AUSTIN, Texas -- Mr. Bumble observed that the law is an ass, and he'd never even seen the congressional redistricting plan drawn by Texas Republicans. Sigh. I just hate when Tom DeLay and Karl Rove get away with a dirty deal like this. The University of Texas is now represented by Lamar Smith of San Antonio, I'm in a district that runs to the Mexican border, and two blocks north of me, they're in with Houston. Help!

As one who relishes our state's incontrovertibly bizarre political mores, I must confess I love the sheer awfulness of this map. It is, in its own way, totally awesome and worthy of the truly noble tradition of lunacy for which Texas is so noted.

Speaking of said tradition, I have failed to give sufficient recognition to our only governor, Goodhair Perry, who is adding to the old je ne sais quoi in truly impressive quantities. Goodhair gave such an amazing performance at his end-of-the-year press conference that I was forced to call a perfectly reliable reporter for the Dallas Morning News and ask if it was a joke.

In a textbook example of how to handle a nasty problem, Gov. Goodhair addressed the awkward report by the state auditor's office on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Not to put too fine a point on it, the auditor says the commission stinks. While this was not exactly astonishing news -- the commission's pathetic record is an old story -- the guv took the opportunity to lambaste -- yes, of course -- the state auditor's office. "It appears to me that (they) have gone from auditing to trying to make statements on public policy," said our concerned chief executive. "That's not the state auditor's function, in my humble explanation." (sic)

The auditor's report says the agency responsible for the cleanliness of our air and water has reduced, capped and inconsistently collected penalties to the extent that some polluters economically benefit from continuing to violate the law. In other words, SNAFU, the normal condition of any Texas regulatory agency. Get used to it, America -- Bush is remaking the entire country in the image of Texas.

The guv remains convinced that his greatest accomplishment was not raising taxes, even though fees, tuition, fines and everything else they could find to jack up without calling it a tax was jacked sky-high. Concerning the citizens' reaction to more toll roads, the Guv said, "I think they understand full well that concrete and that asphalt doesn't get out there because of the concrete fairy." It's Texas: We were all amazed to learn there's no concrete fairy.

You may recall that during the session the Guv promised us our insurance rates would drop by up to 18 percent if the Lege would just pass that tort deform bill putting an end to all those frivolous lawsuits. Hasn't happened, of course -- never does, another thing the rest of the country will eventually learn.

"I'm very comfortable there will be better news once we get those guys out of the courthouse and quit hiding behind that action," said the Guv, referring to the big insurance companies, which, totally unimpressed by the new tort reform law, have filed what we all hope is a frivolous lawsuit against the state. As the college admissions official said to the applicant who had killed both his parents, "Oh well, these things do happen."

You may think the Guv's had a rough year -- three special sessions on top of the regular session just to pass that misbegotten redistricting bill, not counting the two bolts by Democrats and such minor unpleasantness as having to hack $10 billion out of the state budget. For some, the budget-cutting, aimed mostly of course at services for desperately needy people, was a painful and even tragic exercise. Especially knocking 250,000 poor children off health insurance. Fortunately, Gov. Goodhair has a firm grasp on priorities, and when asked his biggest disappointment of the year, replied, "Aggie football."

On the Cheerleader Conspiracy front, please note that both of the governor's possible opponents in next year's primary -- Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and Comptroller Carole Keaton Strayhorn -- were cheerleaders, as was Goodhair himself. As was the president. Are we in the Twilight Zone yet? Has anyone seen the Spirit Stick?


Crow Eaten Here: I learn via The Weekly Standard that I owe credit for a line I've used about Arnold Schwarzenegger -- "looks like a condom stuffed with walnuts"-- to an Australian journalist named Clive James. I first heard the line from a civil libertarian in Vermont and had no idea it had come from James, or I would have given him credit. My apologies.

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