On May 19, 1994, Utah Governor Mike Leavitt publicly unveiled his controversial proposal to convene a Conference of the States for the purpose of promoting "fundamental, structural change" to restore a proper balance between the federal government and the states. Two days earlier, in a memorandum addressed to interested parties, Leavitt and his deputy for policy, LaVarr Webb, claimed that the Conference of the States process would be "powerful" because it "relies upon precedents established by the Founding Fathers at the time of our nation's birth."
Describing our current national government as "outdated and old-fashioned," they asserted that "the problem we confront today regarding balance in the federal system is similar to what the Founding Fathers of this country faced more than 200 years ago with regard to the Articles of Confederation." The duo declared that it is "vitally important to see how the Founding Fathers solved the problems of the weak Confederation," since some of what occurred then "can help guide us today in restoring balance in the federal system."
History reveals that the Founders called a meeting of the states, which became the constitutional convention, which, though convened for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation, scrapped the Articles in favor of an entirely new document.
Less Than a Con-Con?
In their May 17 memo, Leavitt and Webb expressed the hope that a process "less disruptive than calling a constitutional convention" can be achieved, but held out the possibility that if "Congress refused to consider or pass the amendments" that emerge from a Conference of the States, "the states would have the option themselves of calling a constitutional convention to consider the amendments."
The governor's proposal drew prompt criticism from conservatives concerned about its potential for instigating a constitutional convention. Leavitt "solved" the problem with a semantic adjustment, dropping all references to a con-con while keeping the original blueprint intact. A revised version of the plan, carrying his name alone, was printed in July 1994 by Utah's two largest daily newspapers. The revision dropped the reference to "calling a constitutional convention to consider the amendments," and asserted instead that "the states would have the final option of taking constitutional action themselves." In addition, the reference to reliance "upon precedents established by the Founding Fathers at our nation's birth" became reliance "upon principles established at the time of our nation's birth." (Emphasis added.) The switch from "precedents" to "principles" was viewed by some as an attempt to divert attention from the only precedent for a Conference of the States, which resulted in the only constitutional convention held to date in our country's history.
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