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FEDERALISM SUMMIT MAY SUCCEED WITH PERSISTENCE

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Imagine a Congress that is forced to point at specific parts of the Constitution to justify the authority it relies on for every law it passes, or one prohibited from pre-empting state laws.

Sounds like a Congress that, had it been in place during the past 60 years, could have avoided a lot of the problems currently afflicting government.Unfortunately, it also sounds like a Congress from never-never land.

Delegates to the Federalism Summit, organized in large measure by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, flirted a lot with never-never land in Cincinnati this week. For all their good intentions, and for all the common sense included in much of their proposals, the odds that any of their concerns will result in constitutional amendments or that Congress will saddle itself with state-endorsed restrictions are slim.

Still, the summit in Cincinnati was worthwhile, and it could spark a movement that, at the very least, pressures the federal government to be more mindful of the delicate but important balance between federal and state governments.

A number of proposals emerged from the session, some good and some bad. One that would allow states to collectively initiate constitutional amendments is good and ranks among those most worthy of further consideration. It would merely allow for the reverse of existing procedures, which allow Congress to initiate amendments that the states must collectively ratify.

However, a proposal allowing two-thirds of states collectively to force the federal government to reconsider any of its laws is not good. It would seldom, if ever, be used, and would be a needless addition to checks and balances already built in to the federal system.

The delegates agreed to meet again, perhaps next spring in Arizona. That is good. Ideally, they would meet as delegates sponsored by each state legislature, the way Leavitt originally proposed. The clout such a gathering could muster would stand a much greater chance of being heard in Washington than the gathering that just concluded.

Unfortunately, a blitz of right-wing propaganda defeated that plan earlier this year, using the argument that delegates suddenly could convene a constitutional convention and change the government. Wisely, the Cincinnati group passed a statement that unequivocally stated it wasn't "a constitutional convention, will not become a constitutional convention, and will not propose a constitutional convention."

That ought to erase irrational fears and allow the next such gathering some real influence. In any event, the gathering of state leaders, meeting as they did under the auspices of five organizations representing governors and legislators, should become a habit.