A SURPRISE selection by the NSW Nationals on Wednesday night will see Clarence Town local David Layzell fight for the party in the upcoming Upper Hunter by-election triggered by the resignation of Michael Johnsen.
Experienced Singleton mayor Sue Moore was tipped by many as the favourite heading into the preselection, however the 45-year-old construction manager won the vote after what NSW National's leader John Barilaro described as a "one of the most impressive speeches he has heard".
Setting the scene for an election campaign which will be dominated by conversation on energy, Mr Barilaro and Mr Layzell, alongside NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, kicked off their campaign on Thursday morning at Glencore's Ravensworth mine.
The NSW Deputy Premier was keen to reaffirm the Nationals' commitment to coal mining jobs in the Upper Hunter, ahead of a campaign which will see One Nation steer the conversation towards what they see as an "anti-coal agenda" by the major parties.
However, Mr Layzell expressed his commitment to protecting jobs across all industries and said there was "room for improvement" when it comes to finding a balance between mining and agriculture.
"We are a region of many industries: cropping, great cattle, wine, thoroughbreds and of course the mining industry is a huge economic driver in the region," he said.
"I know the importance that construction has played in the Upper Hunter and I know there will always be criticism of mining, but protecting local jobs are a priority.
"I think there is an opportunity for mines to engage better with communities...mines need to do everything they can to manage dust and air quality and there is room for improvement."
Living in Clarence Town with his wife and four daughters, Mr Layzell, who ran as a councillor in the Dungog Shire Council 2017 election, spoke of his strong "family values" and hoped the electorate would put their trust in him despite the events of the past few weeks.
Labor is yet to formerly announce their candidate, but the party is expected to endorse former Muswellbrook deputy mayor, coal miner and CFMEU Mining and Energy official Jeff Drayton within the next two weeks.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party is believed to have finalised their candidate, but is yet to make an announcement.
One Nation is also yet to name their candidate, although NSW party leader Mark Latham told Channel Seven news on Wednesday night he was "thinking about" running.
Kate Fraser, former Upper Hunter Shire councillor, a Scone local and prominent landowner, has emerged as an independent.
Mr Johnsen resigned from parliament on March 31, following allegations he raped a sex worker and exchanged lewd messages and explicit videos with the alleged victim during question time.
The Upper Hunter electorate heads to the polls on May 22.