AUSTIN, Texas -- Now that Texas and George W. Bush have parted company, things are looking up deep in the heart. In fact, a positively astonishing number of good bills actually have a chance of passing this session, and I think we owe it in part to having the Texas record examined so publicly during the campaign. Some of us seem to have been startled by what we learned.

First, the Lege may actually do something about the infamous grandfathered plants. You'll be pleased to learn the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission has issued a report on how much progress in cleaning up air pollution has been made under George W.'s famous "voluntary compliance" program. The total amount of reduced emissions from grandfathered plants attributable to the governor's program is zero.

All our major cities are in danger of losing billions in federal highway funds if we don't move on the air pollution crisis, so the time is nigh.

We have seen a significant improvement in the grandfathered pollution over the past two years because of clean-up provisions in last session's utilities de-reg bill, which alert students will recall were put in at the last minute over Bush's objections.

In addition, many think that we have a good shot at eliminating execution of the mentally retarded, opposition to said elimination having been one of Bush's less "compassionate" moments. Even the new Gov. Rick Perry, who has really good hair, endorsed the concept of checking DNA evidence before executing a person. This is a breakthrough.

In addition, we may finally get something done about legal representation for the poor in this system. Leaving them to rot for weeks and even months without lawyers is one of those charming little Texas peculiarities that attracted unwelcome attention during the recent electoral festivities.

Also in the hopeful mode are those trying to get health insurance for Texas teachers and especially for Texas children. Gov. Goodhair now endorses state standards for health insurance for teachers and some outreach effort for CHIP, the new federal program.

State Rep. Elliott Naishtat is once again pushing the boulder of extending Medicaid to at least most of the kids who are entitled to it. Such a novel concept here. Rep. Patty Gray from Galveston had the splendid notion of sending a copy of the 25-page Medicaid application to every Lege member.

So here we are in Texas, poised to make progress on a variety of fronts, and here's the nation stuck with George W., who thinks that John Ashcroft will make a dandy attorney general.

As Florida's Palm Beach Post noted, "After three days of hearings, Mr. Ashcroft's testimony has ranged from inaccurate to inconsistent to incredible." His response to the many questions raised by his record on human rights, civil rights, abortion, gun control, racism, etc., is to reply that he will uphold the law. As we all know, there is a great deal of discretion in the execution of law, and prosecutorial discretion is particularly unaccountable.

Ashcroft has voted repeatedly to weaken the Brady law, and he is opposed to the federal assault weapons ban. In 1998, at the behest of Larry Pratt of the Gunowners of America (a man so controversial that Pat Buchanan dumped him as his campaign manager because of Pratt's connections with white supremacists and the militia movement), Ashcroft worked against a provision in juvenile justice legislation that would have made it easier to prosecute illegal firearms traffickers.

Ashcroft should also be rejected for his vicious smear campaign of Judge Ronnie White -- a man with the same legal views as Antonin Scalia -- as being "pro-criminal."

How pathetic for W. Bush to claim that Ashcroft has "a good heart." A good heart is precisely what Ashcroft has demonstrated he does not have. (The term "heart," by the way, is a new synonym on the Christian right for "soul," according to an article in The Washington Post.)

Ashcroft did not hesitate to vote against Bill Lann Lee to head the civil rights division or David Satcher to be surgeon general simply because he disagreed with them.

It would be hard to find more than a tiny sliver of Americans who do agree with Ashcroft, including on the subject of criminalizing abortions for rape and incest.

Perhaps the most curious item in Ashcroft's resume is his membership in the Council for National Policy, which is repeatedly described in the press as "a secretive but highly influential right-wing religious group."

Rep. Tom DeLay and Sen. Trent Lott are also members, as is the aforementioned Larry Pratt. It was Pratt who convinced Ashcroft to oppose the legislation making it easier to prosecute arms traffickers. Those guys are just full of heart, aren't they?

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 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.