Obsession: John Jay Hooker celebrates

Monday, May 31, 2010 at 11:45pm

It’s been another contentious year in the legislature.

With guns-in-bars, a debate over a fish hatchery, and a fight over whether Tennessee should commend Arizona for its harsh new immigration law, Republicans and Democrats have been at each other’s throats.

So it’s nice when they can come together, as they did last week in honoring gadfly, perpetual candidate and Tennessee original John Jay Hooker, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday.

In a resolution sponsored by state Sen. Mae Beavers — one of the Senate’s most ardent conservatives — the General Assembly gave an attaboy to a man who deserves a lot more recognition.

Hooker’s life story is amazing, and his friendships with the famous numerous.

He helped jump-start Baker v. Carr, the case establishing the one-man-one-vote principle. He was Robert Kennedy’s counselor when Kennedy ran the Department of Justice.

He nabbed the Democratic Party nomination for governor in 1970 and lost to Winfield Dunn — a character in his own right — in an election that was surely entertaining. For his part, Hooker said Dunn beat him “fair and square.”

Thus began a string of elections for the white-suit-wearing Hooker, who often ran for office just to sue his opponents for taking out-of-state contributions, which he contends are illegal.

Hooker helped start HCA, he convinced Amon Evans to hire John Seigenthaler as The Tennessean’s editor, he bought the Nashville Banner, and he started a chicken chain and a drive-through hamburger joint. He claims he convinced Ross Perot to run for president. He counts Muhammad Ali among his friends, and he still wears the black duster Johnny Cash gave him.

These days, Hooker is still fighting the establishment — no matter who is in charge. In 2006, he finished third in the Democratic primary for Senate and was runner-up to Phil Bredesen for the gubernatorial nomination. His latest cause celebre is the revocation of the current method of picking the state’s judges, which draws praise from conservatives like Beavers — and often the ire of the Democrats.

“The greatest feeling in life is falling in love, and there is nothing like falling in love with an idea,” Hooker likes to say.

Agree with him or not, it’s hard not to love an idealist.

3 Comments on this post:

By: govskeptic on 6/1/10 at 6:01

Mr. Hooker is certainly correct on his current cause and it's this
writers hope the legislature will honor him a second time by
passing legislation to correct the electing of Judges. The
current system goes against everything in our Tn Constitution
and it's shameful the current system was ever established in
this state!

By: AmyLiorate on 6/1/10 at 7:37

Hooker is a great mind. Congratulations on your eightieth year!

I must agree that a person would be hard pressed to find a reason for someone to get campaign donations from out of state for a state office.

By: richgoose on 6/1/10 at 11:23

John Jay was a mad man. Based on history most men of great ego are "mad men"

Hooray for "Mad Men"