One week in February, all hell broke loose in the Anne Arundel County House delegation.
Within five days, the 13-member contingent lent its chairman to Operation Desert Storm and lost another veteran lawmaker to his own grief.
On Tuesday, Feb. 5, the U.S. Marines activated Delegate John C. Astle, D-Annapolis, and ordered him to report immediately for duty. The delegation's floor general was a colonel in the Marines Reserves.
That set off a flurry of politicking among those who would replace Astle as chairman.
"That was the week I got most frustrated here,"said freshman Delegate Victor Sulin, D-Severn. "I saw a lot of pettypolitics."
Delegate W. Ray Huff, D-Pasadena, wanted to take the position to North County, which he said had long been neglected. Delegate Marsha Perry, D-Crofton, the former vice chairman, said the post naturally should fall to her.
Astle wanted it to go to his District 30 colleague, Delegate Michael Busch, D-Annapolis. That, he said, would cause the least turmoil and confusion during the session.
As other lawmakers jockeyed for Astle's position, Delegate Aris Allen, R-Annapolis, struggled with a personal crisis.
That same Tuesday, Allen, an 80-year-old retired physician, learned he had terminal cancer. The former delegate and senator was re-elected last fall after being out of politics for 10 years.
By Friday morning, Astle had steered the chairmanship to his District 30 colleague. By that evening, Astle had reported for duty at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.
And Allen had committed suicide, shooting himself in the head with a shotgun outside an Annapolis church.
"It was a pretty bad week," Astle said yesterday. "I was really shocked by Aris Allen's death. He was such agreat man. I had no inkling that would happen."
The delegation staff -- two longtime secretaries and a legislative aide who work as political appointees -- bore the brunt of the events.
"They had no idea what was coming," Astle said from his base at Quantico, Va., yesterday. "I was going off to war. They didn't know what would happen tome. And
their future's are closely tied to mine. No John Astle, no jobs.
"You add to that the death of another delegate, that's more turmoil."
County lawmakers yesterday expressed grief at the lossof Allen, but said Delegate Phillip Bissett, R-Mayo, has done well as his successor. And Busch has done likewise as chairman, they said.
"My worst fear was there was going to be bitterness and hostility over a petty turf battle," Sulin said. "In retrospect, we handled it pretty well. It seemed like turmoil at the time, but we really sailedthrough it."
Even Perry -- who complains that Busch's selection wasn't made so much in the back room as the "men's room" -- said Buschdid well with this year's limited county agenda.
"Those were unusual circumstances, what with a war, the death of a prominent legislator and the selection of a new chairman," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park. "But it's a real tribute that they put things back together and moved on through the legislature."
Next year, the delegation will elect a new chairman. Astle, who expects to remain on active duty until July, said he will not seek his old post.