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|Twenty-plus years flies by quickly|
It seems as if it was just yesterday. The year was 1988.
Buddy Roemer was governor. John Alario was Speaker of the House. Allen Bares was president of the Senate.
Representing District 21 and serving as chairman of the Rural Caucus, Al Ater of Ferriday was beginning his second term in the House. He was a floor leader for the Roemer administration, too.
Who was Ater's seatmate in the House chambers?
If you guessed Noble Ellington of Winnsboro, you would be correct.
Ellington was 46 years old then. He had been elected to the House the previous fall in a hard-fought campaign against Rod Elrod. The race for the District 20 seat was decided in Caldwell Parish where Ellington's appeal to black voters sealed his election. It was Ellington's first foray into politics.
Fairly low-key and always observing back in those days, Ellington learned the ways of the House by watching Ater and then-Rep. Francis Thompson. Ellington was a quick learner, and he made new friends easily.
As is often the case in politics, timing is everything. The same can be said for Ellington's political career. After two terms in the House (1988-1996), Ellington succeeded Steve Thompson in the Senate, representing District 32. As it is today, District 32 was the largest senatorial district in the state at the time.
The District 32 seat opened up for Ellington after Thompson decided two terms in the Senate was enough for him. When Thompson left the Senate he never reentered the public arena. He doesn't express any remorse over it either.
Ellington's opponent for the Senate in the fall of 1995 was Ball Mayor Roy Hebron. Hebron played hardball and turned the race into an ugly affair early on. It backfired on him, and Ellington sailed into office fairly easily.
Ironically, Hebron resigned from office as mayor of Ball earlier this year after pleading guilty in federal court to one conspiracy charge for defrauding FEMA, and he's been sentenced to serve four years in federal prison. As we've often heard, what goes around comes around.
When the Legislature embraced good government for a spell in the mid 1990s and approved term limits, few people realized at the time that term limits could serve as a double-edged sword – for every ineffective lawmaker who's forced out of office, a good one or two must hit the road as well. That, in a nutshell, is what term limits do for us.
That's exactly what occurred for Ellington, who was forced to give up his Senate seat in 2008 thanks to term limits. Of course, Ellington wasn't ready to pull the curtain on politics, and he did what a few legislators did during the fall 2007 elections – he simply hopped across the rotunda of the capitol and sought election to a seat there.
When Ellington launched his campaign for his old House seat in 2007 few political observers expected him to encounter much opposition. Ellington's track record as a fairly effective lawmaker would be enough to convince voters to send him back to the House. At least that's what many of us thought.
Literally no one counted on Cleve Womack of Catahoula Parish giving Ellington much of a fight in the District 20 race, but that's exactly what happened. Womack did it, too, with very little money for television, radio and newspaper advertising.
It could be argued that Ellington's close election in 2007 put a bad taste in his mouth. After all, it's not uncommon for veteran elected officials to get disgruntled when voters send them a message. Remember, elected officials are human, too.
The experience from the campaign against Womack may be one reason why Ellington announced earlier this week he would not be a candidate for re-election this fall. There's probably more to it than that but only Ellington knows, and he doesn't owe anyone an explanation on why he decided to call it quits.
Regardless of what prompted Ellington to bow out, he can hold his head high when he leaves the Legislature. He will leave knowing he did what he thought was in the best interest of his constituents, and his colleagues will remember him as a man whose word was good.
An elected official who chooses to retire from politics can't ask for much more than that.
Sam Hanna, Jr.
is publisher of The Ouachita Citizen
, and he serves in an editorial/management capacity with The Concordia Sentinel
and The Franklin Sun
, three newspapers owned and operated by the Hanna family. Hanna can be reached by calling (318) 805-8158 or by emailing him at email@example.com
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