COLLEGE PARK — — The two opponents of Del. Jon S. Cardin in his race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general chastised him during a debate Monday night for skipping almost 75 percent of his committee votes this year.
State Sen. Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County and Del. Aisha Braveboy of Prince George's County said there was no excuse for missing so many voting sessions, where decisions are made on which bills die and which advance to a floor vote.
"If you don't show up in Annapolis, if you don't vote, you don't count," Frosh said during the first debate of the attorney general's race, held at the University of Maryland. Frosh repeated his contention that people who don't show up for work don't deserve a promotion.
Cardin, who represents a Baltimore County district, replied that he was present for more than 90 percent of votes on the House floor and explained that he missed votes because of family obligations.
The three candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination to succeed Douglas F. Gansler as the state's top legal officer in the June 24 primary.
The Democratic nominee will face Republican Jeffrey N. Pritzker and Libertarian Leo Wayne Dymowski. Democrats have won every election for the position since 1919.
The debate came less than two weeks after The Baltimore Sun reported that Cardin missed 121 out of 164 votes of the Ways & Means Committee during this year's 90-day General Assembly session.
Frosh got in an early shot in his opening statement, vowing that "as attorney general, I will show up every day." Braveboy piled on a little more gently, saying that "as a leader on my committee, I'm expected to be there, and I show up."
Cardin pointed to the subcommittee he chairs, where he said he has a perfect attendance record and always checked with his committee chairwoman to make sure his votes were not needed.
"It's intellectually dishonest to suggest I didn't do my job," Cardin said. "There's not a single bill that was affected by my absence."
Frosh, confronted by a question about whether his nice-guy image was incompatible with the attorney general's office, replied that in a 35-year law career he knows how to be tough when needed. He seemed to demonstrate that by calling out Cardin for opposing the Dream Act allowing in-state tuition for students who are in the country illegally — a measure popular with Democratic voters.
Cardin drew an implied generational line between himself and Frosh as he repeatedly stressed the need for the next attorney general to deal with 21st-century issues such as cybercrime, identity theft and Internet harassment. He pointed to his sponsorship of Grace's Law, which outlaws "cyberbullying" of minors and is named for a Howard County girl who committed suicide after such harassment.
"I'm running to keep Maryland two steps ahead of these new threats," he said.
Braveboy pointed to her vote against the state's highly gerrymandered congressional redistricting map to underscore her commitment to transparency in government, saying she was concerned because the public didn't get the chance to comment on maps drawn by state leaders.
"As attorney general, I will open up that process," she said.
The attorney general runs the office that advises the governor, the General Assembly and state agencies on matters of law. The office also represents the state when an agency sues or is sued. Among other responsibilities, the office also prosecutes many white-collar crimes and enforces environmental and consumer protection laws.
Frosh was first elected to the Senate in 1994 after eight years in the House of Delegates. For the past 12 years, he has been chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee.
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As chairman, Frosh has played a leading role in the passage of some of the highest-profile bills approved by the General Assembly in gun control legislation.
Cardin has served 12 years in the House and has headed a subcommittee that oversees elections laws. Braveboy, a two-term lawmaker who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, would become the state's first African-American attorney general.
Video of the debate is expected to be available Wednesday morning at policywatch.umd.edu.
The candidates will debate again June 9 at the University of Baltimore School of Law.