AUSTIN -- All right, we've got W. off to Washington at long last, and here we are, stuck with Gov. Rick Perry.

I realize President-elect Bush is pushing the unlikely notion that what the nation needs is for Congress to become more like the Texas Legislature -- a thought so alarming I can only fall back gasping -- but in truth our very own dreaded Legislature is almost upon us. Jan. 9 and they'll all be here, leaving many a village without its idiot.

As a matter of politeness and patriotism, all Texans are obliged fall in line and wish our new governor the best of luck, which I cordially do, and besides, I have been pointing out for years that he has good hair. Really, really good hair.

But don't expect me to forget that he went to A&M to become a veterinarian and had to change his major when his grades weren't good enough. Besides, he's part of the Cheerleader Conspiracy running rampant in Republican circles. Otherwise, he's an amiable fellow.

But as we all know, who is governor is not a matter of great moment in our state -- the important question is who will be the next lieutenant governor. And we have a number of interesting candidates.

The D in the race is Kenneth Armbrister from Victoria, who does not, frankly, excite wild enthusiasm from D's.

The R's in contention include David Sibley of Waco, probably the brightest of the bunch but also the most likely to run for lite guv in 2002, thus putting a period to the career hopes of others. Sen. Bill Ratliff of Mount Pleasant is widely respected and generally considered a decent guy. No one thinks Teel Bivins is terrible, either.

You would usually have at least one R in the race who sends D's up the wall, but this is not the case this year: All the R's are reasonable citizens.

Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio certainly ranks as one, although the guy with the best shot at the job may actually be Buster Brown of Lake Jackson. The reason Sen. Brown has the edge is on account of he's considered unlikely to run for the job in two years (an unfortunate allegation of minor sexual harassment filed by an aide last year would make him extremely vulnerable in the R primary).

Prospects for the session are uncertain. The able and effective Speaker Pete Laney (who made a memorable cameo on the night of G.W. Bush's long-delayed victory speech) is unlikely to harbor any grand schemes for state improvement. The money outlook is still a little uncertain, no one knows who the new lite guv will be, and our new governor has good hair. This is not a prognosis for great things.

It seems a shame, though, to waste all the public education achieved by the presidential campaign. We heard so much about Texas' miserable record in this, that and the other that we got defensive: "Hey, our state's not THAT bad." Not to mention those citizens who still believe Texas is the fairest flower ever to bloom upon God's footstool.

Still, we got a good going-over and, boy, were we found lacking, especially in health care. There are several indications that the system is just going to break down before long.

A smart new lieutenant governor, working with Laney, could well start setting up some of those famous bipartisan study commissions to look at systemic reforms and (always the tough one) where we get the taxes to pay for them.

The environmental problems seem to be shunted onto the shoulders of the local citizens most adversely affected by them, usually groups with peppy acronyms like STOP or RAGE. As our environmental coalitions do better at drawing these activist citizens together, it may be that concentrating on the health hazards is the easiest way of persuading the state to do something about the mess. That, and federal sanctions.

The schools, of course, still need an enormous amount of work and investment. The late Bob Bullock used to say we'd never get tax reform until we had to close the schools, but as long as schools continue to rank at the top of the public's priorities, there's always a shot.

Realistically, though, probably the best we can hope for is to stave off vouchers. Since Bush did so much bragging on our schools, the Republicans can claim there is no longer any need for them.

All in all, it could be a long five months.

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.