IT IS hard to believe that the intensity of the 2017 election campaign in Hawke's Bay is a thing of the past and life has gone back to some semblance of normality.
This is a very political region and it showed in the run-up to last weekend's elections.
The regions are a key part of both the major parties' strategy and there was no doubt that the Bay was seen as a battleground. We had a number of Labour Party heavyweights come here, while National leader Bill English visited three times.
After all the talk of some tight races and possibly one or two upsets, the four favourites to get in across our four electorates did so. It was a tough battle and some interesting points of view were raised. Hawke's Bay Today held three candidate debates (Napier, Tukituki and Ikaroa-Rawhiti) and the candidates did a good job in articulating their positions.
We had about 800 people attend the three events and nearly half a million viewed our livestream videos on our Facebook page.
Going into the elections there were a number of theories of how things would play out and being able to analyse the results now has been very interesting.
The way the votes went tells the stories of the campaigns. Napier was always going to be a good one to watch as, for the past three years, it has been a blue electorate with a Labour MP.
In 2014 Labour's Stuart Nash received 15,343 votes to beat the National Party candidate Wayne Walford, who got 11,493. In third place was the Conservative Party's Garth McVicar who received 7603 votes. For the next three years, the theory put out by the National Party was that Mr Walford would have become the MP for Napier if it had not been for Mr McVicar splitting the vote.
Mr Nash's argument has always been that this was not true, because given his strength in law and order, he probably would have grabbed some of Mr McVicar's votes as well.
He was right. The latest election results back this up. Looking through the different polling booths and comparing them with voting patterns from 2014, one can see that Mr McVicar's votes went to both the two top candidates.
An example is the Greenmeadows Girl Guides hall voting booth. In 2014 a total of 1291 people voted there and Mr McVicar received 329 of those votes.
This election Mr Nash increased his vote count from last time by 156 and David Elliott received 181 votes more than Mr Walford did in 2014. This gives you a grand total of 337 votes which is very similar to Mr McVicar's total in 2014.
It is a clear example of how his total last election was neatly divided between the two main candidates this election.
The final Napier result saw Mr Nash (18,407 votes) win by a margin of 4248 over Mr Elliott (14,159 votes). Mr Nash gained 53.3 per cent of the vote (to Mr Elliott's 41 per cent), while the National Party claimed 47.2 per cent of the party vote against Labour's 36.9 per cent.
What this seems to indicate is that the people of Napier view Mr Nash as a very good electorate MP. That blue voters who voted overwhelmingly for the National Party could in even bigger numbers put their tick next to Mr Nash's name shows he must be doing something right.
And he probably is. He showed with the amalgamation debate (of which he was firmly in the no camp) that he was prepared to even go against his party in support of his community.
It probably hasn't helped his cause much among party leadership, but they would have quickly forgiven him for delivering a strong red seat.
The party vote gap from last election to this one did also close, but it still went to National.
But the Napier election was not only about the stoush between Labour and National, it also gave the minor parties a chance to get a profile. The third-placed candidate, the Green Party's Damon Rusden, received 1109 votes and his party got 1632. It was a good result for a very articulate young man whose incredible back story helped him get his message across. Who would not be moved by the story of a single mother raising children while her husband was in prison.
The journey the Tukituki electorate has taken over the last two elections has been exciting for political junkies. National incumbent Craig Foss retained the seat in 2014 with a large (albeit reduced) margin of victory over Labour's Anna Lorck. However, the gap looked like it was closing and Ms Lorck's hard work in the electorate meant that this year's election was going to be very interesting.
Many felt that just as Mr Foss had been able to gobble up a 6410 gap to roll Labour's Rick Barker in 2005, Ms Lorck could do the same to him in 2017. Interestingly, Mr Foss' winning margin over her in 2014 was 6490.
It was understandable that Ms Lorck felt she was in with a chance this time.
The game-changer was Mr Foss's decision to quit politics. Whether he was pushed or went himself, it was probably the right thing for him to do.
It facilitated the entry of Mr Yule to national politics and suddenly made Ms Lorck's job that much tougher.
Mr Yule is a step up from your normal local government politician. His role with Local Government New Zealand has groomed him for higher honours. His connections and access to key figures like the Prime Minister gave him an air of importance on the local stage.
His one Achilles heel was the fact that the Havelock North water crisis happened on his watch as mayor.
It seemed too much baggage even for as skilled a politician as Mr Yule to carry. Also, Ms Lorck had concentrated on winning the Havelock North vote, which traditionally has been the key to winning the seat, along with rural votes.
In Mr Yule's favour was that core voters, the older people, loved him after years of being mayor, while there was a perception that Ms Lorck was not popular with middle-class women in Havelock North.
In the end the fears that there would be a protest Havelock North vote proved baseless with 5386 people in the village (almost the same number who fell ill in August 2016) voting for the former Hastings mayor.
It was a match-winning performance, but Mr Yule also did well in Hastings, probably a benefit from the social-supportive role he played as mayor. He almost certainly did better in lower socio-economic areas than traditional National candidates do.
The surprise of the Tukituki election was the New Zealand First candidate, Joe Kairau, who was a late entrant into the race, but impressed many with his quiet leadership and level-headedness.
Mr Kairau received 1789 votes for himself and 2765 for his party, beating the intellectual Green candidate Chris Perley into third place.
The Maori seat of Ikaroa-Rawhiti requires politicians with special skills to stand simply because it is so vast. Stretching from Gisborne in the north to Lower Hutt and Wainuiomata in the south, it also includes the whole of Hawke's Bay.
It was formed in 1999 and held by the respected Labour Party MP Parekura Horomia until his death in 2013.
A byelection to replace him was held on June 29, 2013 and was won by Labour's Meka Whaitiri, who was re-elected in the 2014 election. This year she was up against the Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox, who she had beaten in 2014.
But this was a different Ms Fox. She had parliamentary experience from being a list MP and also had developed as a leader from being in coalition with the National Party. She was expected to give Ms Whaitiri a run for her money, but not only was she soundly beaten (by 3796 votes), her party was unceremoniously dumped out of Parliament, costing her her list seat in the process.
While the demise of the Maori Party may well be seen as a protest vote over the party's close alliance with the National Party, there is no question that Ms Fox was beaten by a very good candidate. Ms Whaitiri is tireless in her electorate and has a political style that enables her to get things done at grassroots level as well as making a difference in Parliament.
The surprise of the electorate race was the Green Party candidate, the articulate Dr Elizabeth Kerekere from Gisborne, who received 1539 votes (nearly double the Greens' party vote in Ikaroa Rawhiti). She did not really have a chance of getting into Parliament, but could be one to watch in the future. If the Green Party recognises her potential, there is no reason she will not be in Parliament next time as a list MP.
For voters wanting maximum representation, the Wairarapa electorate delivered in spades - three MPs to be exact.
Alastair Scott retained his seat for the National Party despite some murmuring that he would be dumped because he did not live in the region. He beat Labour's Kieran McAnulty by 2746 votes, with the New Zealand First deputy leader Ron Mark coming in third. Both Mr McAnulty and Mr Mark will become list MPs for their respective parties.
The battle between Mr Scott and Mr McAnulty was pretty fierce with barbs being thrown both ways. There had been a feeling that the fresh-faced Mr McAnulty might do it this time (having been beaten in 2014) but the strong National seat of Wairarapa once again retained the incumbent.
One always felt Mr Mark was more concerned with the bigger picture - New Zealand First's party vote - than the electorate. He was probably secure in the knowledge that at number two on the list, he was certain to get in.
While the elections are done and dusted, the machinations over what the next government will look like continue.
It will probably be mid-October before we know whether Labour or National will be in coalition with New Zealand First.
Either way there is some likelihood we will see some of our local MPs feature prominently in the next government.