Del. Jon S. Cardin, the front-runner to become Maryland's next attorney general, calls himself an active legislator who believes "nothing is more sacred to democracy than the right to vote."
But when it came time to cast votes in the House Ways and Means Committee in Annapolis this year, the Baltimore County Democrat repeatedly failed to show up.
General Assembly records reviewed by The Baltimore Sun show that during the 90-day legislative session, Cardin missed about 120 out of 164 committee votes — nearly 75 percent. The other two legislators running for attorney general missed few or no committee votes.
Questioned about his attendance record, Cardin declined to be interviewed for this article. His campaign declined to say why he missed so many votes in committee — where members make critical decisions about whether a bill is killed or goes forward — and instead pointed to his record on the House floor.
"Jon has a more than 90 percent attendance record for floor votes throughout his twelve years in the General Assembly," Cardin's campaign manager, Andy Carton, said in a statement. "Jon was in Annapolis to pass the minimum wage increase, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, to criminalize cyber sexual harassment, and be a part of many other important legislative initiatives."
Though some colleagues said they believe Cardin left Annapolis to focus on his campaign, aides denied that he missed votes for that reason. Some supporters said he missed committee meetings to spend more time with his family.
The other candidates in the Democratic primary race — Sen. Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County and Del. Aisha N. Braveboy of Prince George's — were sharply critical of Cardin's missed votes. And a political analyst said Cardin's attendance record is likely to become an issue in the campaign.
"Particularly in the House of Delegates, committees are where the real work is done," said David Lublin, an American University government professor. "I can see the campaign ads now: 'He's not doing his job, and now he wants a bigger one.'"
Frosh and Braveboy both pointed out that the fate of much General Assembly legislation is decided at the committee level.
"I can't think of any explanation for it that would be excused or acceptable," Frosh said. "If you're a legislator, that's what your elected to do: Vote. If you're not voting, you're not doing your job."
Braveboy expressed incredulity at Cardin's attendance record.
"The committee votes are critical to shaping the actual bill," she said. "There are some really bad amendments that can get onto bills if you don't have the right people there."
Frosh, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, missed no votes out of 244, records show. Braveboy, who sits on the House Economic Matters Committee, missed 12 out of 140.
"We're there to do the people's work, but we're humans," Braveboy said of her missed votes. She said they were due to a brief illness and giving testimony in other committees.
With more than 100 votes missed, Cardin didn't weigh in at the committee level on a wide range of issues. For instance, Cardin missed committee votes on reforming Baltimore's tax code, removing dead people from the state's voter rolls, expanding pre-kindergarten and granting tax credits for urban farming, among other issues. Several times, Cardin missed voting for bills that he co-sponsored, such as legislation cracking down on intimidation and fraud in petition drives.
In March, Cardin skipped a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on a bill he'd introduced aimed at addressing a huge backlog in criminal background checks of gun buyers.
He put the bill in — publicizing his action with a news release — after The Baltimore Sun reported that more than 200 guns had been sold to people who were prohibited from owning firearms. One of those handguns was later used in an armed carjacking, state police disclosed.
The hearing, during which the committee reviewed dozens of gun bills, dragged on into the evening. When Cardin's bill was finally called, an aide testified on his behalf. Joshua Greenfeld, his legislative director, said later that Cardin had returned to Baltimore that evening to pursue his campaign.
The committee killed the bill.
At Ways and Means, Del. Talmadge Branch, a Cardin supporter who also sits on the committee, said he believed Cardin missed so many votes due to campaign activities. He argued that it's appropriate for a candidate to miss some committee votes to get out his message.