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Playing politics

It's pretty low to use a tragedy for political purposes.

But that's what Pinellas County Commissioner Charles Rainey, a Republican, did Tuesday. Rainey took an unwarranted swipe at Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles. He criticized the governor for not moving faster to declare Pinellas County a disaster area in the wake of Saturday's deadly tornadoes.

It was a shot on a particularly sensitive issue for Chiles. After Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida, Chiles was criticized for not calling in federal troops more quickly. Everyone from President Bush to Marilyn Quayle blamed him for foot-dragging because residents went several days without help that might have been provided by the military.

But Chiles won over some South Florida critics when he worked in the disaster area around the clock for two weeks. Then he went to Washington and called on former colleagues in the U.S. Senate, helping to persuade them to approve even more federal disaster aid than had been requested.

This time, Chiles didn't deserve the jab Rainey gave him. "What's holding him up?" Rainey said during Tuesday morning's Pinellas County Commission meeting. "Are we going to have the same stall with the governor that we had with Andrew?"

The fact is that by Sunday, Chiles was touring the areas of Pinellas Park and Largo that were wrecked by the tornadoes on Saturday. On Monday a state team activated by the governor arrived to do the formal assessment of damage. That information was necessary to determine whether the county could be declared a disaster area and how much federal aid would be needed.

With the homework completed, Chiles made the formal declaration that Pinellas was a disaster area at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday while on his second visit to the county in three days.

If that was foot-dragging, then the Pinellas County Commission is guilty, too. The commission didn't declare a local state of emergency until Tuesday morning, just hours before Chiles made his announcement.