Al Ater

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Alan Ray Ater
Louisiana State Representative from District 21 (now Concordia, East Carroll, Madison, and Tensas parishes)
In office
1984–1992
Preceded by William B. Atkins
Succeeded by Bryant Hammett
Acting Louisiana Secretary of State
In office
July 2005 – November 2006
Preceded by Fox McKeithen
Succeeded by Jay Dardenne
Personal details
Born (1953-12-15) December 15, 1953 (age 61)
Decatur, Illinois
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s)

Susie Beard Ater

Children Whitney Lauren Ater

Thomas Alan Ater
Elliott Andrew Ater

Parents Donald Edward and Ruth LaVonne Chapman Ater
Residence Ferriday, Concordia Parish, Louisiana, USA
Alma mater Huntington High School

Northwestern State University

Occupation Farmer; Businessman
Religion United Methodist

Alan Ray Ater (born December 15, 1953), known as Al Ater, is a farmer and businessman from Ferriday, Louisiana, who served from 1984-1992 as a Democratic member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from District 21 in the eastern portion of his state.[1] He served as interim secretary of state from 2005 through November 2006, and was praised for his handling of the New Orleans mayoral primary in early 2006, when the city was still disrupted from the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

Early life and family[edit]

A native of Decatur, Illinois, Ater was the youngest of five children of Donald Edward Ater (1923–1974)[2] and the former Ruth LaVonne Chapman (December 16, 1920–October 28, 2004), both Illinois natives. His four older siblings are Marcia Kay, Donald Willard, Lynette, and Edward William Ater.

Their mother Ruth Chapman attended Lindenwood College for Women in St. Charles, Missouri. The Aters married, farmed in the area about Cisco, Illinois, and owned International Harvester dealerships in Kankanee and Oreana, Illinois.

In 1957, the Aters purchased the Coola Coosa Plantation near Tallulah on Lake St. John, an oxbow lake on the Mississippi River and moved to Louisiana. They founded and operated Ater Warehouse, Inc., and the Don Ater Chevrolet dealership in Ferriday. While the Aters resided in Tallulah, the seat of Madison Parish, Mrs. Ater became involved in the American National Cattlewomen's Organization, formerly the CowBelles. She was both Madison Parish and the statewide president of the organization. In 1975, as the national CowBelles president, she organized and chartered groups in thirteen states and spoke at state conventions in thirty-nine states. She headed the committee that wrote the history of the organization. Mrs. Ater was one of three women inducted into the Louisiana Spur Club for contributions to the cattle industry. After the death of her first husband Donald Ater, Ruth married Fred Joseph Wedam (1916–1991) of Klamath Falls, Oregon. She lived with him there until after his death. She returned to Ferriday for her final years.[3]

Al Ater graduated in 1971 from the private Huntington High School in Ferriday, founded the previous year after the public schools were desegregated. He attended Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.

Public office[edit]

First elected at the age of twenty-nine in the 1983 nonpartisan blanket primary, Ater filled the House seat vacated by William B. Atkins, a freshman Democrat from Jonesville in Catahoula Parish. Atkins had defeated Democratic State Senator Dan Richey of Ferriday. Ater was unopposed for a second term in 1987 but did not run in the primary held in October 1991. He was succeeded by fellow Democrat Bryant Hammett, an engineer, also from Ferriday in Concordia Parish.

In 2001, Ater became the first assistant in the office of Fox McKeithen, a Republican and friend since their legislative days, then serving as Louisiana Secretary of State. Ater was influential in merging the former elections department into the secretary of state’s office.[4]

In 2004, Ater joined the Department of Insurance under commissioner J. Robert Wooley, a Democrat. In March 2005, he returned to McKeithen's office as first assistant. Four months later, upon McKeithen's untimely death from an accident earlier in the year, Ater was appointed as the interim secretary of state.[4]

Effects of Hurricane Katrina[edit]

As secretary of state, Ater was called upon to monitor the municipal elections in New Orleans held some eight months after Hurricane Katrina, when the city was still struggling to recover and had many former residents living elsewhere. The primary election was to have been conducted on February 4, 2006. Newspaperman Sam Hanna, Jr., of the Ouachita Citizen said that Ater

"oversaw probably the cleanest mayor's election in modern times in New Orleans' long, fabled history. . . . He mowed down the political establishment on both sides of the aisle, which tried in vain to manipulate the election process in the Crescent City for its own selfish reasons. Yes, Ater stood out as a leader with a backbone among a host of local and state officials, who, quite frankly, have appeared spineless throughout the catastrophe caused by Katrina."[5]

Former Secretary of State James H. "Jim" Brown, also a Ferriday native, said he believed the elections could have been held on February 4 and that the delays sought by Ater were unnecessary. Brown said polling locations could be moved as needed and that voting machines can be located elsewhere as required. Out-of-town voters can still file for absentee ballots, Brown said.[6]

Ater, as secretary of state, questioned a provision of Louisiana law which had required a voter who registered by mail to cast his ballot in person at least once before he could file an absentee ballot. "I could see the headlines across America right now, They'll say it's another thing that Louisiana can't handle on its own," Ater said.[7] The law had been intended to protect against voter fraud, but Ater said the hurricane had temporarily changed the dynamics of voting.[7]

Ater's handling of the election was honored by the Louisiana chapter of Common Cause, which held a ceremony in his honor. Also feted was State Senator Walter Boasso of St. Bernard Parish, who consolidated the actions of the affected levee boards following the hurricane.[8]

Ater served until November 2006, when he was succeeded by the current secretary, Republican Jay Dardenne, the winner of the special election to fill the vacancy left by McKeithen. Ater did not run in the special election.

Farming[edit]

Al Ater farms corn, cotton, and soybeans through his Lakeland Planting Company.[9] He serves on the board of the Concordia Parish Farm Bureau and Catalyst Energy in Vidalia, the Concordia Parish seat of government.[4] He has also farmed about Waterproof in southern Tensas Parish.[10]

Ater remains an active Democratic Party member, contributing in 2008 for several campaigns: to U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, the congressional campaign of Paul Carmouche of Shreveport, senatorial candidate Ronnie Musgrove of Mississippi, and for the defeated Democrat Don Cazayoux in the Baton Rouge-based U.S. House district.[11]

Marriage and family[edit]

Ater and his second wife, the former Susie Beard (born 1958), a pharmacist originally from Vidalia, live on Lake St. John near Ferriday. He has three children, Whitney Lauren Ater (born 1978) in California from his first marriage; and, with Susie, Thomas Alan (born 1987), and Elliott Andrew Ater (born 1989), both of Ferriday. Thomas manages the family farming operation, and Elliott attends Louisiana State University.

Ater's legacy[edit]

Sam Hanna, Jr., son of the late publisher Sam Hanna, Sr., commented on why Ater walked away from

a promising political career more than 20 years in the making [to] head home to Concordia Parish--to Ferriday--to farm some 6,000 acres of land and tend to his other business interests? Well, Ater's no fool, and he recognized a dead-end job when he saw it in serving as secretary of state, especially on the heels of his performance during one of Louisiana's darkest moments. It's always best to leave while you're on top.[5]

In 2009, Ater was among inductees honored in the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[12]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Membership in the Louisiana House of Representatives, 1812-2008". house.louisiana.gov. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  2. ^ "Donald Edward Ater". tmsociety.org. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  3. ^ "Obituary of Ruth LaVonne Chapman Ater Wedam". rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c "Our Campaigns: Ater, Al". ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved December 24, 2009. 
  5. ^ a b "What’s Big Al to do next?", July 20, 2006". ouachitacitizen.com. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  6. ^ "Former La. Secretary of State Jim Brown scoffs at Al Ater's". findarticles.com. 2005. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  7. ^ a b "Al Ater: Courts may take over election if law unchanged". katrinacoverage.com. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Louisiana Common Cause Advocate". commoncause.org. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  9. ^ "Al Ater". linkedin.com. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  10. ^ "Waterproof, Louisiana, Political Contributions by Individuals". city-data.com. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  11. ^ "Al Ater: Political Campaign Contributions, 2008". campaignmoney.com. Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
  12. ^ "Political Hall of Fame: Al Ater". Retrieved December 23, 2009. 
Louisiana House of Representatives
Preceded by
William B. Atkins
Louisiana State Representative from District 21
(Concordia, East Carroll, Madison, and Tensas parishes)

1984–1988
Succeeded by
Bryant Hammett
Political offices
Preceded by
Fox McKeithen
Louisiana Secretary of State
2005–2006
Succeeded by
Jay Dardenne