The American Party, long an opponent of the drive for a national constitutional convention, has started a petition drive that may allow Utah voters a say in the matter.

Dave Wilson, state party chairman, certified the petition drive with the lieutenant governor's office Wednesday. The party now must collect about 65,000 signatures to get a ballot initiative opposing a convention."I believe the state of Utah more than any other state will support this," Wilson said, noting he believes most Utahns feel the U.S. Constitution was divinely inspired.

Utah is one of 32 states whose legislatures have called for a constitutional convention to add a balanced-budget amendment to the Con-stitution. Two more states are needed for the convention to be called. But, Wilson said, two states already have rescinded their original calls.

Wilson said the Legislature defeated a measure this year that would have changed the state's official position.

"It would seem unlikely that in a year things would change greatly in their (legislator's) minds," Wilson said. "We'll go full speed to the ballot box."

But the state has plenty of prominent people calling for a convention, including Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch. Supporters say a convention is the only way to get a balanced-budget amendment. Many contend Congress will propose an amendment at the last minute rather than allow the states to call a convention, as it did in 1913.

State Treasurer Ed Alter also has voiced support for a convention. He wants the convention to clarify the state's rights not to be taxed by the federal government.

Alter said Wednesday he believes Congress never would allow a convention to be called. However, he also doesn't fear a convention.

"The paranoid response is that they could do away with the whole Bill of Rights," Alter said. "While we all have the highest respect for the founding fathers, that's not to say that a convention today would be a disaster. Maybe we've got statesmen who would rise to the occasion today. There's no reason to presume disaster."

Alter and others note that the Constitution itself defines two ways it can be amended. One of them is through a constitutional convention. If the Constitution was inspired, constitutional conventions can't be all bad.

But Wilson said the convention provision was placed in the Constitution to calm fears in the original 13 states that the central government would become too strong.

"We're far past the time of fine tuning the Constitution," he said. "After 200 years, we don't see any reason to initiate the section that would put the Constitution in peril."