by Karina Bland-
All his life, when Clinton Gode wanted to do something — learn to swim, ride a quad, show goats in 4-H — his parents helped him figure out how to make it happen. No matter that he has Down syndrome.
But when he turned 18, his parents became his legal guardians in order to handle his health care and his finances — “Clinton would give you his last nickel if you asked for it,” his dad says, chuckling. And Arizona law had been clear since statehood: If you can’t manage your own affairs, you can’t vote.
Clinton’s parents had explained it to him. But it didn’t sink in until the moment in a Mohave County court when a judge approved the guardianship.
“It made me feel really, really bad,” Clinton says.
He turned to his dad on the bench next to him and said, “I want the right to vote.”
Art Gode looked into his son’s crestfallen face and told him, “We’ll see what we can do.”
“We have never accepted ‘no’ in his life, and that was just another ‘no,’” Art says. “We just do not flat accept ‘no.’”
It would take Clinton, his parents, a band of advocates for people who have disabilities, a willing lawmaker and a judge before they would get a “yes.”
Clinton, now 25, will vote for the first time Nov. 6.
And that will mark another first: His will be the first ballot cast under a new state law that allows people with disabilities who have guardians to petition the court for the right to vote.
Clinton has been voting for as long as he can remember.
At home, it was his dad calling the family from the kitchen: “Hands in the air if you want spaghetti for dinner.” At the dinner table, Clinton’s parents made a routine of talking with him and his sister, Cassy, who is three years older, about what was going on at school, in their town, and the world.
“I think that is part of where Clinton’s confidence comes from,” his mom, Janet, says. “Whether it is right or wrong, we allow him to say it, and we listen to what he has to say.”
At school, Clinton helped choose his class representative on the student council. At 16, he ran for sergeant at arms of the local 4-H club — and won. He spent a week at a leadership conference in Washington, D.C., touring the city with the club’s other officers.
He grew up in the small city of Kingman, riding the bus to school and raising chickens and goats on the family’s 40 acres. He also tagged along with his dad, a retired welder, as he volunteered to teach police and firefighters how to best deal with people with disabilities, or assembled information packets for parents of newborns with disabilities.
Clinton got to know community leaders who eventually became elected officials, and he went with his dad to the state Capitol in Phoenix for meetings about disability issues.
When Clinton’s sister was old enough to vote for the first time, he felt the excitement in the household. He was 15 at the time, but it seemed only logical to him that he, too, would do the same one day.
As when he expected to be part of the high school’s varsity soccer team. (He earned a letter jacket as manager.)
As when he expected to graduate with his class, although students with disabilities may stay in school until age 22. (He earned a “Certificate of Completion” instead of a diploma.)
“He was insistent that a whole lot more education wasn’t going to do him much good. He was a worker,” Art Gode says.
So Clinton went to work. His first job was wiping down tables in the cafeteria at the hospital where his mom works; then he worked bagging groceries at the Kingman Safeway store.
And though his parents had thought Clinton would always live with them, he — like most young adults — wanted to live on his own, or as close to it as possible. He moved into a group home for adults with disabilities, a spot that was close to his job and friends, where there was a staff to help him.
For Clinton, then, voting was about more than a ballot. It would mean he was a participant in his community, that his voice mattered, just like everyone else’s.
“I should have a say,” he said.
It would take some time, but he would get it.
A bill to satisfy all
Clinton was still in middle school when the effort to establish voting rights for people like him really got under way.
In 2000, state voters approved several changes to the Arizona Constitution. One of those would remove the exclusion from voting for people who had a guardian because of a disability, said Peri Jude Radecic, executive director of the Arizona Center for Disability Law. Such an exclusion was common in early state constitutions because of the belief that some disabilities could render a person’s judgment unsound.
In Arizona, a person with a guardian because of a mental or physical disability is in legal terms considered an “incapacitated person.” He or she cannot marry, get a driver’s license, buy property, use a credit card or take out a loan.
In 2003, Radecic says, lawmakers passed a bill to allow limited guardianships, which would give people some oversight and assistance without having to give up full control.
Read more at Man with Down syndrome wins right to vote.
[Via AZ Central]