Rankin to stand for Conservatives in Epsom
The Act Party's chance of returning to Parliament at the election is about to be dealt a body blow, with the imminent annoucement by the Conservative Party that chief executive Christine Rankin will contest the Epsom electorate.
NBR ONLINE understands the Conservative Party plans to announce Ms Rankin's candicacy this weekend.
When contacted by NBR ONLINE this morning, Ms Rankin neither confirmed nor denied an Epsom candidacy, simply stating that she had no comment to make.
The high profile, controversial Ms Rankin is likely to pull more traditional centre-right voters in and even if she does not win the seat, will make it much more difficult for Act Party candidate David Seymour to win it.
National's candidate, Paul Goldsmith, is campaigning for the party vote. Earlier this week Prime Minister John Key indicated National would prefer its voters to vote for Mr Seymour in Epsom.
ACT Party president John Thompson says he welcomed Ms Rankin’s addition to the race in Epsom and was happy that she was well enough to run, because he says he remembers that she was not well enough to contest the Upper Harbour electorate seat against National’s Paula Bennett.
“We welcome any Johnny-come-lately, or Joanne-come-lately, into the Epsom race, as David Seymour has already knocked on 10,000 doors,” Mr Thompson says.
While the electorate is, as one of the wealthiest in the country, a long way from swinging behind one of the left wing parties, the advent of the colourful and controversial Ms Rankin will split the liberal-conservative vote and throw the race wide open.
Act is polling at around 1% - a long way from the 5% party vote threshold - and needs the seat to return to Parliament.
The Conservatives are currently polling at 1.6% on the Curia rolling poll of polls. Mr Key earlier this week ruled out supporting the Conservative Party leader, Colin Craig, in the East Coast Bays electorate.
In 2012 Ms Rankin was elected to the Conservative Party board and in May 2013 she took up the role of CEO while still the Families Commissioner; a move that resulted in allegations of conflicts of interest by some Green Party and Labour MPs.
Ms Rankin has courted controversy throughout her public career. She was head of Work and Income New Zealand (WINZ) in the late 1990s where both her management and personal style became embroiled in political conflict.
An expensive “rebranding exercise” of WINZ, which included a $165,000 team building exercise at the Waiariki resort and a boosterish video which included footage of Ms Rankin lined up with photos of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, triggered something of a furore and led to an Auditor Generals’ report which concluded there was a lack of “clear understanding in the department as to what is acceptable expenditure of public money."
Ms Rankin became something of a hate-figure for the incoming Helen Clark-led government in 1999, and her personal style - short skirts and large earrings - also became the subject of much comment.
That led to its own backlash: the Employment Court case, which eventuated when Ms Rankin’s contract was not renewed by the new government, heard how the then Social Welfare Minister, Steve Maharey, had criticised her standard of dress.
There was even a “Christine Rankin Day” in 2001, when women public sector workers (including then-Opposition leader Jenny Shipley) wore short skirts and long dangly earrings.
In 2009 National appointed her to the Families Commission, triggering the resignation of some other commission members who accused her of racism.
More recently she has served as a member of the Waitemata District Health Board.
What do you think? Will Christine Rankin's candidacy derail National's attempt to gift Epsom to ACT? Click here to vote in our subscriber-only business pulse poll.