Former La. Secretary of State Returns to Job as Chief Deputy Insurance Commissioner
January 4, 2010 by Jesse Hamilton
BATON ROUGE, La. December 31 (BestWire) — Longtime Louisiana politician and former Secretary of State Al Ater has returned again to public life, taking his old job as chief deputy commissioner of the state’s Department of Insurance. He’ll serve under Commissioner Jim Donelon.
“I share his commitment to making insurance in Louisiana accessible and affordable,” Ater said in an interview with BestWire. “Jim’s just got a lot of bold ideas. I was just honored and pleased that he thought I could assist him in that.”
Ater, who had decided in 2006 not to run for his secretary of state post, has been an on-again, off-again figure in the state’s government. Before moving to the secretary of state’s office in 2005 to be first assistant secretary of state, he had worked less than a year — from 2004 to 2005, as chief deputy commissioner of insurance. Before that, he had been — in another job title that would be repeated — first assistant secretary of state since 2001.
His governmental experience prior to that was on the legislative side, having served as a state representative from 1984 to 1992, when he chose not to run for re-election.
Ater, who was inducted in 2009 into the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame by the Louisiana Political Museum, may be best known in the state as the one responsible for overseeing elections in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He had risen into the position when the previous secretary of state, Fox McKeithen, a close friend of his, died from injuries sustained in an accident. After stepping down, Ater returned to his home in Ferriday to work as a corn, cotton and rice farmer and businessman.
He’ll start the new job on Jan. 11 and will manage the day-to-day operations of the department. The current chief deputy, Denise Bignac, has been named as the department’s new chief of staff, according to the announcement.
“Al’s experience and understanding of state government is invaluable,” said Commissioner Donelon, in a statement, calling Ater “a huge asset to our department.”
“I’ve never been one of these career politicians,” Ater said of himself. He said he considers himself a farmer who has, from time to time, chosen to work toward specific public goals, usually beside friends of his in government.
“I think Jim’s on a mission,” Ater said. “He’s made some real changes. Our Department of Insurance has been absolutely bogged down by controversies and improprieties.” He also thinks Louisiana may be missing an opportunity in the years after Katrina. “At one time we had the attention of the nation,” he said. “In my humble opinion, all we did is rush to get back to doing the things that we were doing.”
(Jesse A. Hamilton, Washington bureau manager: Jesse.Hamilton@ambest.com) BN-NJ-12-31-2009 1119 ET #