The race to become Green Party co-leader has landed on two names James Shaw and Teanau Tuiono, meanwhile potential candidates and officers complain of mudslinging and "nefarious deeds".
In September 2020, the Green Party held a campaign event at Meow, a bar about 15 minutes' walk from Parliament.
The room was packed as the seated-only Covid rules allowed, with Wellington's not inconsiderable contingent of Green Party members. Co-leader James Shaw was there, contesting the Wellington Central seat. MCing the event was a man relatively unknown outside of Green Party circles, Teanau Tuiono.
Tuiono had been a candidate for the Greens in 2017, when he was ranked at an unwinnable 19th on the party list. The Green Party gives significant power to its members to rank candidates on the list and in early 2020, the left wing of the Greens mobilised to promote Tuiono further.
The Green Left Network, an association of the party's most left-wing members, circulated a note to its members recommending they rank Tuiono third (the same note did not recommend any ranking for Shaw, who was left off the 12-person list entirely).
The tactic worked, and Tuiono was ranked eighth, the highest ranking of any candidate who was not already an MP. He's popular with the party base, being highly likeable and having a good backstory. As a student at university, he studied environmental science under former Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimmons.
To people in Meow that night, Tuiono was a natural talent - funny, self-effacing, delivering the sort of effortless, amusing speech you'd associate with much more experienced politicians like Grant Robertson.
This doesn't correlate with the Teanau Tuiono most New Zealanders were introduced to on Wednesday, when he fronted a media scrum to say he was contemplating a tilt at the Green Party co-leadership. Tuiono was quiet, shy, still funny (he took a dig at the media for only showing interest in him as a co-leadership contender, not when he was campaigning for an end to seabed mining), but very much lacking the chutzpah one associates with party leaders.
Like many MPs, Tuiono's love-hate relationship with Parliament as a place would appear to err towards the "hate" side of the spectrum. During Parliament's dinner break on Tuesdays and Wednesdays he can often be spotted taking himself for a solo walk along Wellington's waterfront, and he'll try to get back to his family home in the Manawatu whenever he can - despite the punishing commute.
Tuiono's name is at the top of a list of potential contenders for the co-leadership after caucus colleague Elizabeth Kerekere ruled herself out on Tuesday morning.
Nominations for the job opened on Thursday and would stay open until Thursday, August 4. After that, the party has a month to hold a leadership election.
There's still some division in the party about whether an open contest is a good or bad thing. Shaw is currently the only candidate, with no one else having declared an intention to run.
Some of his supporters would prefer that there be no contest and that Shaw managed to win the 75 per cent majority required to regain his job. The contest has so far been something of a circus: Shaw's been removed from his job and put up his hand to win it back, but so far no one has put their hand up to challenge him.
This group reckons enough damage has been done by the spill and Shaw should be allowed to mend that damage and direct the party towards the next election.
But another constituency - associated with the Young Greens and The Green Network, the two groups most closely aligned with the 32 delegate votes that managed to trigger Shaw's ouster last Saturday - still reckon the party would benefit from a contest, which would put Shaw's vision of the party to the test.
These groups missed out on their preferred candidates, MPs Chlöe Swarbrick and Elizabeth Kerekere, but they're now coalescing around Tuiono and other candidates.
Another name being floated is that of Steve Abel, currently a campaigner for Greenpeace, who was placed at 11 on the party list in 2020. Under Green Party rules, any member can run to be co-leader, not just MPs.
Abel came so close to entering Parliament, he came to Parliament's induction day for new MPs after the 2020 election. The Green Party caucus even took photographs with and without Abel just in case he made it into Parliament after the counting of special votes.
Abel told the Herald on Thursday he believed "there should be a contest", but that current MPs should stand. Abel said people had spoken to him about running in the contest himself, and that he could not completely rule himself out at this stage. However, by Friday he had clarified his thinking and ruled himself out of the contest completely.
"The process of the RON [reopen nominations for co-leadership] vote is a call for other options," Abel said.
He reckoned if Shaw romped in with no challenge it would not "put to rest the significant discontent" in the party. An open contest would be good for Shaw because it would help him test his mandate and put any questions about his leadership to bed if he won, Abel added.
"I think it is almost a problem for James if there are no candidates," Abel said.
MP and former minister Julie Anne Genter had been relatively quiet this week but told the Herald she was not running.
"I am not intending to put my name forward at this time," Genter said.
Genter is one of just four current MPs who is not a member of the Green Left Network (Shaw, Swarbrick, and Eugenie Sage are the others). Genter had previously run for the co-leadership against Marama Davidson in 2018, losing 34 delegates to 110. Some members put the scale of that defeat down to the Green Left Network's strong campaign for Davidson.
Genter is probably closer to the Shaw side of the party than other MPs. On Thursday both Genter and Shaw made an appearance at a fundraiser for former Green chief of staff Tory Whanau, who is running for the Wellington mayoralty. As a current candidate, Whanau is publicly staying out of the contest, but she too is likely to be backing Shaw.
She said she backed the party's democracy, and was focusing on her own mayoral campaign.
On Friday, Shaw posted a story about the success of Genter's clean car policy to Instagram with the caption "Don't change it now. We're just getting started".
Genter told the Herald that party members "must have confidence that we are doing everything we possibly can to respond to the climate and ecological crises and to end poverty in Aotearoa. That is why the process the Green Party has to hold its leadership and MPs to account is so important.
"The only reason I would stand for co-leader would be if I thought there was no other way to provide that confidence to our members. James' statement yesterday made clear that he wants to kōrero with members about the future direction of the party, and how we work with the wider movement to deliver the radical change we need," Genter said.
She was referring to a lengthy post Shaw made to members on social media on Wednesday morning - the post went up less than an hour before Tuiono announced he was contemplating a run.
In it, Shaw rolled back remarks he'd made hours after being toppled. That night, he'd suggested his fate was down to party delegates voting against the feelings of the wider party membership (there are just 150 voting delegates representing a membership of thousands).
By Wednesday, Shaw conceded that members were in fact dissatisfied.
"The vote at the Green Party AGM to re-open nominations for the Co-leader obviously came as a bit of a shock. It's been clear for a while that there has been some disaffection with me, but I had understood that to be primarily amongst members who didn't support the Party's decision to go into Government, or the compromises that come with the progress.
"I want to acknowledge that I understand that the vote wasn't just about that. If I'm honest, I've found it hard to get the mix right between being a minister and a Co-leader and, quite clearly given the vote last weekend, I haven't quite nailed it," Shaw wrote. He admitted to being "frustrated" by some of the criticism, but said he needed to "listen and be there for anyone who has legitimate criticism".
Shaw said he had thought the best job he could do for the party was as Climate Minister, but conceded this had come at the cost of some of his duties as party co-leader.
"I can see that I need to spend more time working on my role as Co-leader. If members do choose to have me back, I will do that," he wrote.
He then said he would speak to the party co-convenors, who sit on its Kaunihera - effectively its executive - about setting up a "process for grievances to be aired and reconciliation found".
In a nod to the criticism from the party's left (The Green Left Network's kaupapa statement says "'sustainable capitalism' is an oxymoron" and that members indict the "inherent violence of capitalism"), Shaw offered a hard-ish (by his standards) economic critique: "I've often said that climate change is an economic problem with environmental consequences. I know we need to change our economic system in order to fix our climate and restore our natural environment.
"I absolutely share the impatience for radical change to our society and our economy right now."
Shaw already appears to be putting symbolic distance between himself and the business community - a group he knows well, having lobbied business groups hard for action on climate change over the last five years.
In previous years, Shaw might have expected at Business NZ's annual "Back to Business" bash held in Wellington on Tuesday night, an annual gathering of politicians, businesspeople and lobbyists.
Instead, he was nowhere to be seen, with the Greens being represented by Golriz Ghahraman (Whanau was also there). Both Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Shaw's former governing partner and ministerial bête noire, Winston Peters, managed to show up. Shaw perhaps wisely calculated being photographed at a pro-business event was probably not the best way to win back the Green co-leadership.
Behind the scenes, the Green Party machine appears to be changing. Members are reported to be re-engaging with the party branches, which the pro-Shaw camp sees as a positive sign. Previously, the pro-Shaw membership was perceived to be complacent, allowing the anti-Shaw faction to mobilise delegates to topple him at last Saturday's AGM.
In a mailer to members this week, the party co-convenors said there had been an "upsurge in members joining and renewing their membership" since the vote last Saturday.
"Some have indicated that they wish to engage in the process of selecting the Party Co-leader. As you plan your hui please do consider that some of these people may be navigating the party and our processes for the first time," they said.
Some members believe this upswing in membership and participation was sparked by Shaw's belief that delegates had become detached from members - members were now becoming more engaged and holding their delegates to account.
Another positive sign for the pro-Shaw camp is the way the delegates are organised. At last week's AGM, rules were changed to adjust the allocation of the party's 150 delegates to its various branches.
The new rules give Wellington more power than previously, and slightly less influence to Auckland, which is where the vote against Shaw was said to be strongest (although this cannot be known for sure, as the vote was a secret ballot).
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Kerekere's campaign for the co-leadership - which was never officially declared - was questioning where it went wrong.
Kerekere declared she would not be running in a press statement on Tuesday morning. That evening, she posted a more candid account to Facebook.
Kerekere said she had decided not to run on Sunday night after talking with her partner and friends. However, after receiving encouragement from party members and supporters she decided to consider it "more seriously".
She slammed opponents for briefing against her in the media and attributing "nefarious deeds" to her, dragging her name through the "mud" - an apparent reference to a Herald story which suggested she had been planning for a co-leadership run for some time.
"By the end of Monday, my name was mud in the media. All manner of nefarious deeds were attributed to me and all the work I have done in my life, especially as a leader in national and international Rainbow sectors, and now as an MP - all erased. Who did I think I was?" she posted.
"Let me be clear. If I ever decide to run for co-leader of our Party, you will know all about it. It will be well planned and extremely well organised. It is not now or in the foreseeable future."
Kerekere's partner was more blunt, posting a picture of Kerekere arguing the past few days had seen "outright racism" that reminded her the country "still has such a long way to go".
Meanwhile, co-convenor of the Green Left Network, which is associated with the move to oust Shaw and seen as broadly pro-Kerekere (although it has not officially endorsed a candidate) Nicole Geluk-Le Gros posted to The Green Room, a Green Party Facebook page, saying she was weighing up her roles in the party following briefing against her.
The Herald earlier reported Geluk-Le Gros, who endorsed Kerekere, had butted heads with staff at Parliament while working for Davidson. Geluk-Le Gros denied that was the case.
She posted to Facebook saying she "loved" her job at Parliament.
"They haven't respected my right to political affiliation, and have attempted to shut me down," she wrote.
"I will decide if the literal sweat and tears I put into the Party is worth it."
Kerekere did not respond to a request for comment. Shaw was approached for comment, but was travelling.
For more from Thomas Coughlan, listen to On the Tiles, the Herald's politics podcast