Del. John A. Hurson (D-Montgomery), a leading voice on health care issues in Maryland, surprised many colleagues yesterday by announcing that he will soon end a 15-year legislative career to take a new Capitol Hill lobbying job.

Hurson, 51, said he is resigning from the House of Delegates, effective Oct. 1, and becoming executive vice president of government affairs for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association. The industry group represents about 600 personal care companies nationally and is trying to strengthen its political clout.

The announcement came just days after Hurson wrapped up a year-long tenure as president of the National Association of State Legislatures, a position that has expanded his profile nationally. In Maryland, as chairman of the House Health and Government Operations Committee, Hurson has been heavily involved in some high-profile debates, including recent fights over medical malpractice and stem cell research.

"It was tough," Hurson said of his decision to leave the House, where he served as majority leader from 1995 to 2001. "I'm going to miss a lot of the activities, but I've had a good run. . . . Honestly, now I think it's time to concentrate on my family and personal life."

Hurson had contemplated running for state attorney general next year, and he said he would not rule out a run for elected office in the future. His legislative agenda in recent years has focused on expanding access to health care. Officially a part-time legislator, he had been employed by the Washington-based government affairs firm of Van Scoyoc Associates.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said that Hurson's departure would be "a significant loss" for the House and that he would move swiftly to appoint a successor as chairman of the health committee.

Among those caught off guard by Hurson's announcement was Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D), who represents the same three-member Montgomery district, District 18, as Hurson. "Wow," she said after learning of his departure from a reporter. "I had no idea he was making those plans."

Hurson's departure is expected to set off a scramble to replace him in his district.

Within a month of Hurson's official resignation, the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee is expected to recommend to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) a temporary successor. The governor traditionally rubber-stamps the recommendation.

All members of the General Assembly are up for reelection next year.

Montgomery County Council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) said it is unclear whether the central committee will appoint a "caretaker," who would pledge not to run in 2006, or use the appointment to try to give a leg up to a candidate.

Several Democrats who ran unsuccessfully in District 18 in 2002 -- including Samuel L. Statland, a member of the county Board of Elections; Jane Lawton, the county's cable administrator; and businessman Peter Fosselman -- are seen as potential candidates next year.

John A. Hurson is taking a new Capitol Hill lobbying job.