Del. Jon S. Cardin expressed remorse Thursday for missing nearly 75 percent of his committee votes this year but said the votes he missed generally weren't close, and he needed to spend time with his pregnant wife and young daughter.
"I certainly regret missing the votes that I did," the Baltimore Democrat said in a telephone interview. "But I remain quite proud of the work I got done."
Cardin, who leads in polls for the Democratic nomination to become Maryland's next attorney general, said he spent more than 1,000 hours working over the 90-day session, had a near-perfect voting record on the House floor, and led passage of legislation that included a bill criminalizing online sexual harassment known as "revenge porn."
He pointed to the Jewish Sabbath on Friday afternoons, giving out citations at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, and tending to his wife and daughter as reasons he missed nine voting sessions — and about 120 votes — in the influential Ways and Means Committee.
"I got the job done in Annapolis, and I had to get the job done at home," Cardin said.
Cardin spoke in response to an article in The Baltimore Sun on Wednesday that he missed nearly 75 percent of his committee votes during the General Assembly session. Committee meetings are where members can make critical decisions about the language of a bill, and whether legislation is sent to the full House or killed.
Cardin declined initially to be interviewed about the issue, and his campaign wouldn't say why he missed so many votes.
Supporters said he missed votes to spend time with his family. Cardin issued a statement Thursday morning expanding on the point.
"There were nights where I needed to be home with my expecting wife and our young daughter," he said in the statement. "I don't regret making that choice."
Rivals and others said many elected officials manage to take care of their families without skirting their work.
"It's not a good excuse," said Sen. Brian Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who is also seeking the party's nomination for attorney general. "It's the job we ran for. It's the job we pledged to do."
Frosh recalled borrowing the pager of now-Rep. Chris Van Hollen in 1992 so he wouldn't miss the birth of his daughter during the session.
"Both my kids were born while I was in the General Assembly," he said. "I took off the next day, but I was back to work the day after that. Sometimes I've been sick. Sometimes someone in my family has been sick. There are reasons to miss votes. But three-quarters of votes? That's just absurd."
Frosh said Cardin's attitude shows he doesn't consider the work of the Ways and Means Committee important.
"Every measure is important in one way or another," Frosh said. "This says a lot about how seriously he took the job."
Del. Aisha Braveboy, a Prince George's County Democrat also running for the nomination for attorney general, said Cardin owed his constituents an explanation.
"We're not professional politicians," she said. "We all have other lives. But our primary responsibility during the three months we're in office is to legislate, to participate and to vote. You have to offer an explanation."
Frosh, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, missed none if its 244 votes, records show. Braveboy, who sits on the House Economic Matters Committee, missed 12 out of 140.
Cardin said in his statement that he anticipated criticism.
"As my opponents find themselves down in the polls and anxious for attention, I fully expect these political attacks to continue," he said. "But they'll find that many Maryland families are just like mine — with busy parents working to balance their professional responsibilities and family responsibilities, wishing there were more hours in the day."
Cardin's supporters echoed this point.
Michael Meyerson, a Baltimore lawyer who is advising Cardin's campaign, called his decision to spend more time at home "courageous in an election year."
"I think that people understand that balancing family and work is difficult," he said. "Anyone who has kids and a job understands the balance."
Other political observers weren't as impressed.
Richard Vatz, a professor of communications and rhetoric at Towson University, called Cardin's statement a "classic example of diversionary rhetoric."
Vatz advised Cardin take a humbler tone, with some variation of the phrase: "There were some reasons I missed so many sessions, but in all honesty I did miss too many, and I promise you this will not recur.'"
Vatz pointed to a pattern of questionable behavior that could hurt Cardin — pointing to a stunt Cardin pulled in 2009 in which he persuaded on-duty city police marine and helicopter officers to help him propose to his girlfriend by pretending to raid a boat the couple was aboard in Baltimore's harbor.
City police investigated what they said appeared to be a misuse of police resources, and Cardin later paid $300.
"He has a history of self-concerned, public-be-damned decision-making, as in the police-involved proposal to his girlfriend," Vatz said.
Todd Eberly, an assistant professor of political science at St. Mary's College, said he believed voters would take a dim view of Cardin's actions.
"Who doesn't want to spend more time with their family?" he said. "There are millions of Marylanders who can't just walk off their jobs because they want to spend more time at home. Everybody wishes they could do that. It reeks of entitlement."
Cardin, the nephew of Sen. Ben Cardin, has led recent polls in the race for the Democratic nomination to succeed Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. Cardin led a Baltimore Sun poll in February with 18 percent of Democrats supporting him. Frosh trailed with 6 percent. About two-thirds of voters were undecided.
Eberly said Cardin has a resume and "every right to be running."
"But it is name recognition that is propelling him," he said. "The more people realize he's Jon Cardin and not Ben Cardin, it hurts him."
Vatz said the missed votes will "likely hurt" Cardin, but a heartfelt apology could "seriously neutralize" the issue.
"He still has the Cardin name," Vatz said. "We'll see if public forgiveness is so easy to achieve."
The Democratic primary is June 24. The winner will face Towson attorney Jeffrey N. Pritzker, a Republican, and parole commission hearing officer Leo Wayne Dymowski, a Libertarian.