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COLORADO OFFICIAL IMPERILS CONFERENCE OF STATES IDEA

It seemed a cinch to find favor with conservatives at least - a gathering of governors and state lawmakers to find ways of putting the states back on an equal footing with Washington.

Some liberals don't like the idea. But neither do some ultra-conservative Republicans, and one of them, a Colorado state senator, is making it his business to stop the Conference of the States before it starts.His may not be an uphill struggle.

The conference will take place only if at least 26 states pass resolutions promising to take part. To date, 14 have accepted the invitation, and the matter is pending in 24.

The event, tentatively set for October in Philadelphia, was conceived more than a year ago by Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a Republican, with Nebraska's Democratic Gov. Ben Nelson. They say the historic state-federal balance tilts too much toward Washington and they are looking for ways to shift more power back to the states.

But state Sen. Charles Duke fears the conferees will tear up the U.S. Constitution. He is lobbying against the conference by fax, on talk radio and before state legislatures.

"If the people who would destroy our Constitution were to gain control of (the conference), then we see that the potential for the destruction of our Constitution is very high," said Duke, a 52-year-old firebrand who calls himself a "real Republican, as opposed to that nonsense we see in Washington."

After he warned a California legislative committee that the Conference of the States might be dangerous, the panel killed a resolution supporting it.

Already, 12 legislatures rejected or failed to consider participation in the event. The objection often cited was a fear that the conference could become a full-blown constitutional convention that would amend and weaken the U.S. Constitution.

Bewildered and dismayed conference organizers blame the surprise assault from the Republican far right.

"It's clearly been a disruption, and one we didn't expect," Leavitt said. "You would think there would be resistance, but I never thought it would come from the far right."

The Conference of the States has other opponents. Liberals fear it would tamper with civil rights. Some states balk at the cost of joining what might become a long and expensive undertaking.

The last such meeting was held in 1787, when governors met to discuss states' rights with the new nation's founders, according to Bill Voit, a senior project director at the Council of State Governments in Lexington, Ky., a sponsor and the organizer of the event.

The other sponsors are another research organization, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the National Governors Association.

Duke, an engineer and college teacher who lives north of Colorado Springs in a town called Monument, is a self-proclaimed "messenger" of the Patriot Movement, one of a burgeoning number of little-known organizations that fear the federal government is growing too strong.

Duke also is a vocal member of the 10th Amendment movement, named for the last item in the Bill of Rights which gives states all powers not specifically assigned to the federal government. The movement claims that it is time to invoke the protection against federal excess.