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Frosh Seeks To Toughen His Nice Guy Image In First Debate Of AG Race

05.20.2014

Lou Peck

Bethesda Senator sharply criticizes rival over missed committee votes

The candidates for attorney general in Maryland debated Monday night. Brian Frosh, left, Jon Cardin, center, and Aisha Braveboy, right.

The candidates for attorney general in Maryland debated Monday night. Brian Frosh, left, Jon Cardin, center, and Aisha Braveboy, right.

Louis Peck

Nice guys finish last, the late Leo Durocher once famously observed. For much of the past three decades, Brian Frosh has defied that adage – handily winning election to the General Assembly from District 16, while building a widely recognized record of legislative accomplishment.

But, with his political career on the line as he seeks the Democratic nod for attorney general five weeks from today, Frosh is trying to demonstrate there’s also some tough guy in him...

As Frosh and his two primary opponents, Dels. Jon Cardin and Aisha Braveboy, met in their first formal debate Monday night at the University of Maryland, one of the panel of questioners, Jenna Johnson of the Washington Post, asked Frosh: “In Annapolis, you’ve built a reputation of being a low-key consensus builder who can quietly bring everyone together on an issue. But…sometimes the role of attorney general requires an aggressive, bold leader. And some people have wondered if your style would match with that.”

Replied the low-key, often professorial Frosh: “I’ve been practicing law for more than 35 years. I’ve been named one of the best lawyers in America by U.S. News and World Report…You don’t get there by just being a nice guy. Sometimes, you’ve got to be tough.”

“Believe me, I’m tough in the courthouse, tough in the statehouse when I need to be,” added Frosh, a state senator for the past 20 years after a prior eight years in the House of Delegates.

Frosh quickly sought to back up that assertion by sharply criticizing Cardin over recent revelations that the Baltimore County delegate had missed 75 percent of committee votes during this year’s General Assembly session.

“Can you imagine a firefighter saying ‘I know that 75 houses burned down’ but I wanted to spend more time with my family?” Frosh asked incredulously. “Look, if you don’t show up in Annapolis, if you don’t vote, you don’t count. And you don’t deserve a promotion if you’re not doing the job you were elected to do.”

Frosh repeatedly alluded to Cardin’s absences during the debate – including just minutes into his opening statement. “I can tell you that, as your attorney general, I will show up every day, and I will work hard to protect Maryland families and to improve their lives,” he said.

Cardin, whose name ID – he is a nephew of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin – has helped give him the lead in several recent opinion polls, continued to defend his absences this session as an effort to balance work and his responsibilities to his young daughter and pregnant wife.

“It’s disingenuous and dishonest to suggest that I didn’t do the job or that I missed 75 percent of the work,” said Cardin. “The fact of the matter is that I have a better than 90 percent voting attendance record in my 12 year history in Annapolis.”

He contended that the 120 committee votes he missed this year were out of a total of 2,750 cast this year in committee and on the floor, while adding: “For those of you who don’t understand how the good ole boys in Annapolis work, the fact is that the work is done in subcommittees…And I did not miss one subcommittee meeting.”

Under questioning by Johnson, Cardin also was asked to explain his behavior in a much-criticized 2009 episode in which he arranged to have a Baltimore police officer and helicopter participate in a marriage proposal to his now-wife.

“Character is not just about making mistakes – it’s about how you react to those mistakes,” he said. Noting that he had made a financial contribution to the Baltimore Police Foundation in an effort to make amends, he added, “I said I was sorry and moved on, and promised to be a better legislator – and I think I have done that.”

Notwithstanding the sniping over Cardin’s voting record, Monday night’s debate was, for the most part, a highly civil affair that highlighted no major differences among the three candidates on policy issues.

Frosh – who has served in the General Assembly for longer than Cardin and Braveboy combined – repeatedly cited his record of passing legislation on issues ranging from environmental protection to consumer safeguards to public safety, as he several times emphasized his role in passage of last year’s sweeping gun control legislation.

He also listed various organizations – ranging from environmentalists to labor unions to police and corrections officers – that have opted to endorse his campaign over those of his opponents.

Cardin, adopting the frequent strategy of a frontrunner, opted not to attack Frosh. But he continually mentioned his role in legislation dealing with cybercrime and his involvement in what he twice termed “next generation” issues – a not-so-subtle reference to the generation gap between himself and Frosh. Cardin is 44; Frosh is 67, and, if elected, would be the oldest first-term attorney general in state history.

“With the Internet and other new technologies that exacerbate old problem, they give criminals new methods of exploiting you,” Cardin said. “As one of the most progressive and pragmatic legislators, as the only general practice attorney [among the candidates], I am uniquely qualified to tackle these next generation issues without losing focus on those old and persistent problems.”

Braveboy, 39, a Prince Georges County resident whose underfunded campaign has struggled to compete with the other two contenders, heads the General Assembly’s Legislative Black Caucus; she would be both the state’s first female and African-American attorney general.

She emphasized her work with diversionary programs to keep at-risk youth out of the criminal justice system, and also said that – as attorney general – she would not defend the state against a  lawsuit that alleges that Maryland officials have not treated historically black colleges and universities in a manner equal to that of the University of Maryland and other institutions.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit late last year, saying the state was in violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Civil Right Act of 1964.“We cannot continue to defend the state’s position that they are doing enough, [because] they just simply aren’t,” she said.

The logistics of Monday night’s debate served to illustrate the political hurdles still facing Frosh – who, despite an 18-month long campaign for attorney general, remains unfamiliar to many voters outside of Montgomery County.

The debate took place in a 250-seat auditorium at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. Nearly a quarter of the seats in the room were vacant, with most of the rest occupied by supporters of the three candidates and the media.

The attorney general’s contest has been overshadowed by the battle for the open governor’s position for the past year: Unlike a debate among the Democratic gubernatorial candidates earlier this month, Monday night’s attorney general candidates’ session was not televised, although the public will be able to access a video of the attorney general candidates’ debate starting this afternoon on the School of Public Policy Web site (http://www.policywatch.umd.edu/)

Frosh said this past weekend that his campaign will soon begin running televised ads. But he declined to say precisely when the ads would begin airing, or whether they will be statewide or targeted to areas where he is lesser known – such as Cardin’s home base of Baltimore.