Assemblyman Paul Moriarty continues to be the consumer advocate we remember from TV

New Jersey Assembly member Paul Moriarty, D-Camden, Gloucester, admits that making the transition from journalist to lawmaker carried a certain degree of culture shock.
Moriarity had worked as an investigative journalist at KYW-CBS-3 for 17 years before getting elected to the Assembly in 2005.
“When you’re on the other side (as a politician), it’s quite different,” he said. “People are asking you questions, and they may not be the questions you want them to ask.” Yet for all that, the jobs aren’t all that dissimilar.
Moriarty’s specialty was exposing consumer fraud. As a lawmaker, he said, he’s doing much the same thing — looking for wrongs that need to be fixed. He even serves as chair of the Assembly’s Consumer Affairs Committee.
In fact, he’s able to take the job farther now than he could as a journalist. Back when he was reporting, his big hope was that the problems he exposed would draw the attention of people in a position to correct them.
Now, Moriarty himself is capable of holding hearings or introducing legislation designed to fix those problems.
Last month, for example, the General Assembly passed a bill he sponsored that would require auto dealers to inform potential buyers about outstanding recalls on used vehicles before selling them. Another would prohibit car rental agencies from renting vehicles with defects that haven’t been fixed.
He’s expecting both bills to pass out of the Senate and head to the governor’s desk.
Moriarty said he considers consumer protection to be a very important issue for state lawmakers.
“There aren’t a lot of lobbyists running around on behalf of consumers,” he said. “They’re working for various industries.”
One vast difference between work as a lawmaker and a journalist is the pace of the job, Moriarty said. Journalism is all about the frantic rush to meet deadlines. He said it’s a truism in the broadcast news business that you don’t go on the air because you’re ready. You go on because it’s 6 o’clock.
“Trenton time,” on the other hand, decelerates every process to a sluggish pace. That isn’t necessarily because of inefficiency, Moriarty said. A certain amount of slow deliberation is intentionally built into the process, to forestall against ill-considered policy getting passed into law.
One element of state government he thinks many people don’t understand is how difficult it is to get something passed into law. At any time, 3,000 or 4,000 pieces of legislation are working their way through the system. In an average year, about 100 of them might become law.
But on a positive note, he said that many members of the public don’t understand just how important and influential their voices are as citizens.
“I can honestly tell you that most of the bills I propose come from constituents, where they tell me about a problem or an issue,” he said.
So if he went back to being an investigative reporter tomorrow, would he find things to investigate based on what he’s seen in Trenton? Absolutely.
“Government is ripe for investigation,” he said. “I could come up with 100 investigations tomorrow for waste and abuse.”
In fact, he finds it regrettable that Trenton doesn’t have more journalists, watching every move of lawmakers like himself and keeping them accountable. He sees it as symptomatic of a malady afflicting journalism in general these days.
“Journalism is more interested in the lighter touch,” he said. “Whether the Patriots deflated footballs or not, or whether some celebrity did something or not.”
Since he arrived in Trenton, he’s seen the contingent of statehouse reporters on “reporter’s row” dwindle from about 30 individuals to “a ghost town.” As far as he’s concerned, that’s not good for the state of New Jersey. “Everybody needs somebody looking at what they’re doing,” he said.
This post is part of our South Jersey Politics Blog

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