WASHINGTON – Rep. Ralph Regula, one of the longest-serving members of the House, will formally announce his retirement on Friday, the Ohio Republican told FOX News in an exclusive interview.
Speaking by phone from his home in Beach City, Ohio, Regula said Thursday that after 36 years in the House, it will be time to step down in January 2009.
"Being in the majority, you have more influence," the 18-term lawmaker said of his decision-making process. But, he added that even if Republicans had the majority he "would still make the same decision."
Regula, 82, has served as chairman of two powerful House appropriations subcommittees but never became chairman of the full Appropriations Committee, having lost his 2005 bid to become chairman to a more junior rival. He is currently third in seniority on the Republican side of the money-wielding panel.
First elected in 1972, Regula represents Ohio's 16th Congressional District, which has traditionally been a Republican region, though it is lately trending more Democratic. In 2004, President Bush won the Canton-anchored district with 54 percent of the vote, but Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland easily carried it during his election last year.
Regula has previously stated that the changing political climate in a battleground state like Ohio and in his district were contributing factors to his decision not to seek re-election.
Regula said he had not discussed his decision with House Republican leader John Boehner, also of Ohio, or National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma, but his departure will come as no surprise.
"They knew which way I was leaning," he said.
Regula is an old-school lawmaker whose moderate views on federal spending in general and social programs in particular sometimes put him at odds with conservatives that have dominated party leadership ranks since the mid-1990s.
Regula was a key player in creating the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. He used his leadership post on the panel that funds national parks to pass new user fees to dedicate more than $1 billion to improve facilities.
He recently voted with Democrats to expand the State Children's Health Insurance program despite Bush's veto threat and has broken with his party on trade and increasing the minimum wage.
The dean of Ohio's delegation, Regula is tied with Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., for sixth place in House seniority, one of two Republicans — with C.W. Bill Young of Florida — in that top tier. He is the ninth House Republican to announce his retirement this term, along with Reps. Ray LaHood, Chip Pickering, Dennis Hastert, Terry Everett, Deborah Pryce, Jim Ramstad, Rick Renzi and Jerry Weller.
He acknowledged that his departure makes it more difficult for the House to regain the majority.
"Losing members puts these seats in play" when they otherwise might not have been, he said.
Three-term Democratic Ohio state Rep. John Boccieri, a Strickland ally, is running to succeed Regula as are several Republicans.
A former school teacher, Regula said he'd like to work with students after he retires from Congress.
FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.