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When the nation's top conservative think tank asked Gov. Mike Leavitt for a battle plan on how to rebalance federal and state power, he said Tuesday the key is copying how his mother stopped fights by her children about leftover pie.

She would let one cut it, and another would choose which piece to take. "I would surgically cut that pie because I knew if I left one piece bigger than the other, my brother would choose it," Leavitt said."It was brilliant. It was self-enforcing. We called it mother's rule," he said in a standing-room-only speech to the Heritage Foundation - the nation's largest conservative think tank, which makes policy proposals to government.

Leavitt said the nation's founders designed similar self-enforcing checks and balances between state and federal governments, but they disappeared as states traded decision-making power for more aid or failed to fight federal power grabs.

And he said some recent efforts to restore balance have fallen apart because states are so busy fighting over individual pieces of such governmental pie that they forget to focus on reforming rules and balance to ensure they are divided fairly.

Leavitt said he's learned several hard lessons in recent years about what states must do to successfully rebalance that power.

He said the first is the need to clearly define what the objective is: "to strengthen the states, not to weaken the federal government."

Leavitt said that lesson came as misunderstandings about his proposed Conference of the States two years ago killed it. He envisioned it as meeting formally called by legislatures to outline steps needed to restore federal-state balance.

But he said some worried it might be a first step to the states calling a constitutional convention, which might entirely rewrite the Constitution. And they killed the gathering because of what he says is misunderstanding its goals.

The next lesson, he said, is realizing that balance-restoring changes will require a bipartisan and broad-based coalition. He said he's learned in dealing with Congress on welfare and Medicaid reform that its members will not willingly give up power to states.

"Water will run uphill first," he said. To change that, he said it will take pressure from states, some courageous members of Congress and city and county officials and the people themselves - from both parties.

"If this ever becomes about one issue - about gun control, about abortion, about immigration . . . - we cannot build the bipartisan coalition that is required to make this joint. It's got to be about structure. It's got to be about balance," he said.

Leavitt said he has also learned that states must fight in courts to restore their 10th Amendment rights to have all powers not specifically given to the federal government by the Constitution and to help prevent further erosion of them.

And he said states have to recruit the people to their side, which he says should be easy because they naturally like less government, and government closer to them.

But he said, using modern computer terms, "What we have is a mainframe government in a network-PC (personal computer) world" where directions come from the top down instead of from the bottom up.

He said states must also overcome the "misconception that the country is a government. The truth is our country has a government."

Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., a former governor, also spoke with Leavitt and suggested one way to restore federal-state balance would be to allow states to initiate specific constitutional amendments without calling a convention that could rewrite the entire document.

Currently, only Congress has such power.

Leavitt said that may be a good first step, and states have looked at other ideas too - including legislation requiring the federal government to adhere to the 10th amendment and not intervene in areas the Constitution clearly does not allow it.

Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole pushed such legislation before he resigned from the Senate to campaign full-time.