As far as political meetings go, it was a disappointment. Only a handful showed up at the Hikurangi Town Hall to meet Whangārei's new Labour MP Emily Henderson.
There were Labour supporters from further afield in Whangārei, a small group opposed to the Covid-19 vaccination rollout, a guy who was the ex-deputy mayor of Mount Eden, who happened to be in town, and an older gentleman who was against daylight savings and fire bans. I think I was the only one actually from Hikurangi.
I wondered, sitting there, whether the hall had been packed out for fiery debates or meetings when Norman Kirk was elected prime minister in 1972, the last time Whangārei had a Labour MP.
In one of these trivial facts of synchronicity, 1972 was the year Henderson was born.
I'll hand it to her for organising the meeting. It shows a seriousness of intent to engage with normal folk in the communities in which they live, even if on this occasion it wasn't a great success, absent the actual community.
First impressions, she's smart, charming, speaks well, and showed patience, up to a point, when responding to the anti-vaxxers. She was firm in defending the Government's handling of Covid and the goal of getting most New Zealanders vaccinated.
She said it was right that border workers who refused to be vaccinated were moved on from their current roles. She likened the situation to forestry workers being tested for drug use. When individual choices have serious health or public safety consequences, the individual's rights in those cases must be secondary.
Responding to a question on fluoride in water, I learned a lot myself. Henderson had got a similar question at a previous meeting and gone away and done her homework. Armed with facts, she was a convincing advocate of fluoridation of town water supplies.
Charm, smarts and commitment to put in the work are qualities that make for a good local MP.
Responding to a question I asked about whether she supported rent controls, she took me back somewhat by simply saying she didn't know. She deferred to the judgment of others within the Labour Party who knew more on the subject. It was, in the context of an informal meeting, refreshingly honest.
Asked about what she wanted to push for in Parliament, she first talked passionately about reforming the court system to allow communication specialists to act on behalf of victims and accused. She also wants the ability for video evidence to be used in family court.
As a family court lawyer with a PhD from the University of Cambridge in that field, she's well-placed to offer expert knowledge to Parliament that leads to safer and fairer practices in our courts.
Then, she said, it's about housing, jobs and health. She will lobby and work hard for these outcomes for Whangārei. And she'll push for organisations to work together locally to get things done. She described herself as a "busybody - it's what I do".
At the end of the meeting, I asked Henderson whether she supported higher taxes on our wealthiest citizens.
She replied, referring to the new top rate of income tax, that she was thrilled Labour had increased taxes on wealthier citizens.
Though she doesn't consider herself very wealthy, she went on to say she would happily pay more tax.
"Tax," she said, "is how we look after each other." Which was a striking way of framing the issue.
I left the meeting thinking our new MP is genuinely compassionate and sincere about advocating for social justice.
Now that many voters in Whangārei know it's not a foregone conclusion the electorate will elect a National MP, it's possible Henderson will be in Parliament long enough for us to gauge her politics and her political ambitions over more than one term.
• Northern Advocate columnist Vaughan Gunson writes about life and politics.