AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Health Commissioner Reyn Archer. Ooops.

Maybe we should just make that a standing headline. As you know, Archer, Gov. W. Bush's pick for the job, has this tendency to put his foot in it. He's often disastrously frank, which is sort of endearing.

Last time he got into trouble was for saying Texas has a high teen-age pregnancy rate because the state's Hispanic population does not believe that "getting pregnant is a bad thing."

The Alan Guttmacher Institute says that Texas Hispanics have a higher pregnancy rate than Anglos or blacks, but that the white rate is among the highest in the nation, too.

All this upset the Mexican-American community.

(Actually, I thought the most shocking statement in that New York Times interview with the Only Health Commissioner We've Got was when he said he doubts that health insurance coverage makes much real difference to health. He also explained why Texas has 600,000 poor children eligible for Medicaid who aren't covered: "The problem is that the Legislature knows, if we are successful and we get all those kids enrolled, they would not balance their budget." That has the merit of being completely true, but we're not supposed to be admitting that we balance our budget on the backs of poor children while our governor is running for president.)

So in an effort to get past this unpleasant flappette, Archer, who is known as "Dr. Love" due to an earlier unfortunate episode -- OK, it was the time he posted a $76,000 job opening for an assistant commissioner requiring "knowledge or the ability to comprehend and articulate the conflicting dynamics of love and alienation as root causes of social dysfunction and marginal health status." For all we know, he could be onto something here.

So Dr. Love, attempting to get past this new snafu, goes to talk to the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus in San Antonio earlier this month, and these folks are not happy with him.

Caucus Chairman Rene Oliveira had invited him to the meeting so that instead of everybody being mad, they can start to work together to fix teen pregnancy, and all hands are ready to be polite. So he tells them that he is not a racist and that his earlier remarks about the propensities have been misconstrued.

Then, according to participants, he informs them that according to a new study, the difference in the teen pregnancy rates between Hispanics and Anglos is because Anglo teen-agers engage in more oral sex.

"He definitely said it," said one state rep -- "that Anglos do more oral sex, and he said it more than once. So one question was, 'Knowing what you now know and what you have just told us, why did you make that remark (about Hispanics and being pregnant as a bad thing)?'"

Others have the same recollection, although still others have more vague recollections of what Archer said.

Oliveira's recollection is that Archer made that statement, but in further discussion seemed to indicate that oral sex was up among all ethnic groups, accounting for a decline in teen birth rates.

After checking with the commissioner, Doug McBride of the Health Department's public information office reported that Archer said he did not say the increase in oral sex was mainly among Anglos, but rather in all ethnic groups, and Archer says his source was information in Talk magazine, which McBride said was also reported in Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report.

Both the Guttmacher Institute and Child Trends, a nonprofit research center in Washington, D.C., that studies kids and families, said they were aware of such articles but that the articles cite only anecdotal evidence.

"They (the media) have all asked us for data, and there are no data," said Amber Moore of Child Trends.

Guttmacher cites four studies showing that teens are trending toward later first intercourse and improved contraceptive practice, and another showing that differences in teen sexual behavior across poverty and racial and ethnic subgroups narrowed over the years 1982 to 1995.

Some legislators said they felt that, although it was a little odd to be sitting around discussing oral sex among teen-agers, they felt it was a useful discussion of the overall teen pregnancy problem and appreciate Archer's willingness to address them.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. 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 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.