The thrill of combat in the Persian Gulf lured Delegate John Astle, D-Annapolis, back to the U.S. Marine Corps.
But Astle, who reportsfor military duty Thursday, won a battle in the General Assembly Friday over who will replace him as chairman of the Anne Arundel House delegation.
Astle's choice, Delegate Michael Busch, D-Annapolis, beat out Delegates W. Ray Huff, D-Pasadena, and Marsha G. Perry, D-Crofton, for the coveted post.
The combatants began lobbying for the post Wednesday after Astle, a colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves, announced his active duty orders.
Astle said the transition would be easier for Busch, who shares Astle's office and staff. But Huff said a North County delegate deserved a chance at the post.
As the past vice chairwoman, Perry said the responsibility should fall to her. The current vice chairman, Delegate Patrick Scannello, D-Glen Burnie, is recovering from surgery and will not return until March.
"Ray made the point that it hasn't been in North County," Perry said. "I reminded him that it hasn't been in West County either. I used to talk about Severna Park being the Gaza Strip. I don't want to get back to that."
"It was classic political maneuvering," said Delegate Victor Sulin, D-Severn. "Each one contacted the other members, seeking their support. I'd call it good politicking."
Following a closed-door caucus of Democratic members in Astle's office Friday morning, the 13-member delegation tapped Busch, 9-0.
"Considering everything that was going on, I think we had cleared the air by the time we left the caucus," Busch said. "I think we made a nice clean transition, considering what was involved."
Delegates John Gary, R-Millersville, and Elizabeth S. Smith, R-Davidsonville, abstained, objecting that the decisionhad been made without the three GOP members (Delegate Aris Allen, R-Annapolis, was not present).
"I don't want this to be any reflection on Mike Busch," Smith said. "But, as a minority, I get a little tired of rubber-stamping decisions that have been already made."
TheDemocrats "count on us any time time they need us," Gary said. "But,when decisions like this need to be made, they shut us out of the loop. Frankly, I'm not going to take it lying down any more."
Astle,47, who has been the delegation chairman since 1986, asked the Marine Corps to reactivate him soon after the Persian Gulf war began. Astle, who has asked to be assigned to Saudi Arabia, will retain his delegate seat.
"Part of it is, this is how I began my adult life," explained Astle, who entered the Marines after college and went immediately to Vietnam.
"Part of it is, this is the direction my life's training has pointed me. You train and you train and this is an opportunity to see how you will do for real. This is a chance to test myselfpersonally.
"Then I have to admit there is the excitement," said Astle, a helicopter pilot who was shot down twice in Vietnam. "I knowwars are nasty, dirty affairs and that people get killed. But livingon the edge has a different flavor than any other aspect of life. I think that's part of it too."