Quiet confidence Fox's trademark

By Greg Taipari

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During the general election build-up this month, Hawke’s Bay Today is spending time with candidates on the campaign trail. Chief reporter Greg Taipari talks to the Maori Party’s Ikaroa Rawhiti candidate, Marama Fox.

Marama Fox and her mother, Frances Reiri-Smith, at Choices in Hastings yesterday. Photo / Glenn Taylor
Marama Fox and her mother, Frances Reiri-Smith, at Choices in Hastings yesterday. Photo / Glenn Taylor

If Maori Party candidate Marama Fox could choose a super power it would be mind control.

"It would be because the thing that holds our people back more than anything else, is your own self-doubt.

"Hine Waitere [senior lecturer at Massey University] always said 'success comes in cans. I can, and one of the things that holds us back is the belief that I can't'."

With Ikaroa Rawhiti covering the east coast from Gisborne down to Wellington. I would have thought super speed would have been her choice considering she has to travel so much.

The mother of nine children and grandmother of two, has spent only four days at her Wairarapa home in the past two weeks.

"I've got a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old who want to sleep with me whenever I'm home and if they are awake when I leave then they are hanging on to me as I'm walking out the door.

"I think it's a short time that I need to concentrate on doing this [campaigning] and I've had nine children ... I had a husband off working and I was working as well but the kids came with me."

When I managed to track Mrs Fox down she was on a treadmill at the gym, Hikoi 4 Life, in Hastings.

The 44-year-old who has had bariatric surgery (weight-loss surgery) has lost 50kg since the procedure but admits it's the first exercise she's had since campaigning started.

Despite the lack of exercise she hardly skips a beat or breath while she meets and greets those also exercising around her.

As people walk into the gym she is quick to spot them and makes sure she offers a friendly welcome.

She's a popular figure and it seems easy for her to strike up a conversation and make people feel comfortable and that their views matter to her.

She is an unassuming woman, especially when it comes to her media commitments. The obligatory picture is taken and she is almost embarrassed that she has a little lippy on.

"I don't normally wear lipstick but my team insisted," she says.

Her campaign team are nearby, a well-drilled, almost military-like group of three, consisting of her campaign manager, Hastings' Lynlee Aitcheson, and her mother Frances Reiri-Smith and sister Kim Smith. They are constantly keeping the cogs turning.

Like their candidate, they are loyal and dedicated. Her 70-year-old mother has just spent 14 hours behind the wheel of the car getting her daughter to her many appointments.

"It's all about whanau and we are tight and always ready to support one another."

Mrs Fox is quick to tell anyone willing to listen why she should be the MP for Ikaroa Rawhiti.

"[Maori] have been legislated against ... for 170 years, through the Native Schools Act, through the Tohunga Suppression Act, through land leases, where they didn't pay leases to land owners. Forcing them into poverty.

"Poverty is nothing new to [Maori]. So I think the biggest thing, though, that I think about is the poverty of the mind."

Her message appears well received with listeners nodding their approval and one gym member saying: "That's why I'm voting for her".

Being ranked number two on her party's list you'd have to think she has a good chance of becoming an MP as well as being one of the party's co-leaders; something she has considered.

"I'd absolutely be comfortable with it - if I was honoured by being put forward as co-leader.

"But we can't even look at that until we win a seat," Mrs Fox said.

"The next [few] days, I have to concentrate on winning this seat. I really think I'm the best candidate for this seat."

But for now it's about listening to the people. One of those people is Hikoi 4 Life gym owner Les Hokianga who is impressed with Mrs Fox and what she could bring to the region.

"[She can] provide the leadership for what's going to happen at the top table, so to speak. So they can find ways to support [Maori] in terms of infrastructure and supporting other things like mentoring our whanau."

After her visit to the gym, Mrs Fox did a live broadcast for Radio Kahungunu before heading to Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga where she talked to about 60 elderly people.

She is happy to tell the voters why it's important to have her party in Government.

"It's about being independent, not co-dependent on welfare, driven thinking and mindsets. Yes, we need to protect and uplift the very desperate and the very needy.

"But we also need to be aspirational to change the state of the nation. To change the way we live.

"I think the Maori Party absolutely focus on that."

As the afternoon moves on, her team are already thinking about her next appointment, a debate in Gisborne, as well as planning a trip to Auckland for a debate on Maori TV's Native Affairs.

It looks like another night away from home but those are the sacrifices you make if you want to make a difference.

Vital Statistics

• Marama Fox, 44
• Maori Party candidate
• First-time candidate

- Hawkes Bay Today

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