Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) made his retirement announcement official Friday, setting the stage for a highly competitive race to replace him.
The longest continuously serving Member in the history of his state, Regula often has been referred to as the dean of the Ohio delegation and held a powerful position on the Appropriations Committee since he was assigned there by then-Minority Leader Gerald Ford (R-Mich.) when he arrived in Congress.
“Today’s decision to not seek re-election has been a difficult one for me,” Regula said in a statement. “I am blessed with great health and still come to work every day committed to working hard on behalf of the people of Ohio’s 16th Congressional district and to making a difference for our nation.”
Regula said he would like to pursue other opportunities outside of Congress, including a return to teaching.
First elected in 1972, the 82-year-old Congressman has been rumored to be considering retirement for months, but Friday’s announcement confirmed that Republicans have another seat to worry about in the Midwest.
Regula is the second Ohio Republican to announce his retirement this year, following Rep. Deborah Pryce. He is the ninth House Republican to announce his retirement this Congress.
Regula’s district has become increasingly competitive in recent years, with President Bush winning 54 percent of the White House vote in 2004 and Regula winning the district with 58 percent in 2006 — his lowest percentage since his first election.
Democratic leaders are very bullish on their likely nominee, state Sen. John Boccieri, who has also served as an Air Force reserve officer over four rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Although Boccieri currently lives outside of the district, part of the state Senate district he represents is in the 16th Congressional district.
“I’ve represented a portion of this district and I’ll be honored if I can serve all of it in the Congress,” he said.
Boccieri said he had no immediate plans to move into the district, though he “definitely will make that decision when the time is right for my family.”
Republicans say they can keep the seat, despite the fact that all of the statewide Democrats on the ticket carried Stark County — the largest county in the district — in 2006.
“The district will remain in Republican hands,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said. “It has performed well for Republicans in the past and any Democrat attempting to compete there in a presidential year will find themself in an uphill battle. The [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] might want to find their candidate a map. From what we hear he doesn’t know his way around the district too well.”
On the Republican side, Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller announced in July that he would seek Regula’s seat, regardless of the Congressman’s plans. Miller ran against Regula in the primary in the previous cycle and without campaigning much took 42 percent of the vote — an early warning sign for the incumbent.
Miller called his 2006 primary bid a “step necessary to lay the groundwork for a successful run this time.” He said his fundraising report filed today will show he’s raised around $45,000.
State Sens. Kirk Schuring (R) and Ron Amstutz (R) both formed exploratory committees in June after discussing their plans with Regula.
“Clearly I was following his decision fairly closely,” Amstutz said Friday. “He had given me and another state Senator permission to prepare ourselves just in case he would not run.”
Amstutz said he will make a final decision and announce next week, adding he did not file a financial report for the third quarter. Schuring said his third-quarter financial report filed today will show his campaign has raised about $190,000 so far.
Schuring said he wouldn’t make an announcement until after local elections in November, though he planned to file his candidacy papers Friday. He represents most of Stark County, which is not only the most populous county in the district but also the most competitive. Miller and Amstutz represent areas in the western part of the district, which historically has voted more Republican.
Former Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula (R) also was rumored to be interested in a bid for his father’s seat, though he said Friday he is not interested in running at this time because he has two young children at home.
Like many close to his father, the younger Regula said he knew his father was considering leaving Congress. He said one harbinger was when the senior Regula brought home a red Thunderbird convertible a few months ago.
“I think people back in the district kind of took him for granted — he’s just Dad to me and Ralph to them,” Richard Regula said. “People don’t realize how powerful a guy he was. He’s not a showboat.”
On Capitol Hill, Regula’s colleagues praised his long tenure of service on Friday. In a statement, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that with Regula’s retirement, their home state “will be losing a great leader and a loyal colleague.”
“I can say, without reservation, that there is no Member of Congress more dedicated to improving educational opportunities for our nation’s students than Ralph Regula,” Boehner said.