By Alan Riquelmy and Sara Pauff, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.

George Hooks, the dean of the Georgia State Senate whose district includes the home of President Jimmy Carter, announced Monday he would not seek re-election after a 32-year legislative career.

"I believe the time has come to step aside and perhaps explore other areas of public service," Hooks said in a release. "I am humbled to have held the public trust of my friends and neighbors for more than three decades."

Hooks said since his Senate district has been losing population, while districts in Atlanta and the Atlanta suburbs have been growing, he felt it was a good time to step down.

Hooks, D-Americus, first took office in 1980 as a state representative. He served five terms before winning a seat in the state Senate, where he's served since 1990.

Over the years, Hooks has served as an administration floor leader for a governor. He's also chaired the powerful Rules Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Hooks said he was especially proud of his role in the redesign of the state flag in 2003, a tricky and emotional issue, he said.

"It was such a distraction to state lawmakers that we couldn't get much done," he said. He said the current flag design has more historic elements, he said, than previous flags.

Hooks has represented 20 different counties over the three decades he's been in office, according to the Georgia Senate Press Office. Hooks' current Senate district, the largest in the state, is comprised of 12 rural counties in west Georgia.

Rural lawmakers like himself have a chance to get to know their constituents, he said.

"People in suburban Atlanta don't know their elected officials," he said. "My family has lived in my Senate district for generations. When people call, I know them on a first-name basis."

Hooks said he is still making plans for his retirement. He will continue to serve until his term ends in January 2013.

©2012 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)