Al Ater, who as interim secretary of state was instrumental in ensuring voters evacuated to other states after Hurricane Katrina were able to participate in local elections, passed away in Houston Sunday evening from complications with brain cancer.
He was 63 and had lived in Concordia Parish. He was in Houston for treatment for a brain tumor. He died at the Houston Hospice.
“Al was known as a guy who was always willing to negotiate and get the work of the people done in a non-partisan manner,” Secretary of State Tom Schedler said. “At the Secretary of State's Office he is remembered for his exemplary leadership after Hurricane Katrina in pulling off the New Orleans Mayoral Election under extraordinary conditions, making Louisiana the model for emergency preparedness for voting.”
Billy Rucker, of Concordia Parish, said Ater had been working on building the parish a new hospital when the tumor was diagnosed last Spring.
Ater was elected to the Louisiana House in 1983 at the age 29. He served until 1992, after choosing not to run for reelection. Ater went back to private business in Ferriday, where he farmed and ran an insurance agency.
In 2001, Ater was named the first assistant to Secretary of State Fox McKeithen, where he began work on merging the commissioner of elections post with that of the secretary of state.
After a short stint with the Insurance Commissioner, Ater returned to the secretary of state’s office. McKeithen died abruptly in 2005 and Ater became the interim secretary of state.
A month later, Hurricane Katrina hit, followed by Hurricane Rita, causing widespread evacuations of south Louisiana residents to other states.
A lot of politicians were saying that voters couldn’t participate in the 2006 New Orleans municipal elections because they were living out of state.
Ater countered that the evacuated voters had moved because of disaster, not because they voluntarily chose to change their address. He visited Houston and Atlanta, overcame legal barriers and practical obstacles.
“He had more common sense than anyone I’ve been around. He could get to the heart of an issue in about two seconds,” said Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, of Bossier Parish. “Al was plenty forceful. But he was kind. And he didn’t scare.”