There is a new desk for Anthony G. Brown in the front row of the stately House of Delegates chambers in Annapolis. The seat is reserved for party leaders and persuasive orators, a group he was invited to join just a few days ago.
But it now appears Brown won't sit there any time soon. The Harvard-trained lawyer who is considered one of the General Assembly's most talented young members will put his political career on hold if, as expected, his Army reserve unit is deployed to Iraq in the coming weeks.
A lieutenant colonel reservist who once flew helicopters as an active-duty officer, Brown, 42, recently received his mobilization orders and is preparing to depart for the Middle East, leaving behind his wife and two young children.
"I was called to be the staff judge advocate for a civil affairs command that is preparing for deployment for Iraq in the next few months," said the Prince George's County Democrat.
His active duty begins with training starting on July 12, and a nine-month Iraq rotation could begin in September.
Word of Brown's imminent departure has touched off feelings of pride and consternation in Annapolis, where the second-term delegate has forged a reputation as a young leader with statewide and national potential.
Just over a week ago, House Speaker Michael E. Busch elevated Brown to the position of House majority whip, a leadership post that will allow him to develop expertise across a range of issues.
But Brown likely won't get to serve in the role until the Assembly convenes in January 2006. If he is deployed, he will miss the 2005 session, expected to be another bruising affair in which slot machines, medical malpractice insurance, education and budget issues will be tackled yet again.
The lawmaker will keep his elected position while he is away, and state law does not provide for an interim replacement. That would leave two delegates representing the 25th District in central Prince George's County, rather than three. Brown said it would be an "insult" to reservists if he resigned his seat because of an extended absence.
"It is my view that the Maryland Constitution would not force a legislator to vacate his or her seat if called to active duty," wrote Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch in a letter this month addressing the situation. "In addition, federal law would protect the legislator's right to retain his post."
Still, Brown said he will ask the speaker to formally excuse him from the 2005 session.
Busch said he will grant the request. "We're going to be 100 percent supportive of Anthony, no matter what direction his future takes," the speaker said."
A land-use and zoning attorney, Brown has been notifying his developer clients of his absence, and is preparing his family. He has sat down his 9-year- old daughter, Rebecca, to explain what is happening, and is recording bedtime stories for his son, Jonathan, 4.
"The hardest thing is going to be the separation from my kids, particularly my son," he said. "He is going to miss his buddy."
An ROTC enlistee while a Harvard undergraduate, Brown went on active duty for more than five years after graduation, switching to reserve status when he enrolled at Harvard Law School. After receiving his law degree, Brown joined the Washington firm of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, but left to pursue politics.
One of his mentors at the firm, former Maryland Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs, called Brown's future limitless, but said, "I just hope for his sake that he is out of harm's way."
Brown said he believes his training will prepare him for danger and that he won't fret about the votes he misses in Annapolis. "To me, this is the highest form of public service that I could ever participate in," he said.
Brown, who represents a district with a liberal bent, will no longer discuss his views on the Bush administration Iraq policy.
"Soldiers, when they are performing a duty, are not involved in politics," he said.