Two decades in the New Jersey Legislature, Sen. Diane Allen is calling it quits, partly due to health reasons. She’s a Republican known for working for what’s best for the public rather than what’s best for the party. Allen sat down to talk to NJTV News Correspondent Michael Hill about her time serving in public office.
Hill: Senator, an honor to have you. Thank you for joining us.
Allen: Thank you, very much.
Hill: You’re most welcome. You have a storied carrier in journalism and of course in public office. What made you first decide to run for public office?
Allen: When I was in television, I found that I could let people know many things that were wrong or what they should watch out for, but I could never solve the problems. And then it turns out once you become a legislator you actually — occasionally — can solve problems and it’s very gratifying.
Hill: You have said that the Legislature has changed since you entered back in January of 1996, I believe it was. How so? How’s it changed?
Allen: There used to be a greater amount of comradery of people reaching across the aisle to work with each other and not as much anger. I feel a lot of anger from various people, from time to time. It’s unnecessary. We can do this job without being angry at each other. It’s a matter of sitting down and working on policy. There’s not as much of that as I would like to see.
Hill: What’s driving it, do you think? That kind of anger of what you are talking about?
Allen: I don’t know. I think somehow we’ve become a society that feels that people have done things to us and we need to get even and we need to make sure that we get ours. When instead what we should be doing is thinking about what’s best for the country, for the state and making things happen and not worry about those little things that are around the edges.
Hill: Are we wearing politics too much on our sleeves?
Allen: Yeah, I think that would have been a much better way to say it. Yes, I think so.
Hill: Glad to help you out there. You know we watch this debate take place in Washington, just last week, on trying to replace the Affordable Care Act. Was there some dysfunction there in the Republican Party as you see, for not getting this done? When this party has been chomping at the bit to undo Obamacare?
Allen: No, I think what we have seen is really the system working. Apparently that bill that they’ve come up with — now I’ve not read it I’ve only read about it — but apparently it doesn’t really do all the things that people had hoped that it would do. And so it didn’t pass. It isn’t going to pass until there are some changes. We’ve a lot of legislation like that, where one person comes up and says, “This is a great piece of legislation,” and others say, “Well let’s try to fix that, you get my vote if we can make it better.” And so people will work on it, make it better and you have a piece of legislation that hopefully will pass through both Houses with both parties supporting it. That’s what I’d like to see with this new bill.
Hill: Senator, you’re a big champion of equal pay for women — equity. Where do we stand right now with that?
Allen: Well, I meet with the governor in about an hour and a half, I’ll let you know after that.
Hill: But as a society though.
Allen: As a society, I think we’ve gotten better. I think large corporations with HR departments are pretty good now at being careful about it, about making sure that nobody’s looking at those kinds of things. Unions really are very good at that. I mean, if you’re holding a sign that says pass or slow, or stop or whatever, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, you’re paid the same amount of money. And that’s a good thing, but in smaller businesses sometimes it’s tough and I certainly have experienced it a lot myself, not so much recently — senators are all paid the same — but the stories that I tell are pretty hair-raising and I think that there are still examples of this out there. So we need to take care of it, we need to make sure if a woman is not paid the same that she gets that money. Not just the money for this year and last year and the year before, which is what the Lilly Ledbetter Act does, but I believe that she should get all of the money that she should have been paid and in fact, be paid double damages.
Hill: Sen. Diane Allen, retiring from the legislator of Burlington County. Senator, it’s always good to see you and thank you for joining us.
Allen: Thank you very much.