- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2011

Halfway through the D.C. Council’s heated debate last week on a tax hike for the city’s highest earners, council member Jack Evans said, “You feel like you’re in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ sometimes listening to people up here.”

He may have been referring to the Queen of Heart’s famous quotation, “Sentence first — verdict afterwards” in Lewis Carroll’s opus, because things seem to be out of sync at city hall of late.

First, several council members tried to replace Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s income-tax proposal with a tax on out-of-state bonds, figuring they could “buy it back” with future revenues. A liberal contingent of council members called them out on it, and now there’s an income tax increase on people making more that $350,000 a year and a tax on bonds purchased after Jan. 1.

The mayor’s office also is getting its sequencing right. It decided Thursday that it should check the legal sufficiency of nominees to boards and commissions before announcing their names in public to avoid an embarrassing incident like the one that sank Robert L. Mallett, Mr. Gray’s pick to lead the Board of Elections and Ethics.

Or maybe Mr. Evans was thinking of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” when the Cheshire Cat noted: “We’re all mad here.”

Running from Obama

In 2009, NBC political commentator David Gregory asked Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds during a debate if he identified himself as a “Barack Obama Democrat.”

“I’m a Creigh Deeds Democrat,” the state senator replied.

Last week, incumbent state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, Russell Democrat, took that line of thinking even further. Mr. Puckett, who is facing tea party candidate Adam Light in the 38th District race in southwest Virginia, said he would not support Mr. Obama in 2012.

“He doesn’t listen to me,” Mr. Puckett told WJHL-TV of Johnson City, Tenn. “And quite frankly, he was not my choice for the Democratic nomination.”

Indeed, Mr. Puckett backed Hillary Rodham Clinton for the party’s nomination — though he campaigned for Mr. Obama in the general election. Billboards in southwest Virginia plaster Mr. Puckett’s image with an “Obama ‘08” poster on one edge and a picture of the president on the other.

Clearly, that’s not exactly where things stand now.

“It’s very clear to me that the administration does not support the coal industry in a way that’s beneficial to our area, so I don’t plan to support President Obama for re-election,” Mr. Puckett said.

He and Mr. Light, not surprisingly, are portraying themselves as friends of the coal industry. Nearly a year ago, coal helped topple longtime incumbent Rep. Rick Boucher, who was ousted by former Virginia House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith in the state’s 9th District congressional race. Mr. Boucher had supported and helped draft federal cap-and-trade legislation to regulate carbon emissions.

Debate season

Senate candidates in Virginia Tim Kaine and George Allen are set to participate in their first debate.

The Dec. 7 debate will coincide with Associated Press Day in Richmond, an annual event hosted by Virginia AP managing editors and the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association.

Bob Gibson, executive director of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership, will moderate the debate. Other official candidates who want to participate essentially must have by October at least 15 percent of the vote in polls and at least one-fifth as much campaign money as the front-runners.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, and Mr. Allen, a Republican, have been in a virtual dead heat in recent polls. Given the candidates’ hefty fundraising bona fides — both pulled in more than $2 million during the second quarter — it could be tough sledding for other candidates to qualify. The next campaign finance filing deadline is Oct. 15.

A survey of 400 GOP primary voters last month by Public Policy Polling showed Mr. Allen at 68 percent, tea party activist Jamie Radtke at 6 percent, Northern Virginia television mogul Tim Donner at 2 percent, Chesapeake Bishop E.W. Jackson at 2 percent, and Hampton Roads lawyer David McCormick below 1 percent.

The firm did not poll Democratic primary voters, but Mr. Kaine is thought to hold a similarly sizable lead over other declared Democrats Courtney Lynch of Fairfax and Julien Modica of Reston.

Tom Howell Jr. and David Sherfinski contributed to this report.