By HELEN TUNNAH and JULIET ROWAN
The principal of New Zealand's largest high school is the new National Party candidate for the Tamaki electorate.
Allan Peachey, head of Rangitoto College in Mairangi Bay, last night scored a decisive victory against four rivals vying to replace sitting MP Clem Simich, who has decided to step aside and run as a list-only candidate at the next election.
Sixty party delegates gathered to poll for as long as it took for one of the candidates to gather 31 votes.
Mr Peachey, 54, surprised party leaders by winning a majority on the first ballot.
The main competition for the Mairangi Bay resident came from National's second-most-senior official, Scott Simpson, the party's northern regional chairman.
The ballot was only the second selection meeting for National in Tamaki since former Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon was selected in 1960.
Mr Simich beat former All Black captain David Kirk for the nomination, on the third ballot, before the 1992 byelection.
Mr Peachey said he was surprised to win on the first ballot but believed his experience and views on education had struck a chord with party members.
He said it was time to get rid of the Education Review Office and a "compliance-driven mentality" in schools.
Mr Simpson said he was disappointed to lose but would give his full support to Mr Peachey.
"I remain as committed as ever to changing the Government," he said.
Mr Simich, faced with a challenge for the Tamaki nomination, had agreed to a deal with the party hierarchy which assured him of a high list ranking, and the Speaker's nomination should National lead the next government.
It had been hoped that easing Mr Simich out might have avoided a messy internal scrap for the prized seat.
However, the deal has seen Mr Simich face criticism from party members in Tamaki, who have accused him of abandoning them.
It also sparked critics of Mr Simpson to question whether National's senior Auckland official knew about, or even encouraged, a challenge to Mr Simich to open up the seat for his own ambitions.
Mr Simpson has always denied that, and said he would never have put his name forward if Mr Simich had remained a contender.
Mr Peachey is a relatively new National member, having joined in time for the last election when he was awarded what had been assumed was an electable ranking of 18 on the party list.
However National's dismal election showing meant he missed out on a list seat in Parliament.
It is understood Mr Simich's supporters in Tamaki had supported Mr Peachey over Mr Simpson.
The other candidates in last night's race were Dr Jonathan Coleman, Automobile Association executive Stephen Selwood, and Margaret Voyce, a telecommunications account manager.
Mr Simich retained the seat ahead of Labour candidate Leila Boyle last election by just 1207 votes.