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One-quarter of a job done [Editorial]

There are any number of reasons to miss a committee vote here or there in Annapolis that are legitimate and reasonable. A legislator might be under the weather, an emergency might arise or there might be a death in the family. Perfect attendance does not make perfect job performance, as the role of an elected representative is more than pressing a button or raising a hand.

But the recent revelations regarding the voting patterns of Del. Jon S. Cardin, the presumed front-runner to be Maryland's next attorney general, go far beyond the typical or understandable — or perhaps the reasonable given the lack of explanation that he has offered so far. As a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, he missed 121 out of 164 votes, or roughly 75 percent of the panel's decision-making during the last 90-day session, which wrapped up one month ago.

That is a veritable avalanche of lost voting, and this is not some minor committee. Ways and Means is among the most influential assignments in the General Assembly as one of two committees that decides how state government is funded. Nor is Mr. Cardin a minor functionary on the panel; he serves as chairman of its election law subcommittee.

Even if Mr. Cardin were not currently a candidate for statewide office, he ought to be held accountable for his decision-making to the voters who elected him. When approached by The Sun's Luke Broadwater, he deferred questions to the person who is managing his campaign for attorney general, Andy Carton, whose response was that Mr. Cardin's floor voting record this year, and over 12 years in office, is quite good.

Some who know and support the delegate say he needed to spend more time with his family. But the assumption of most in Annapolis — and left uncontradicted by Mr. Cardin and his spokesman — is that he chose to use the time away from his committee responsibilities to attend to his campaign for attorney general.

This is surely not the first time that a delegate or senator made such a choice in an election year, but the least Mr. Cardin ought to do is own up to it. Even if it's true that no legislation was "harmed" by his absence, as Ways and Means Chairwoman Sheila E. Hixson claims, one would like to think that a subcommittee chair might have something useful to add to the deliberations.

Make no mistake, the work done in committee is the heart of what lawmakers are elected to do. It's where bills are shaped and molded, the moment during which delegates have their greatest influence. Rare is the House bill that is greatly altered on the floor, let alone subject to a close vote in a chamber where leadership (and the majority party) holds sway.

Granted, the election calendar was unusually challenging for office-seekers holding seats in the General Assembly this year given that primaries were moved to June instead of the customary September — though both of Mr. Cardin's competitors in the June primary faced the same issue but missed only a handful of committee votes in the case of Del. Aisha Braveboy or none in the case of Sen. Brian Frosh. At the very least, Mr. Cardin owes voters a full explanation of why he made a different choice.

Instead, Mr. Cardin has the look of a candidate ducking accountability, not exactly an ideal trait for someone running to be the state's chief legal officer. Unfortunately, it also reinforces criticism that the 44-year-old candidate has benefited more from having a voter-friendly last name — he is the nephew of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin — than from his own achievements. His choice not to discuss the matter openly smacks of an earlier embarrassment when he recruited Baltimore police, including a helicopter, to conduct a phony raid that was part of an elaborate marriage proposal five years ago. In response, he donated $1,300 to police to cover the stunt's cost and to help finance the mounted police unit. He apologized — but only a week later and without a thorough explanation.

Some may simply see Mr. Cardin's tight-lipped response to his circumstances as an exercise of political caution — not unlike a candidate ahead in the polls making a calculated decision to attend fewer televised debates — but character counts, particularly when it comes to the law. Additionally, voters should ponder this: If the Ways and Means Committee was left none the worse for Mr. Cardin's absence, what does that say about him?

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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