AUSTIN, Texas -- Oh great, now we have a bunch of Texas Democrats hiding out in Albuquerque (which is very difficult to spell), and I'm here holding the bag, trying to explain what this particular spate of lunacy in our state is all about. Spare me, Lord.

            OK, if I really have to do this deal ... see if you can think back to when you were a kid -- 5, 6, 7 -- and you were always getting blamed for something one of your siblings had done, or you didn't mean to knock over something but your old man whopped you for it anyway.

            The classic cry from the heart is, "BUT IT'S NOT FAIR!" Naturally, further on down the line, all of us experience some variant of John F. Kennedy's observation that "life is not fair." Exactly when, where and under what circumstances we give up on expecting life to be fair obviously varies from cancer to KIA to divorce to other of life's more malicious surprises.

            Basically, the reason 12 Democratic senators from Texas are on the lam in New Mexico is BECAUSE IT'S NOT FAIR. You may think that's childish, but there are some important principles at stake here. Like, you're supposed to play by the rules. And you're not supposed to change the rules in the middle of the game. And then, just a minor point, there is the small matter of democracy.

            Starting at ground zero, redistricting -- the drawing of the maps under which politicians run for public office in various districts -- is supposed to take place the year following the decennial census. In this case, 2001. Because the Texas House and Senate could not agree that year, the matter went to the courts, as it is supposed to if the legislature deadlocks. The courts drew the congressional district maps, as they were supposed to, under well-established rules -- and that was that. Redistricting over until 2011.

            Then Karl Rove and Rep. Tom DeLay of Sugarland, Texas -- neither of whom has ever been elected to run the state of Texas -- decided to use the new Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature to ram a truly hideous redistricting plan through the legislature without the public hearings required by law. In the great tradition of artful gerrymandering -- now called Perrymandering in honor of Gov. Goodhair -- this Rove/DeLay map qualifies as a Dadaist masterpiece, with elements of Picasso. It was a beaut. Divided Austin into four districts, one of which ran down to the Mexican border.

           In order to stop that travesty, House Democrats fled to Ardmore, Okla., breaking the quorum necessary to conduct business. End of bill, end of session. Then Goodhair called them all back for a special session on one item -- redistricting. This time, public hearings were held, and at every one of them citizens showed up to protest vociferously -- the Texas Rangers had to be called in at the McAllen hearing.

            The obligatory committee meetings became ever more surreal. Meetings would be called for 2 p.m. in one location and then start at 7 p.m. in another. People started to call it "hide and seek government." Citizens stayed to testify until 2 a.m. and were treated contemptuously by the presiding Republicans. Then Senate Democrats, plus the widely respected Republican Sen. Bill Ratliff, stopped the bill under the Senate rule that requires a two-thirds vote to bring up new business. Stalemate. End of first special session.

            Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who presides over the Senate, announced he was ditching the two-thirds rule, and Goodhair promptly called yet another special session. Exit Senate Democrats, busting the quorum in their shop.

            It costs the state, which, you may recall, is highly broke, $1.7 million per special session. If you look at it another way, it could be considered public campaign financing. See, Tom DeLay can pick up maybe six new Republican votes in Congress under a Perrymandered map at a total cost to the taxpayers of $5.1 million (assuming the D's stick it out in Albuquerque and Goodhair calls yet another special session). Whereas it would cost the Republicans tens of millions to legitimately elect Republicans under the current districts. So, all Texans are now paying for the privilege of electing more Republicans.

            The irony is that the six conservative rural Democrats targeted by the R's are elected out of Republican districts, districts where the majority votes for a Republican president, governor, etc., and a Democratic congressman because they know and like their congressman. Lot of unhappy R's out there.

            In the stupefying hypocrisy sweepstakes, I'd like to salute Arlene Wohlgemuth for saying, "When we (R's) were in the minority, we worked in a bipartisan manner." That would be the same Arlene Wohlgemuth who notoriously killed off dozens of bills in a fit of pique in the infamous "Memorial Day Massacre."

            But the palm for hypocrisy goes to Goodhair for his immortal declaration that Democrats are harming the poor children of Texas. I thought I would upchuck. It was Perry and the R's who insisted on slashing social services, including health insurance for poor children, rather than raise taxes. He now claims the D's are holding up the distribution of a new pot of federal money we just got. He didn't even open the call of the last special session to bills to disburse the money; said it wasn't necessary.

            Even in politics, no one gets to lie that bad.

            To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2003 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.