Rep. Vernon Ehlers, a moderate Republican from Michigan who sought protections for the Great Lakes and funding for math and science education, said Wednesday he won't seek re-election to Congress.
Ehlers, 76, who faced a challenge in the Republican primary, was announcing his retirement at a news conference later Wednesday at the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building in Grand Rapids, Mich. Most of his district was once represented by President Gerald R. Ford.
"Each of us should recognize that the world doesn't depend just on us and I've been there 16 years now and that's more than enough time for most people and I've accomplished a great deal," Ehlers said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I just felt this was a good time to go."
Ehlers decided not to seek re-election a day after state Rep. Justin Amash, a conservative Republican, said he would run for the 3rd District congressional seat. Announcing his candidacy, Amash accused the Obama administration and Congress of "spending our money and our children's money to bail out failing companies and reward irresponsibility."
Asked whether the primary challenge factored into his decision, Ehlers said, "Absolutely not. I never worried about primary challenges, never had a problem once I got elected. The people saw what I could do."
The nine-term congressman has bucked his party on some issues, supporting the $700 million bailout bill of the nation's financial industry in late 2008 and legislation allowing prescription drug imports from Canada in 2003, which the Bush administration opposed. Ehlers also voted against a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning.
Ehlers, who has held the seat in the solidly Republican district since winning a special election in December 1993, previously served in the state legislature and taught physics at Calvin College from 1966-83. He was the first research physicist to serve in Congress.
He was chosen to lead the House Administration Committee in February 2006 and helped shape ethics legislation.
Ehlers said his wife, Johanna, has dealt with recent health problems but it did not play a factor in his decision to retire.
The Republican field is expected to grow beyond Amash, a Grand Rapids lawyer in his first term. Other potential candidates include state Sens. Mark Jansen and Bill Hardiman and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who has long been considered likely to run if Ehlers stepped down. Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, however, chose Land as his running mate in his campaign for governor, complicating a Land run for Congress.
The Michigan gubernatorial primary is August 3.