By Graham Skellern
Larry Baldock feels right at home as he strolls the Greerton Village shopping centre handing out the latest United Future booklet entitled Strong Families, Strong Country.
Baldock, 51, is Tauranga's only home-grown sitting MP. He grew up just down the road in Gate Pa and now lives on the other side of Greerton Village in the more affluent Pyes Pa.
The hard-working United Future List MP is walking his neck of the woods to spread the party policies and message.
Number five on the party list - he's been promoted from number seven - Baldock needs to get as many votes as he can for United Future to make sure he gets another term in Parliament. Or as he puts it: "So I can go back to work."
Baldock strikes up a conversation with Bob Humphries in the Minuteman Shoe Repairs shop. "I recognise you," says Mr Humphries, "it's going to be an interesting election." A studious Baldock replies: "So much can happen in the last two weeks ... the polls are flipping all over the place. Give me your party vote - we can work with either party that is in power."
Baldock tries to hurry me along as I ask Mr Humphries about the electorate vote. "I voted a couple of times for Winston Peters but I'll probably vote National this time. I'm picking Winston will struggle to get Tauranga ... who knows whether Bob Clarkson will be any good but so many people will vote for him because of what he's done with the stadium. Maybe we are due for a change," Mr Humphries says.
We pop next door to the Oasis Beauty and Snipz, Baldock's hairdresser. "You can get a $12 haircut here, you don't need an appointment and they do a good job."
He tells me the business was started by an immigrant from Prague.
"She's a very clever lady and Barbara (Baldock's wife) and I struck up a strong friendship."
We are now in Westend Dry Cleaners where Baldock brings his suits. He asks manageress Fay Cleave what she thinks about the election race.
"It's very close and there are some dirty tactics," she says.
Baldock replies: "I find it surprising when people think I'm attacking Winston. I've watched him in Parliament for three years and all I'm saying is what he does. I'm just telling the truth."
Baldock knows some staff in the ANZ Bank and drops off more party booklets. He swings around and introduces me to Mick Parker who has just finished his banking.
"Mr Parker was my first boss. I delivered milk for him two nights a week after school in Merivale and The Avenues," says Baldock. "It was in the 1960s and I got $1.50 a run. Mr Parker was the first milkman to design a trolley which took three crates of milk and you could push it along. It made the job a lot easier."
A laconic Mick Parker liked hearing the story ... "I might give him a vote; do you think he's worth it?"
L EAVING the shopping centre, we head for the Merivale Community Centre - a volunteer organisation Baldock has taken a strong interest in. He spots the vans outside full of 12 happy, chirpy elderly ladies who are getting ready to take a trip around town.
When Baldock's finished chatting with them they've also got some reading to do about what United Future stands for. "Strong families, strong country," he reminds them.
Baldock makes regular visits to the centre - even when he was a Tauranga City councillor - and co-ordinator Audrey Hughes thanks him for his support.
He tells me: "They spend so much time pursuing funding, it's stupid. There are so many transient solo families in this area and these people working in the centre make such a difference."
The morning schedule now takes us to Baldock's old primary school, Gate Pa, where he was head prefect. With United Future dipping in the polls I'm beginning to wonder whether I'm being taken on a sentimental journey.
But Baldock gets down to business. "United Future is the family party," he tells the Gate Pa teachers in the staffroom. "The budget speech in 2002 said nothing about families and then we went to parliament. Do you remember the last election? It was all about sweetcorn.
"This election is about what else can we do for families; we have put the family centrestage; we have stressed that if you don't fix families then the country will continue to have problems."
Baldock says United Future has worked hard to be a support partner and maintain the stability of government. "This is the closest election we've had for a long time and United Future is the only sensible place to park your party vote because we can work with either National or Labour."
During his first term in Parliament, Baldock has done his bit for Tauranga. He noticed that Tauranga wasn't included in a pilot programme that placed social workers in low decile schools.
He lobbied hard enough for funding to be included in the last Budget and a social worker, Phil Mulligan, is now operating between the Gate Pa and Merivale schools.
Baldock gnawed at the Minister of Transport long and hard enough for the government to seriously look at the city's increasing traffic congestion - and the local officials put together a case so sound that a special roading grant of $150 million was on its way.
Baldock worked with Senior Sergeant Ian Campion, head of Western Bay's strategic traffic unit, to find ways of curbing the boy racer problem. And Baldock has taken up the cause of protecting sufficient quota for recreational fishers.
Y OU might think Larry Baldock is straight, honest, caring - the sort of good bloke you can off-load your problems on. He's all that. But he has a most interesting background. Listen to this.
Baldock comes from a broken family that re-built itself.
After a rocky marriage, his mother Daphne packed up the six children and left the family home in the farming settlement of Orini near Morrinsville and headed for Mount Maunganui to be near her relatives.
Baldock, who had three brothers and two sisters (he later discovered he had a half sister in Orini and half brother in Rotorua), was the youngest at two years old and they lived in Aerodrome Rd. Four years later the family moved in to a State Advances house in Anzac Rd, Gate Pa.
Baldock would hear his mother get up at 6.30am and bike up to the hospital to do her cleaning work. The siblings looked after each other. The eldest Fay, now a successful real estate agent in town, went to work at the age of 15 and brought home money for the family.
The children learned how to become independent. As a schoolboy, Baldock always had money in his pocket through his milk and paper runs. He did odd jobs for the local butcher and when he got his driver's licence he delivered groceries.
Baldock was flying through school - head prefect at Gate Pa and Tauranga Intermediate and in the top stream of Tauranga Boys College, 3A, 4A, 5A and then 6B3.
In the summer of 1970, after he gained School Certificate, Baldock took his first tab of LSD and then his first joint of marijuana. He missed University Entrance.
"I just flipped from the academic to social life. My life changed. Instead of being an enthusiastic, intelligent person, I ended up living for drugs. I had lots of friends and they were fun times. It lasted five years and I remember them well. At one point I was living in one of the drug houses of the city.
"Nandor (Tanczos) and I have some things in common but I stopped and he didn't; I grew up and he didn't. My warning is that if P was around in those days it would have killed me. I was lucky. I survived the drugs and came out of it."
Baldock got a job as office clerk for NZ Insurance and became a supervisor "I sold lots of life insurance policies to my friends."
He then found "the perfect" job managing the Joyce Colour and Sound store at the Mount. "I was my own boss, I had a company van and my mates would drop in and we could listen to the rock music all day long," says Baldock.
He became restless and headed to Australia to see his brother Tony and worked in the Utah coal mine in Queensland.
Baldock wanted to earn enough money to do the hippie trail through Asia and he planned to fly out of Darwin to Indonesia. But Cyclone Tracey struck and wiped out Darwin and he returned home instead.
You could say he started seeing the light. "Some of my friends who used to smoke dope had become Christians and I saw how their lives were different. I realised I wanted to do that, too. The journey to becoming a Christian took six to seven months .
During that time he joined Hare Khrishna ... "but I didn't shave my head".
I N June 1976, Baldock finally made the conversion to Christianity in the Mount Baptist Church. He met his wife Barbara, the former Tauranga Orange Queen, at the church and a year later they married.
Baldock went back and worked for NZ Insurance for two years and then started a home for young people in the old school house in Totara St.
Baldock and his wife joined Youth With a Mission and finished up serving in the Philippines for 15 years. Living in Manila, Baldock became the national director for the mission and managed 200 staff in 17 locations throughout the country.
The Baldocks returned to Tauranga in 1996 with their children Sarah, Rachael and Nathanael (who have all worked for Youth With a Mission), built their house on the 2ha block at Pyes Pa, and then turned it in to a boarding place for students.
By then Baldock was thinking about entering politics. "I trace it back to the Philippines and working with the poor and needy. You can't solve problems and meet needs if the system of corruption doesn't change.
"I started thinking about New Zealand and how things weren't going that great. Families were breaking up, there was unrest and people at the bottom of the cliff needed help. The only way to attack these problems was to fix them at the government level," thought Baldock.
He stood unsuccessfully for Future NZ in the Tauranga electorate in 1999 but became a city councillor through the Te Papa ward in 2001. A year later even Baldock was surprised when the worm turned in favour of United Future leader Peter Dunne in the final week of the election campaign and, at No 7 on the party list, he became a rookie parliamentarian.
"It was a steep learning curve," admits Baldock. But not afraid of hard work, he took on eight portfolios on behalf of United Future and made an impression in Wellington - and Tauranga.
"You are exposed to an incredible amount of information and you can't help but absorb it. It's surprising how much you can learn." he says.
After one term in Parliament, he knows he's back in the same situation as 2002. He's resigned to the fact that he can't beat Winston Peters or Bob Clarkson in the race for the Tauranga electorate.
And he has to rely on the popularity of the leader Peter Dunne and the party policies to drag him through. United Future needs Dunne's seat and just under 4 per cent of the overall party vote to get Baldock back in to Parliament.
Baldock hasn't had the time to knock on 1000 doors like he did in 2002 - as a parliamentarian he's had to gallop around the country pushing the party message. Working with a small but enthusiastic local committee, he's resorted to signs, newspaper advertising, letterbox drops and handing our pamphlets. One of the hardest workers is his wife Barbara.
It may not be this time but the home-grown Baldock has one big dream - to be the MP for Tauranga. "I have developed a good relationship with the city leaders through my local council involvement.
"I respect their wishes for what the city needs. All they have to do is tell me and I will make sure it is carried out. To me, returning as a List MP is building for the future.
"Sooner or later I will win the seat.
"Tauranga is my home and I would be proud to represent it."
By Graham Skellern