State Sen. George Hooks of Americus says he won’t run for re-election in the fall. Known as the “Dean of the Senate,” the rural Democrat has served in the General Assembly since 1980, first as a representative and then later as a Senator.
His decision was largely driven by the new lines of his Senate district. As part of the once-a-decade redistricting last year, Hooks’ district, #14, was eliminated altogether, with various pieces divided among several other districts.
Tom Crawford, editor of the online publication, The Georgia Report, said Hooks didn't "have his old district to run in again."
"He wound up being a victim of the numbers," he said. "That’s what happens every ten years with redistricting.”
Hooks said he knew his district would change drastically as soon as he saw the census figures, which showed stagnant population or even population losses in the 12 south Georgia counties he’s represented. Metro Atlanta, by contrast, boomed in the decade between 2000 and 2010, and gained a larger share of seats.
“The regret is that I know my counties extremely well and have served them a long time,” he said. “I know everyone who’s related to everybody. I know every section and every problem they have. By moving them into major or larger census areas, that will have an impact on them. So that’s a regret.”
The 66-year-old insurance executive says he hopes to continue in public service but said he doesn’t know in what capacity. Politicians across the spectrum speculated that he was promised an appointment by the state’s Republican leaders when in March he was only one of four Democratic state Senators to vote in favor of a GOP-backed charter school constitutional amendment. In an interview with GPB Friday, he brushed aside such speculation.
“I didn’t cut any details and I wasn’t promised anything,” he said. “I had to look to my local situations in my counties, and we have a lot of problems with the public education in my counties. And frankly after examining everything, I think – actually no, I'm sure, I’m convinced – that it would be a good move for some of my counties to move to charter schools. And at the urging of my constituents, I decided to support the charter schools bill.”
He said he broke with his caucus in part because he was its only rural member.
Crawford of The Georgia Report said Hooks' controversial ‘yes’ vote for the constitutional amendment was one of the last acts in what would become his final Senate term, and turned out to be crucial for the bill's passage.
“There was some doubt as to whether the Republicans would be able to peel off any Democratic votes at all," he said. "In the end, there were four Democrats who crossed over and voted for the charter school amendment, which gave it the votes it needed to pass. Hooks was obviously one of the more noteworthy ones because of his seniority in the Senate.”
Indeed, Hooks' honorary title, Dean of the Senate, owed to his seniority. He served in the upper chamber for 22 years. Crawford said he brought institutional knowledge to the Senate.
“George Hooks had a deep sense of history. He knew more about Georgia history, I think, than any other member of the Legislature," Crawford said. "And in his final years especially, he became a kind of elder figure there among Senators, sharing his deep knowledge of history and politics with younger members of the Senate.”