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Ralph Regula, Avuncular Appropriator from Ohio, Dies at 92

Canton-area congressman unapologetic for pushing bipartisanship

Former Rep. Ralph Regula, a long-time congressman from Northeast Ohio, has died at age 92. (CQ Roll Call File Photo.)
Former Rep. Ralph Regula, a long-time congressman from Northeast Ohio, has died at age 92. (CQ Roll Call File Photo.)

Former Rep. Ralph Regula, a moderate Republican from Ohio known for his deal-cutting acumen, avuncular manner and skills as an appropriator, died July 19. He was 92.

Born in Beach City, Ohio on Dec. 3, 1924, Regula was first elected to Congress in 1972 after stints in the Ohio state House and Senate. Between then and his retirement after the 2008 elections, he embodied a middle-of-the-road Midwestern approach to politics that valued working across the aisle and taking care of the folks back home.

He secured a particularly good position to do so in 1975, when he snagged a seat on the Appropriations Committee. Regula was like many Republicans of his generation, utterly unfamiliar with anything but minority status until 1994’s election secured a GOP majority in the House and Senate.

The intervening years in the wilderness taught him the value of getting along with his Democratic colleagues. And the availability of earmarks to members of Congress, especially skilled appropriators, kept the funds flowing back to his home state. 

The Canton-area congressman “channeled reams of federal money to Northeast Ohio during a 36-year congressional career,” and that “as obstruction and theatrics took over Congress, Regula maintained a low-key style and distaste for political gamesmanship,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer said.

Regula’s bipartisan outreach was at times tested when he became a cardinal, or subcommittee chairman, of the Labor-HHS Appropriations Subcommittee. That panel finds itself in the middle of many contentious spending debates over topics such as abortion and education. But he never suffered from a lack of respect among colleagues. 

When Regula announced his retirement during the 2008 election cycle, CQ said his absence, and that of other retiring moderates, did not augur well for an institution starting to show an increasing amount of partisan strain.

“The retirement of several Republicans known for bipartisan cooperation on spending bills will likely make the House Appropriations Committee even more of a battleground next year,” CQ wrote in January of 2008, noting the retirements that year of Regula, fellow Ohioan David L. Hobson, Ray LaHood of Illinois, and James T. Walsh of New York threatened the committee’s reputation for comity. 

Since then, the battles over appropriations and the debates over spending priorities in Congress have only intensified. 

In a 2010 op-ed piece for the Plain Dealer, Regula was unapologetic in his approach to governing, writing: “I have seen passions run high; I’ve heard differences of opinions, regional and political; I’ve heard the heat of debate — but in the end, I’ve heard compromise. Respect for the opinions of others — not simply an appeal to one’s rights — brings about compromise. Listening to the points of view of others, finding common ground to cooperate and making friends on the ‘other side of the aisle’ helps to achieve ultimate success.”