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A long way to Port Wentworth
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Eisenhower went to Korea. Nixon went to China. So too did Sonny Perdue.

Where hasn’t the second-term governor been? How about Port Wentworth and the Imperial Sugar refinery since the night it erupted in flames on Feb. 7?

Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, Georgia’s two U.S. senators, and John Barrow and Jack Kingston, two of the state’s members of the U.S. House of Representatives, have been there. They’ve met with families and workers and emergency personnel. Buddy Carter, Bob Bryant and Eric Johnson were there hours after it happened.

A local lawmaker expressed to me his great displeasure that the governor hadn’t been to Port Wentworth — he had time to go to China, but not to Oxnard Drive, and we won’t delve into the governor leaving at the end of a contentious General Assembly session — for one of the state’s biggest industrial disasters and its most catastrophic since a chemical plant explosion in Woodbine in 1971 killed 34.

The day after the old Dixie Crystals plant erupted in flames, he issued this statement:
“Mary and I are deeply saddened by yesterday’s devastating explosion that has shaken our coastal community. I want the families of all of those lost, missing or injured to know that they are in our thoughts and prayers. Our emergency personnel responded to the scene, as they always do, with speed and skill and I thank them for their continued dedication as we work to determine what caused this tragic explosion.”

So before I raked Gov. Perdue over the coals, I decided to offer the second-term chief executive of the state a chance to address it.

Bert Brantley, one of his press folks, called me back. When you ask why the governor hasn’t been to the sugar refinery explosion, you get a response pretty quickly.

“I don’t know that he made a conscious decision not to (visit Port Wentworth),” Brantley said.

Brantley said the governor had flown over the refinery. “He saw the scene from the air,” he said.

Remember, President Bush also flew over New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and was widely castigated for doing that and not setting foot on the ground.

Gov. Perdue also met with the plant manager and some of the Imperial Sugar employees during the General Assembly session. The governor posed for pictures with the workers and the company reaffirmed their commitment to stay in Port Wentworth.

“The meeting here was great,” Brantley remarked.

Between those two, the flyover and the meeting in Atlanta, the governor has expressed his concern, according to his spokesman.

Gov. Perdue also understood the toll the explosion took on the community, and he was impressed by the response of the emergency crews.

“But nothing compares to the devastation and loss down there,” Brantley said. “He was inspired and impressed with the response to it.”

A visit from the governor probably won’t help rebuild the refinery or the lives of the families torn apart by the explosion. It could have, though, eased some of the pain felt throughout the community.

His effort, so far, hasn’t been enough, not even close, for one legislator. And he’s right. China is an important trade partner, though right now more attention is being paid to its abysmal record of human rights abuses — the focus is on Tibet, but does anyone remember Tiananmen Square? — with the Olympics pending this summer. Certainly, economic development and helping Georgia businesses grow and prosper is part of the governor’s tasks.

So is comforting the state’s citizens when so many are in pain.