HOUSTON -- My favorite thing at the Texas Republican Convention was the advertising in the back of the hall that constituted an almost perfect record of the major scandals, conflicts of interest and bad public policy that have occurred during the W. Bush gubernatorial administration. There they all were, proudly displaying their gratitude to Bush and the party. It was a near-perfect metaphor for American politics today.

Chemical had several of the small billboards for each part of the hall. Dow and the rest of the chemical industry were given one-third of the seats on the Texas equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency when Bush got into office.

He appointed a lobbyist for the Texas Chemical Council to the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. This citizen had spent 30 years working for Monsanto. He used his position as one of the top environmental officials of Texas to go to Washington to testify that ozone is benign and to oppose strengthening federal air quality standards. Being in Houston during the lovely summer ozone season reminds us all how grateful we must be for this kind of zealous watchdoggery of our air quality.

Also advertising its gratitude to Bush was TXU, formerly Texas Utilities, which under Bush's deregulation scheme is trying to stick consumers with $3.7 billion in "stranded costs" -- a.k.a. dumb management decisions. Enjoy that on your summer utility bill.

And how nice to see an ad from a grateful Metabolife.

According to the May 22 issue of Time magazine, Texas was fixing to regulate ephedrine, an amphetamine-like stimulant widely used for weight loss. Ephedrine products had been linked to eight deaths and 1,400 health problems in Texas, so the health commissioner was ready to regulate. But according to Time, Metabolife International of San Antonio hired a San Antonio law firm headed by some of Bush's closest political associates, and instead there was a meeting with the commissioner, who then decided to bring in an outside lawyer to negotiate a settlement with ephedrine producers.

Metabolife's Washington lobbyist, who had given $141,000 to Bush's gubernatorial campaigns and raised at least $100,000 for his presidential campaign, was also a player. Stricter limits on ephedrine were dropped.

Next up, an ad for Pilgrim's Pride, the chicken company of Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim of East Texas. Some of you may remember Lonnie-Bo from the famous time, pre-Bush, when he strolled onto the floor of the Texas Senate and started handing out $10,000 checks to senators in the midst of a hearing on workers comp law.

Lonnie-Bo was also a big funder of Texans for Public Justice, a tort reform outfit, and gave $125,000 to Bush for his gubernatorial campaigns. As you know, tort reform under Bush has gone so far that the state is now paradise for insurance companies.

Next up, Promised Land Dairy, owned by James Leininger, who crusaded first for tort deform and is hot on school vouchers and other Christian-right causes. Leininger gave $1.5 million in contributions and loans to Lt. Gov. Rick Perry, helping to provide the razor-thin margin by which he defeated Democrat John Sharp. Leininger also provided a huge loan to Comptroller Carole Keaton Rylander in 1998, as well as $65,000 to Bush in '98.

How nice to see an ad for Philip Morris Co. Inc. Philip Morris provided employment for Karl Rove, the man running Bush's campaign, from 1991 to 1996. Rove was paid $3,000 a month to lobby for Philip Morris while also working for Bush. This was during the time that Texas was suing the tobacco companies.

What a pleasant stroll down memory lane these little billboards provided.

Meanwhile, various Republican orators were at the mike describing the coming election as "a struggle for the soul of the American people" (U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay) and a battle between our values and the "indecency" of Al Gore. (Everyone was on the virtues-and-values theme, usually referred to as "our virtues" and "our values.")

And I was just strolling along that wall of ads, studying those virtues and values.

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.