She may have suffered a defeat in the high-profile Mt Albert by-election, but Green Party MP Julie Anne Genter has no hard feelings toward her opponent, Labour’s rising star Jacinda Ardern.
In fact, she attended her political rival’s victory party.
“I wanted to congratulate her in person because we’re friends,” reveals US-born Julie Anne (37). “She was really sweet and wanted to know how I felt. Our friendship is still very much intact – if anything, this has strengthened it.”
Along with National’s Nikki Kaye, they are the only women in Parliament under the age of 40 and that’s something the duo bonded over, with Julie Anne hosting Jacinda (36) and her partner Clarke Gayford (39) for a dinner party at her home last year.
“She was a great candidate, ran a good campaign and it was a well-deserved win,” says Julie Anne. “This wasn’t a fight or a battle – that’s what turns people off politics. We wanted this to be a friendly, constructive process and we achieved that. It was a good result for the Greens and we got a lot of exposure for our ideas.”
Rather than the by-election, it’s another loss that has hit Julie Anne hard. Opening up for the very first time about her struggles to start a family, the politician reveals she has suffered two heartbreaking miscarriages in the past couple of years.
“I’ve been really focused on my career so, until recently, having a child hadn’t been a big priority for me,” Julie Anne confesses, curled up on the couch of the Auckland apartment she shares with her partner Peter and a flatmate.
“But then I met Peter four years ago and we were so in love, it felt like the time was right.
“I never expected we’d have any problem getting pregnant – in fact, I didn’t. But I lost the pregnancy very early on. And then the next one at eight weeks. We tried for another year after that, but nothing happened.
“I’m quite a rational person and thought I could tell myself it simply wasn’t meant to be, but I was surprised at how intensely powerful my emotions were around the pregnancies and miscarriages. It affected me profoundly. It was upsetting and very sad for both of us.”
Julie Anne and her partner are open to the idea of adoption, but for now, her focus is the election later this year.
In the meantime, she’s speaking out because miscarriages are something that affect one in every four women, yet few seem to talk about them.
She says, “Maybe we don’t mention it because we don’t want other people to feel the sadness, but how else will women know how common it is and how will other people know what you’re going through?”
Minnesota-born Julie Anne was brought up in Southern California, but she moved to France after university because she didn’t agree with then-president George W. Bush’s foreign policy.
While she fell in love with Europe’s historic cities, she missed the “wild nature” of her childhood.
“I wasn’t getting enough surfing or hiking,” she explains. “I’d had so many good friends from New Zealand and it sounded like such a progressive country with a female prime minister at the time, that I thought I’d give it a go.”
She’s been here since 2006 and now calls Aotearoa home.
While working as a transport planner, Julie Anne was impressed by the Green Party’s transport policy – “everything about it was correct” – so she signed up. In the 2011 election, she was ranked at 13 on the party’s list.
“I really didn’t think I’d get into parliament as the Greens hadn’t ever polled higher than seven per cent and we needed more than 10 per cent for me to get elected, but I scraped in. I was shocked and so excited.”
Ranked number eight in the last election, her parliamentary highlights include the legalisation of same-sex marriage and attending the COP 21 climate-change summit in Paris. Her most challenging times are when she gets heckled in the debating chamber.
“It’s bizarre to stand up to other adults and have them yell at you and call you names,” she sighs. “It’s hard not to take it personally and it’s not conducive to feeling great about yourself. I don’t think New Zealanders want our politicians acting like a bunch of children.”
Which brings us to the topic of Donald Trump... Julie Anne frowns, “When Obama was in charge, I thought that maybe I’d been too pessimistic about the way the US was heading when I left, but the recent election suggests I was right. I can’t overstate how bad it is.
“It makes me sad and fearful for what comes next for America and the rest of the world because what he’s doing affects everyone – you can’t run away from the US. It makes me nervous about bringing a child into the world. If we have kids, I want them to be able to walk and cycle to school safely, and not have to worry about climate change.”
Words: Sebastian van der Zwan