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Story Archives: Long overdue recognition for Ater
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|Long overdue recognition for Ater|
Not long after Al Ater learned he would be inducted into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame at Winnfield, he quipped that the people responsible for selecting inductees must have been desperate.
That's a typical response from Ater, who throughout his many years of public service never took much credit for anything. Instead, without much fanfare he simply accomplished what he said he was going to do in his role as a public official, often allowing his friends to hog the spotlight, so to speak.
Only 29 years old at the time, Ater was first elected to public office in 1983. He outdistanced a crowded field of candidates in the primary election to take the District 21 seat in the state House of Representatives. That was the year Edwin Edwards unseated Dave Treen.
Though Ater was a country boy representing Concordia, Catahoula and Tensas parishes, he quickly distinguished himself in the House as an up-and-coming public figure who not only understood politics but understood people, too. He spoke from the heart, often telling people not what they wanted to hear but what Ater thought they should be told. He still does. And that's a rare trait among public figures today, who often rely on polls to tell them what to think and what to say.
Re-elected without opposition in 1987, Ater received the dubious honor of being tapped to serve as a floor leader for a new governor, Buddy Roemer. It was a match made in hell, for Ater seldom agreed with Roemer, who grew frustrated with Ater's persistent opposition to the Roemer Revolution. Ater felt the "revolution" was a disaster for Louisiana in more ways than one. He never wavered.
Obviously frustrated with politics, Ater did what few public officials are willing to do. He walked away, opting not to seek re-election in 1991, though Ater would have been easily re-elected to a third term. Furthermore, he could have easily won a Senate seat.
But Ater went home to spend time with his family and to make money. He was successful on both fronts.
Yet, as Ater will tell you, once you've been in the game — the political game — it's difficult to walk away forever. That's probably why Ater returned to the public arena some 10 years ago, first as an assistant Secretary of State. After he spent some time at the Department of Insurance as a first assistant there, Ater returned to the Secretary of State's office to help a dear friend, Fox McKeithen.
When McKeithen was left paralyzed by an accident at his home, he turned to Ater to run the office while McKeithen recuperated. He never did. Instead, McKeithen tragically passed away at a relatively young age.
Ater stepped in and served as Secretary of State, and he served with distinction, especially during those turbulent times following Katrina.
A mayor's race in New Orleans was postponed and later held void of any irregularities thanks to Ater's steady handling of the matter as the public official in charge of elections in Louisiana at the time. It was one of Big Al's finer moments.
That was typical for Ater, though, a businessman and part-time politician who seemed content to serve in the spirit of the Jesuits, doing what he felt he should do with his life because he was more fortunate than others and because God blessed him with an ability to lead.
On Saturday, February 7, Ater will join the likes of Edwards, Dave Treen, Russell Long, Mike Foster, Camille Gravel, Victor Bussie and others, including my late father Sam Hanna Sr., as a member of Louisiana Political Hall of Fame.
For once, Ater should enjoy the moment. He deserves it.
He's deserved it for a long time.
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