State Sen. George Hooks, D-Americus, announced May 14, 2012, that he would not seek a 17th term in the Georgia Senate. Hooks served in the Georgia House 1981-90 before moving to the upper chamber.
AMERICUS, Ga. — The casualty of a reapportionment process that left him facing an election campaign in an expanded district against a young senator he'd mentored, George Hooks, the dean of the Georgia Senate, announced Monday his decision not to seek a 17th term with that body.
"With the strong support of my family, my constituents and my colleagues, we have accomplished much," Hooks said in a news release. "I believe the time has come to step aside and perhaps explore other areas of public service.
"I am humbled to have held the public trust of my friends and neighbors for more than three decades. I will continue to serve actively until my current term expires in January 2013."
Had he chosen to return to the Senate, Hooks, who was first sworn in as senator of District 14 in 1991, would have had to challenge Freddie Powell Sims, a fellow Democrat from Dawson who currently serves as senator of the state's 12th District. They were placed in the same district when the Legislature reapportioned its seats according to 2010 census data.
Sims said Monday she had mixed feelings about Hooks' announcement.
"Sen. Hooks and I had a conversation last Thursday, and he told me his plans," Sims said. "Certainly I have mixed feelings about his decision. Foremost, this is a great loss to the Senate and to all of south Georgia, a great loss of institutional knowledge.
"Sen. Hooks has brought a lot of money to south Georgia during his tenure. He was head of Appropriations for years and years, and anybody who controls money controls growth. All you have to do is look at the completion of (U.S. Highway) 19, and if you don't think he had a lot to do with that, you're nuts."
Hooks said the 2010 census numbers provided "handwriting on the wall" as he considered a 17th run for the Senate.
"I was never really interested in staying much past 30 years in the Senate anyway, and I pretty much saw the handwriting on the wall when I saw the census numbers coming in," Hooks said Monday. "If I was going to make a decision (to leave the Legislature) while I was still on top of my game, what better time than now?
"I've done pretty much all I had hoped to do in representing the people of my district, including chairing the two most important committees. No, this was a good time for me to make a move."
Sen. John Crosby of Tifton, a Republican who represents the 13th District, said he would miss the man who had become his close friend over the years. Crosby noted that politics no doubt played a role in Hooks' decision.
"George and I were seatmates in the Senate, and we talked about his plans off and on (after reapportionment was completed)," Crosby said Monday. "He kept things pretty close to the vest, so I really didn't know what he planned to do. There's always a little politics involved in decisions like this, and invariably some people end up getting squeezed out."
Hooks, who served in the House of Representatives from 1981 to 1990 before being elected to the Senate, joins longtime Rep. Bob Hanner, a Parrott Republican, as influential Southwest Georgia legislators who have decided not to attempt to return to Atlanta. Hanner, who served in the House for 37 years, announced on March 29 that he would not seek re-election after reapportionment left him in the same district as longtime friend state Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert.
"We are certainly suffering great losses with George and Bob Hanner deciding to step down," Crosby said. "They've both been such faithful servants to their constituents, and they had so much knowledge and had built up tremendous friendships and relationships in Atlanta. That's important to representing your district.
"I'm sure I'll continue to call on both of them, as will the people in their districts."
House District 152 Rep. Ed Rynders said the Senate would lose a member who has a unique historical grasp of the state's history.
"Even after the Republicans took over as the majority party in state government, Sen. Hooks stayed engaged," Rynders said. "The most impressive things about him were his historical perspective on the state of Georgia and his institutional knowledge.
"I personally witnessed an agency trying to do something through the rules process that Sen. Hooks knew couldn't be done by law, and in that case he preserved something beneficial to rural Georgia."
Hooks will leave the Senate as an influential member of the Economic Development, Ethics, National Resources and the Environment, Rules and Appropriations committees. He chaired the Appropriations Committee from 1993-2003, and has been a member of the ONE Georgia Authority Oversight Committee since the creation of that committee.
A sixth-generation native of Sumter County, Hooks earned a bachelor's degree from Auburn University after graduating from Americus High School. He owns an insurance/real estate firm in Americus.
Hooks has been recognized as Legislator of the Year by the Georgia Public Health Association, the Medical Association of Georgia and the Georgia Hospital Association, and was named National Legislator of the Year by the American School Counselor Association. In 2008 he was given the Outstanding Elected Official Grand Award by the Georgia Urban Forest Council.
He said the southern portion of the state faces some major problems as it looks past 2012.
"One of the most difficult challenges we have here in South Georgia is a stagnant population," Hooks said. "My district alone was 30,000 to 40,000 people down, and that's significant when you look at the enormous population growth around Atlanta. There are districts up there whose population has doubled, and most of the people are transplants who have no idea about the problems of our region.
"That's tough for them with the concerns they have about water and transportation. Down here, though, our folks have to focus on making sure everyone in the state has adequate and equal education so that we can address our economic development and health care issues."
Sims said the retirement of such longtime legislators as Hooks will have a lasting impact on state government.
"We're seeing so many resignations now of people with tremendous knowledge of the processes of government, and I think a lot of them are just fed up with the extremism in both parties," she said. "We're not getting things done, and I think change in the process is going to have to come from the outside, from the voters. So much of what they're hearing now is hogwash, stuff that won't put meals on the table or stop the foreclosures on their homes.
"George Hooks was a mentor to me, a source of so much information. He and I did not look alike, but our districts were very much alike. Our constituents had the same needs and challenges, and that's why I held so many discussions with him on how to represent my district. This is a big loss to our part of the state."
Not, Hooks notes, that he won't be around to offer help in any way he can.
"I'm not going anywhere," he said. "This is home to me, and I'll still know my way around Atlanta. I don't know in what capacity right now, but I expect to stay involved."