Facebook Twitter

LEAVITT IDEAS ARE REACHING A PIVOTAL STATE

SHARE LEAVITT IDEAS ARE REACHING A PIVOTAL STATE

If it's Sunday, this must be North Carolina. Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt might otherwise lose track of where he is after three weeks of meetings in Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Washington, D.C., and St. George.

He traveled to meetings of governors and other officials in those places - and many others during the past year - to round up support for a new movement to take back power he says the federal government improperly seized from the states.This week, a meeting at a golf resort here will represent the capstone of all those efforts.

Leavitt will ask the annual meeting of the Council of State Governments to begin implementing - not just debating - his idea for a "Conference of the States."

He hopes the council will formally invite state legislatures to pass resolutions calling for the conference - where delegates would draft a "states' petition" of changes they want from Congress. Legislatures would then ratify it.

Leavitt hopes that process would create so much interest in balancing state and federal power that Congress would not dare ignore it. If it did, states could turn to a more radical move, such as a constitutional convention - which could rewrite the U.S. Constitution.

Changes that may be sought, Leavitt says, include allowing states to overturn federal laws if at least three-quarters of state legislatures vote to do so. Or states may ask to be given equal footing in initiating constitutional amendments - such as allowing addition of an amendment if passed by three-quarters of state legislatures, unless a two-thirds vote of Congress is made within two years to kill it.

"This is a significant meeting (this week in North Carolina). The expectation is that the Council of State Governments will propose to be the sponsoring organization of the Conference of the States," Leavitt said.

"It is a bipartisan organization not only of governors, but also of lieutenant governors, secretaries of state, treasurers, state legislators and others. It is the perfect organization to undertake this because it is so global," Leavitt said.

He adds, "Organizations of this stature only take on one or two issues at a time - and they've decided to take on the Conference of the States now. It's an idea whose time has come."

Leaders of the group agree, and press releases they sent out advertising their annual meeting this week were even entitled, "Invitation to a historic state debate" to hear Leavitt and Democratic Nebraska Gov. Ben Nelson make pitches for the Conference of the States.

Leavitt has used his positions as chairman of both the Republican Governors Association and the Western Governors Association to push his idea, but has also sold it to legislative leaders nationwide.

"But there are 7,200 state legislators in the country, and I would suspect many of them haven't heard of the Conference of the States yet," he said. "This meeting will be the beginning of educating them."

Leavitt hopes that three-quarters of state legislatures will adopt resolutions supporting the conference within the first three to six months next year.

If so, the conference will likely be held in the fall at a site with historic significance, such as Annapolis, Md., or Philadelphia - where early state delegations gathered in meetings that led to adoption of the Constitution.

Leavitt has also met with leaders of Congress about his proposed conference and some changes that states want. Incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich and incoming Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole have praised them.

Gingrich - at a meeting in Williamsburg, Va., two weeks ago - said Leavitt reminds him of founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry because of his fight to restore local control from an oppressive central government.

Despite such praise, Leavitt has warned the Council of State Governments that "no matter which party controls Congress, it is not likely to relinquish power (to states) without feeling the pressure of an electorate that demands it."

He said the Conference of the States should create that pressure - and hopes the Council of State Governments will agree and formally begin the charge for it this week.