Two Weekend Herald reporters questioned 70 voters in Hone Harawira's Te Tai Tokerau electorate this week to discover what they think of the rebel MP at war with his own party.

I used to like Pita Sharples," says Peter Davis, a scrawny Ngapuhi gib-board fixer waiting for a bus outside the Henderson railway station.

"I used to hope he'd become Prime Minister one day," he says sadly.

"I don't like him any more. He's too nice."

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Mr Davis, 50, a relative of Labour MP Kelvin Davis, is no great fan of Hone Harawira either. "He doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut," he says.

But he's "annoyed" that the Maori Party has "gone in with National". And if you ask him whether the party should expel its rebel Te Tai Tokerau MP, he says firmly: "No, he's having his say."

The

Weekend Herald

went looking for voters on the Maori roll up and down the Te Tai Tokerau electorate, which extends from Cape Reinga down to the Auckland Harbour Bridge and into West Auckland to the eastern edge of the Waikumete Cemetery.

About 57 per cent live in Northland and 43 per cent in the new Auckland district from Wellsford, south.

We found that, despite all the compromises the Maori Party has made in its alliance with John Key's National government in the past two years, Maori voters still love their party. Even if they didn't vote for it, almost to a person they hope that it survives.

But they also love their man. They want a politician who is strong enough to speak up for them.

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Mr Harawira has made that his mission. In the Sunday newspaper column that sparked the current complaint process against him, he said the Maori Party should "speak out strongly against National's anti-social initiatives" in Parliament "and on the streets if necessary".

"I am being constantly told by Maori in the street, in the shops, on marae, at airports, and even in the cemeteries at tangi, that the Maori Party is coming off the rails - usually accompanied with a comment that I should keep speaking out, because none of my mates are," he wrote.

He did not endear himself any further to his "mates" when he said that many Maori saw "an intimate relationship with the Government as selling out of their people".

On the previous day, he said: "When our leadership starts to slip, shift them, shift them and replace them with people who have more vigour."

Commenting on the complaint process against him, he wrote on his Facebook page: "It looks like these dickheads only have expulsion on their mind."

On Monday the other four Maori Party MPs suspended him from their weekly caucus meetings.

But on Wednesday, a party disciplinary committee stopped short of recommending that he should be expelled from the party and agreed to let him meet with party members in his electorate this weekend first.

If our sampling from the streets is any guide, his electorate will be overwhelmingly behind him. Of the 70 Maori voters who spoke to us in Kaitaia, Mangamuka, Kaikohe, Moerewa, Kawakawa, Whangarei and West Auckland, 56 oppose expelling him.

Only 11 say he should be kicked out of the party, and three are undecided.

Opinions are more mixed on the substance of the argument - the party's alliance with National. But those who say the alliance has been bad for Maori people (26) outnumber those who think it has been good for Maori (16). The other 17 see some good and some bad in the coalition, and 11 are unsure or won't say.

Asked who they would support if Mr Harawira stands as an Independent in this year's election, 26 would give him their electorate votes - less than half the total sample, but well ahead of candidates for Labour (11), the Maori Party (10) or National (2).

Two want to give their electorate votes to NZ First leader Winston Peters, although he has never stood in Te Tai Tokerau.

Four others say "anyone but Hone" and 15 are undecided.

However, the Maori Party is still comfortably ahead in the party vote with 25 supporters, followed by Labour (16.5), any party that Mr Harawira might form (10), National (3) and the Greens (2.5). One person said "Labour or Green" and 13 are undecided.

At the last election Mr Harawira swept the electorate vote with 62 per cent against 29 per cent for Labour's Kelvin Davis, who is standing again. But Labour actually won the party vote with 46 per cent against 31 per cent for the Maori Party.

The overwhelming majority in our sample who oppose expelling Mr Harawira from the Maori Party are a mixed group. Some criticise the party leaders, but the dominant feeling is more of sadness than of anger.

A few such as Te Atatu packaging worker Isaac Henry, 49, are passionate Harawira supporters.

"He's like me," Mr Henry says. "As soon as anyone speaks up against anyone else, they call us radicals. This is our land - or it used to be, now it belongs to other people."

A larger number are disillusioned with the National coalition and glad that Mr Harawira is speaking out against it.

"A lot of people not just in Tai Tokerau believe in what he's been talking about," says Mama Mangu at Mangamuka's beautiful Ngapuhi Marae.

She believes he best represents what the party stands for socially and economically. Where others have gone off course, he's stayed the path.

Ranui mother Kathleen Kemp, 26, sees the party leaders as "high rollers", while Mr Harawira is "voicing what should be happening".

Rosemarie Manning, 28, is visiting her grandmother in Kaikohe. She believes the party had to work out a basic tension.

It might have to swallow a larger party's policies but there had to be a mechanism by which MPs could express more forcefully the impact of those policies on Maori if they were detrimental.

"What do people do if they don't agree with the leadership? Do they just shut their faces? I think his manner is a bit off, but the average Maori can relate to him. I can't fault him for his honesty, I like his integrity."

In the intimate Maori community many know the MP personally or know of his work for constituents.

"He's done a lot for tamariki around here, there's a lot of things he's done that people don't know about. He cares for them," says 78-year-old Te Koroi Moa from Pawarenga, who still works as a school bus driver in Kaitaia.

Others disagree with much of what he says but support his right to say it.

"He's a bit like a policeman for the party, he's there to remind them why they're there," says Marama Harris, 53, an office worker at Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Hoani Waititi Marae, the school that party co-leader Pita Sharples founded in Glen Eden.

Regardless of whether voters support Harawira or not his constituents outlined two important issues for this election. The Government's foreshore and seabed solution isn't one of them.

Hardly anyone knows enough about the pending Marine and Coastal Areas (Takutai Moana) bill to support it or reject it outright. The majority expressed concerns about fisheries resources, outlined annoyance at the perception Maori would close beaches and expressed anger at "rich" people who closed off access.

But most say they needed more information on the bill before they can make up their minds.

Educational opportunities are an issue but of more pressing and immediate concern are how price rises are hitting the region's families and unemployment.

Natasha Kake-Harrison, 39, from Hihi has five of her own children and four step-kids. She also works for CYF as a caregiver. The cost of living exacerbated by this government's GST rises are hurting, she says.

"I think the foreshore is irrelevant. Everything is going up. Rent, power, gas. I feel it when I go shopping, you spend all your money on food."

The Household Labour Force Survey for December put Northland's unemployment at 8.9 per cent - the highest rate in the country. Nationally, the Maori rate is 15.5 per cent.

Wini Moses, a Kaitaia drycleaner, describes the work situation as dire.

"It's pretty bad up here. We're all worried about our young people."

Two weeks out of prison for a two-year drugs' sentence, Patrick Rakete, 42, would like to be a social worker but is worried his criminal record will deter employers.

When people do earn, often it isn't enough.

Kaitaia's Andrew Petersen, 36, doesn't work but his partner does, in an retirement home. The pair have four children and moved back from Australia a couple of years ago. What his partner earns now is easily a McDonalds wage across the ditch, he says.

Every Te Tai Tokerau voter is in limbo, Lucy Holland, a Ngawha prison corrections officer believes.

Prisoners call the 67-year-old "whaea" when everything's running smoothly but that moniker turns to "firecracker" when it's clear she's not happy.

The Ngati Hine grandmother sips a cappuccino at the Tuna Cafe in Moerewa and tells us she leans towards Labour but is behind Mr Harawira.

There's anxiety about the party's future if they can't work this current crisis out, she says. The dangerous permutations of what could happen should Mr Harawira be expelled - where he stands as an Independent, starts a new party, loses his seat, drags support nationally away from his party and whatever else - all potentially weaken Maori influence in Parliament.

"I do hope the Maori Party continues. When they were elected we were so hopeful, jubilant. The reality is, it's not in a good place. Nobody said this alliance with National was going to be easy."

Much of the party's future does lie with Mr Harawira, she says. He articulates much of what ordinary Maori think and feel, but it's obvious his methods cause all sorts of ructions.

"Hone really has to temper himself, for everyone's sake. It's all very well to say Tai Tokerau is behind him but at times we feel we're going down with a sinking ship."