cousin even when he was trying to take the seat off him and that Derek was a good man.
Parekura was the winner of the debate, and of the election. It was a good reminder that politics is about more than just policies and politics, but can be very much about people at the individual level, not as abstract statistics.
The other abiding memory of that debate, was the almost comical seating arrangements. There were no tables and no chairs. The two debaters just had a tiny stool to sit on, on the large stage.
Now Derek came out, and just sat on his stool. then Parekura came out and saw the stool, and paused. You could almost see what he was thinking – his face had a “You must be kidding” look on it. As there was no alternative, he moved in front of the stool and sort of reversed onto it in a scene akin to a large truck trying to park. Then as he lowered himself onto it, the entire room was collectively holding its breath. The old saying that you could have heard a pin drop, was in play. As he sat on the stool, you saw it buckle but then everyone exhaled as it held up.
It was a comic moment, and I recall him laughing about it at the after debate drinks in the pub across the road.
I don’t think Parekura will go down in history as one of the more effective Ministers, but he was a very decent man who cared greatly for his constituents and for Maoridom. He was the most well known Labour Maori MP, and his death will leave a big hole for them – both personally and politically.
He is the third MP to die in office, since MMP came in. Green List MP Rod Donald died just after the 2005 general election aged 48, and National Tamaki MP Allan Peachey died of cancer just before the 2011 general election, aged 62.
There will of course be a by-election now in Ikaroa-Rawhiti. I’ll focus on that in a later post. For now, my thoughts are with those who were close to Parekura. He was a popular member of Labour’s caucus, and this will be a very sad time for them.