Eight California lawmakers were cited Thursday as having among the poorest attendance records in Congress in 1991, with Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) taking part in only 60% of roll-call votes in the House.
Levine's total gave him the second-lowest voting percentage of the 435 House members this year, according to an annual study released by the private Roll Call Report Syndicate group. Also listed as frequently absent was Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Greenbrae), who failed to vote 20% of the time.
Most members of the House try to keep their voting percentage at 90 or better to avoid criticism that they are neglecting their duties. House leaders traditionally cooperate by scheduling most votes in midweek, thus allowing long weekends for travel to home districts, campaigning or fund-raising activities.
However, members' decisions to run for another office can lead to significant declines in attendance. For California members, the two U.S. Senate seats that will be up for grabs next year appeared to be a major cause of absenteeism for several members.
Levine and Boxer are among the Senate hopefuls in the Democratic primary field.
Karin Caves, a spokeswoman for Levine, said he has tried not to miss key or close votes in the House.
"Since his election to Congress (in 1982) his voting percentage has averaged 95%, so this year's drop reflects the difficulty of representing California, which is 3,000 miles away from Washington, D.C., and exploring a statewide campaign and raising a young family," Caves said. "Basically, you can't be in two places at one time."
Among the Republican contenders for the Senate, Rep. Tom Campbell of Palo Alto missed 12% of the roll calls. Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Sacramento), who spent some time exploring a possible Senate run, had an 85% voting record.
The worst record of House members was established by Kentucky Republican Larry Hopkins, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in his home state. He was present for only 36% of the votes.
California members said that the great distance to Washington makes high attendance particularly difficult.
"I think voters will understand, when you're running back and forth between Washington and California (sometimes) it's a physical impossibility," said Campbell.
An aide to Dymally, who missed one of every four votes this year, said that the congressman was recovering from prostate surgery in the early part of the year. In addition, the aide said, Dymally traveled "quite frequently" to Africa as the new chairman of the Africa subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Aides in the offices of Martinez, who had an 81% record, and Waters, with 89%, said they could not be reached for comment. Phil Schiliro, press secretary to Waxman, who voted 89% of the time, said the congressman misses some votes on minor issues but that "the best use of time isn't to leave a mark-up session (when legislation is being worked out) or committee hearing to vote on something like that."
Near-perfect attendance records were achieved by Democratic Reps. Leon E. Panetta of Carmel Valley, Calvin M. Dooley of Visalia and Glenn M. Anderson of San Pedro, along with Republican Reps. Robert J. Lagomarsino of Ventura, Randy Cunningham of San Diego and Dana Rohrabacher of Long Beach.
For the House, 402 of the 435 members voted on 90% of the 428 recorded votes in 1991, according to the syndicate, an independent news service specializing in congressional accountability issues.
In the upper house, freshman Sen. John Seymour (R-Calif.) voted on 96% of all roll calls. Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who had surgery for prostate cancer during the year, had an 83% record.
Times staff writers Paul Richter and Sam Fulwood III contributed to this story.
Eight House members from California were among the 33 representatives who were absent for more than 10% of roll call votes this year. Here are the percentages of roll calls attended during the year by the lowest-ranked House members nationwide. California members are in bold. Larry Hopkins (R-Ky.): 36%Mel Levine (D-Calif.): 60%
Robert Mrazek (D-N.Y.): 64%
William Lehman (D-Fla.): 70%*
Mervyn Dymally (D-Calif.): 74%
Harold Ford (D-Tenn.): 76%
Clyde Holloway (R-La.): 79%
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.): 80%
Marilyn Lloyd (D-Tenn.): 81%*
Matthew Martinez (D-Calif.): 81%
Charles Hatcher (D-Ga.): 82%
Craig Washington (D-Tex.): 83%
Ron Marlenee (R-Mont.): 84%
Gus Savage (D-Ill.): 84%
Charles Wilson (D-Tex.): 84%
Gus Yatron (D-Pa.): 84%*
Robert Matsui (D-Calif.): 85%
Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.): 86%
Albert Bustamante (D-Tex.): 86%
Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.): 87%
Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.): 87%
Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.): 88%
Sonny Callahan (D-Ala.): 88%
Tom Campbell (R-Calif.): 88%
James Oberstar (D-Minn.): 88%
Henry Waxman (D-Calif.): 89%
Maxine Waters (D-Calif.): 89%
Kika de la Garza (D-Tex.): 89%
William Jefferson (D-La.): 89%
David Martin (R-N.Y.): 89%
Clarence Miller (R-Ohio): 89%*
Stephen Neal (D-N.C.): 89%
Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.): 89%
* Most or all absenteeism resulted from a medical problem
SOURCE: Roll Call Report survey