U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula on Friday announced he will retire at the end of his term in January 2009, capping a 36-year congressional career.
"Today's decision to not seek re-election has been a difficult one for me. 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, 82, said in a statement released by his office.
"However, I have several goals that I would like to achieve following my service in Congress, and I believe that now is the time to begin these new opportunities."
Regula said in a telephone interview that he wants to get involved in some way with education. He said he did not yet have anything specific in mind.
"I want to get into part of education, particularly working with young students and try to share with them my experience and knowledge and get them interested in public service," Regula said.
His retirement sets up a tough election for Republicans to keep the seat, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Bob Bennett said.
Regula's northeast Ohio district has voted Republican about 60 percent of the time in recent elections. But Bennett views it as competitive. President Bush got 54 percent of the district's vote in the 2004 election, but Democrat Ted Strickland easily carried the district in his successful campaign for governor last year.
State Sen. Kirk Schuring of Canton has said he would run for the seat if Regula retired. Other possible candidates Bennett mentioned are Ashland County Commissioner Matt Miller, state Sen. Ron Amstutz of Wooster, state Rep. Scott Oelslager of Canton and Canton Mayor Janet Weir Creighton, who is seeking re-election this year.
State Sen. John Boccieri of New Middletown is the only Democrat to announce a candidacy.
No other Democrats have expressed an interest in the seat and the state party is likely to support Boccieri, a major in the Air Force Reserve who has served several stints in the Iraq war, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said. Picking up the seat will be tough but not impossible, Redfern said.
"Regula's strength was that his last name was Regula, not because he was a Republican," Redfern said.
Boccieri lives in suburban Youngstown, which is not part of Regula's district. He said he is staying in the Senate and can best serve from his current home. Congressional candidates are not required to live in the district.
He said critics "are more interested in where I go to bed at night and I'm more interested in where they go to work in the morning. That's a distraction from the real issues."
Bennett said he believes Regula may be the longest-serving GOP congressman in Ohio history.
"Ralph has served Ohio with distinction," he said.
Regula was disappointed to be in the minority after 12 years of Republican rule in Congress, Bennett said.
"He came up in the days when it was a little gentler and kinder," Bennett said. "One of the things that got him was the firm dividing line."