John Jay Hooker

The Tennessee icon sits down to talk with Joe.

Joe Bass

Issue date: 10/22/03 Section: editor's picks
To say that John Jay Hooker is a polarizing figure in Tennessee politics would be an understatement. At a recent family dinner, mention of my interview with him brought laughs from some members of my mother's family. They remember him for alleged shady business dealings, purported corrupt campaigns, and a lifetime of ego-tripping. But for others, Hooker is a man of note, not only for holding a definite place in 20th century Tennessee state history, but for the cause he fights for today: campaign finance reform.
A lawyer initially, Hooker graduated from Vanderbilt Law school in 1957 and immediately began working on important cases. During the Schoolfield Impeachment Trail, in which Chattanooga judge Raulston Schoolfield was removed from the bench for accepting bribes, he became acquainted with Robert Kennedy, with whom he later worked on the Jimmy Hoffa trial.
In 1966, Hooker ran for governor with Ross Bass on the senatorial ticket. He lost in the primaries, but it didn't stop him from trying again in 1970, this time winning the Democratic nomination. He lost once again because, according to Hooker, of a split in the Democratic Party of Tennessee at that time. "It's really a shame. We would have had a lot different state if Ross [and] I had been elected. We were very much different from the people who beat us."
In 1962, Hooker argued as a part of a team in the "One Man, One Vote" decision in the case Baker v. Carr before the United States Supreme Court. Upon his retirement, Chief Justice Earl Warren would say that the decision was the most important of his tenure. And it is this case on which Hooker bases his current argument against campaign contributions.
"You can't divide political power based on geography. You can't give the people in the rural areas more political clout than the people in the urban areas. For the same reason you can't do that, you cannot constitutionally give the people who have money more clout than you do those who don't. So what I'd like to do it get my case back to the Supreme Court of the United States and have [them] rule on the question again on the basis that what does 'one man, one vote' mean? I say 'one man, one equal vote.'"
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