George Hooks is an Americus insurance agent who served for thirty-two years in the Georgia General Assembly, where he played an important role in shaping the state’s budget and spending priorities through his chairmanship of the senate Appropriations Committee. An avid student of Georgia’s past, Hooks was known as the historian of the senate and was frequently called upon by capitol reporters seeking his insight for a newspaper article. He spoke eloquently in senate floor speeches about such topics as the history of the state flag, and the constitutional prohibition against giving state funds to religious organizations.
A sixth-generation Sumter County native, George Bardin Hooks was born on May 9, 1945, in Americus, to Rose Mary and Thomas Bardin III. He graduated from Americus High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University, in Auburn, Alabama. He also holds an honorary law degree from Mercer University. He and his first wife, Gail Goen, who died in September 2007, had two children, George Bardin Jr. and Mary Ann. He later married Kay Felder Allen.
Hooks, a Democrat, was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1980 and served for ten years in the lower chamber. He gained widespread media attention in 1987 as the chairman of a house subcommittee that held a series of public hearings on AIDS, which had just emerged as a major public health issue. Hooks opposed a controversial proposal made by other lawmakers that would have required mandatory AIDS testing for all Georgians and instead supported state funding for AIDS educational projects. He was named an assistant administrative floor leader by Governor Joe Frank Harris in 1988.
Hooks mastered the complex details of the state budget during his tenure as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He was considered to be one of the most knowledgeable lawmakers about the nuts and bolts of state finances and often bragged about Georgia’s AAA bond rating, the highest rating assigned by the financial community.
Hooks stepped up to run for the state senate in 1990, when Senator Lewis H. “Bud” McKenzie retired from the legislature, and he served there through 2012. He eventually became the “dean of the senate,” the member with the most seniority.
In 1992 Lieutenant Governor Pierre Howard named Hooks chairman of the powerful senate Rules Committee, which decides the bills that will make it to the floor for debate. Hooks cochaired the joint senate-house Budgetary Responsibility Oversight Committee, which was created during the 1993 General Assembly session to strengthen the legislature’s review of the operations of state agencies. Also in 1993 Howard named Hooks chairman of the senate Appropriations Committee, which works with the house to draft the state budget. He remained chairman of appropriations for nearly ten years, until Republicans gained control of the senate in January 2003. Even as Democrats became the minority party in 2003, Hooks was able to use his knowledge of legislative rules and procedures to have an impact on important bills.
State Flag Controversy
During the 2003 session, one of the most divisive issues facing the legislature was the design of the state flag. Governor Roy Barnes lost his campaign for reelection in 2002 to Sonny Perdue, largely because Perdue criticized Barnes’s role in replacing the 1956 version of the state flag that was dominated by the Confederate battle emblem. Conservative Republicans in the General Assembly pushed to bring back the 1956 version of the flag to replace the “blue flag” that the legislature had adopted at Barnes’s urging in 2001. The house passed a bill that would have changed the flag design and authorized a state referendum that would have allowed Georgians to vote on the question of bringing back the 1956 flag design. If that bill had passed the senate in the form originally adopted by the house, it would have gone straight to Perdue for his expected signature. Instead, Hooks worked behind the scenes with senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans to revise the bill and send the measure back to the house.
On the final night of the 2003 session, the house passed a version of the bill that eliminated the state referendum that would have included the question of restoring the Confederate battle emblem to the flag. This version of the bill was signed into law, and the explosive issue of a statewide referendum was avoided.
The senate district that Hooks represented for twenty-two years was eliminated during legislative redistricting in 2011, because of continued population losses in the rural counties comprising the district. Hooks subsequently decided not to run for another term. After he retired from the legislature, Hooks was appointed by Governor Nathan Deal to the state Board of Regents, which governs the University System of Georgia.