AUSTIN, Texas -- Seems like half of Texas is busy manning the pumps on both sides of the state's reputation.

The Bushies keep trying to prevent the foreign press from portraying us as a place where retarded people are promiscuously offed and we let half our kids rot in poverty. (Actually, it's only one-fourth.) The rest of us keep wondering where this state we hear about from the Bushies is located, where we "lead the nation in education" (27th out of 44 states ranked by Rand).

The latest jaw-drop is the news that our very own governor -- George W. Bush -- is personally responsible for the law that entitles the top 10 percent of every high school class to a place in the state college or university systems.

Gee, and we thought his only contribution was not to veto that bill after a bunch of black and Hispanic legislators, infuriated by the Hopwood decision ending affirmative action, worked like dogs to get it passed. This system will increase minority enrollment at your state colleges, too, if you still have segregated high schools.

Trying to keep up with the whoppers on both sides is a full-time job. Imagine how gob-smacked Texans were to learn that our governor "fought Prop. 187 in California." For those who were in California at the time, arguing desperately that even in Texas no one was dumb enough to stop educating the children of illegal immigrants, a few fighting words from our governor would have been a boon. We just don't recall hearing from him.

Turns out he was cornered at a news conference after 187 had passed and he had been elected in '94 and said: "I am not for 187; I am opposed to not educating children who are already there."

Bush aide Karl Rove acknowledged that the guv had said nothing against 187 during the campaign because it "wasn't a Texas issue." That's it. That's how he fought Proposition 187.

You ever get the feeling that we're all losing our grip on reality here?

The trouble is, Bush was so seldom the hero of any play or the villain of any drama. In fact, I can think of few cases in which he was either, except for a few vetoes (the patients' bill of rights in '95, parts of which he later signed, and the bill to fix the system for providing legal defense for indigents).

To this point, I bring the sad case of retired Lt. Col. Arn Granheim of San Antonio, a Texan of 26 years who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. One of Granheim's four children is a son tragically ill with paranoid schizophrenia.

(I can hear the groans coming from those familiar with our Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. Yes, it's that bad and that sad, and yes, you have to listen to it again.)

Granheim has 12 three-ring binders of typed documentation and certified mail correspondence. With the hopeless patience that only the parent of an ill child can muster, he has labored to get help for his son.

With almost superhuman restraint, he wrote one public figure recently, citing the "conflicting policies and procedures of Texas agencies responsible for welfare of mentally disabled persons" and saying that there is a "lack of definitive accountability for shortcomings in direct, hands-on protection and care of these vulnerable persons."

Speaking only to his experiences under Bush's watch, Granheim details a time in 1996 when the son was admitted to the San Antonio State Hospital, where his shoulder was broken during a "takedown" (also known as "prevention and management of aggressive behavior"), he was bruised and many of his possessions disappeared. By the time he was transferred, his feet were raw and bloody but had not been treated.

In an effort to find out what had happened, Granheim spent two months assembling a paper trail and then wrote Bush about the situation. This is the letter he received in reply:

"I appreciate your concerns about your son's stay at the San Antonio State Hospital. He is fortunate to have such a caring father.

"Texas is governed largely by autonomous boards and commissions. Members of commissions have independent authority to make decisions on matters within their jurisdiction. For that reason, I have forwarded your letter to Ann K. Utley, chair of the board for the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation. I wanted her to be aware of your concerns. For your records, her address is ...

"Thank you for taking the time to write."

Low tax, low service. Texas IS governed largely by autonomous boards and commissions. We might do well to keep that in mind.

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.