Hooks informed The Star Monday of his decision to leave his name off the March 13 primary ballot – just days after publicly discussing his qualification for the race and his intent to run against Republican challenger Tina Walker.
In addition to bowing out of the race, Hooks doesn’t plan to wait until the end of his term to retire. The longtime clerk said he’ll only work for a couple more months – long enough to get his paperwork in order – before he steps down.
So, why the sudden change of mind for this 17-year veteran of the Calhoun County Courthouse?
To hear Hooks tell it, it’s more like a change of heart – literally.
The 64-year-old has battled heart disease for some time now: He underwent quadruple bypass surgery a couple years ago and takes nitroglycerin for chest pains.
“Health was the primary thing, honestly,” he said. “Everybody tells you everything is stress-related, and I’ll tell you: It is.”
Hooks’ health has been pretty good, by his account. But mounting stress from budget cuts to the state court system and the recent layoffs of half of his 25-person staff finally got to him last week after a conference in Prattville, he said.
All of the state’s circuit clerks had met to hear Alabama Chief Justice Chuck Malone talk about what the court system should expect in fiscal 2013. It wasn’t good news, according to Hooks and other clerks who attended the meeting.
Malone told them they’d probably receive more budget cuts next year, said Madison County Circuit Clerk Jane Smith.
That means more layoffs in the state’s courthouses, added Clarence Haynes, circuit clerk for Talladega County.
“I was at the clerks’ conference and we were getting more bad news,” Hooks said. “I was driving back Friday morning, and I had a pretty severe angina attack.”
The circuit clerk said he pulled off to the side of the road, took some nitroglycerin and waited for the chest pains to subside.
Then he called his wife.
“I said, ‘You know, I don’t think this is worth the stress,’” Hooks recalled. “She agreed. We prayed about it.”
Tina Walker, one of Hooks’ former employees and the woman who had planned to run against him in the March primary, was surprised when she learned Monday of Hooks’ decision.
She said she planned to continue her word-of-mouth campaign regardless, but noted that Hooks' decision made things a bit easier for her.
“But I was ready" to campaign against him, Walker said.
Walker worked in the courthouse for 25 years before retiring last May. The Ohatchee resident told The Star last week she felt she’d be a good fit for the circuit clerk position, because she has worked in almost every division at the courthouse.
An online list of candidates showed Monday that no Democrats have qualified to run against Walker. Sheila Gilbert, the chairman of the Calhoun County Democratic Party, said that several residents had expressed "casual interest" in the position but that no one had formally made the move to qualify.
That may change at this late hour, though, Gilbert said, now that Hooks has decided to retire.
Friday is the last day to qualify for the primary.
Hooks said he doesn’t want to publicly endorse anyone for the race.
Whoever wins will have a lot of hard work ahead of them, Hooks said.
“It’s the worst possible time for budgets and the courts,” he said. “It’s all slash-and-burn down there.”
Contact Star Staff Writer Cameron Steele at 256-235-3562.