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.
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.
But then in 2004 and again in 2005, bills to allow people to vote even with disabilities and full guardianship were stalled in the House by Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, after being passed by the state Senate.
Farnsworth worried that people who were legally incapacitated could easily be influenced by their caregivers. He also was concerned about protecting those who do not have the level of ability Clinton does.
"It's very easy to meet someone like Clinton and say, 'We have to give this right to everyone under guardianship.' The emotion takes over. You want to help them," Farnsworth says.
So the challenge was to find a way to ensure that a person who otherwise can't manage his or her affairs has the capacity to make an individual choice in order to vote. Advocates from the Arizona Center for Disability Law, The ARC of Arizona and the Office of the Arizona Secretary of State met with Farnsworth, and together, they figured out how to write a bill to satisfy all.
Farnsworth sponsored the legislation himself, and Clinton became the official spokesman for House Bill 2377. He met with lawmakers in their offices and earnestly explained his stance.
"I told them that I wanted the right to vote," Clinton says. "They listened to me."
The bill passed in the Senate, 29-0, on April 3. And when House members voted two days later, Clinton sat in the chair of the speaker of the House and banged the gavel to start the meeting. The bill passed again, 58-1.
"That made me feel very happy!" Clinton said.
Signed by Gov. Jan Brewer on April 10, the law permits a judge to determine, by clear and convincing evidence, that a person with a disability has sufficient understanding to exercise their right to vote.
The right to vote
The law went into effect on Aug. 1, and on Aug. 9, Clinton -- in a freshly ironed button-down shirt -- filed in with his parents and attorney to see Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen.
For half an hour, Jantzen asked Clinton questions, some specific and some general, and listened as Clinton explained who he wanted to vote for and how he reached his decision.
"The judge and me, we talked about politics," Clinton says. "I told him, 'I want every person to have the right to vote. There are people who don't care about politics, but I do care.' "
Jantzen says he wasn't concerned about how Clinton voted, but how much he understood about the process and whether the decision was his own.
"Clearly, he was making independent decisions, and he wasn't doing this just for giggles. This was something that he thought seriously about," Jantzen says.
"In the end, it's not about who you are voting for. It's about having the right."
When the judge ruled, giving Clinton the right to vote, he looked at his parents, tears in his eyes, and punched both fists into the air: "Yes!"
"Quite honestly," Clinton's dad says, "there were tears in everybody's eyes."
Judge Jantzen admits he was moved: "I don't get to do very many good things as a judge.
"That one was very rewarding."
His own beliefs
Clinton carefully slides a voter-registration card out of his wallet and hands it across the red, white and blue tablecloth printed with the word "Vote" on his kitchen table.
"I am very, very proud of that," he says.
His parents have just arrived, having made the 90-minute drive from their house to Lake Havasu City, where Clinton now lives in a studio apartment at New Horizons, a non-profit agency that provides services to people with disabilities.
A brown leather recliner sits in front of a big TV hooked up to a video-game system. To the left of a framed picture of a red sports car, he's pinned up a picture from a magazine of a blonde in a white bikini.
"Did you watch the president debate on TV last week?" his mom asks from the kitchen as she hunts for Ziploc bags.
Clinton pulls open a drawer -- there they are -- and answers, "Yes, I did."
"Did it put you to sleep?" his dad asks, chuckling.
"No, no," Clinton says. "I heard Barack Obama and Mitt Romney butt heads a lot."
As it often is with fathers and sons, Clinton and his dad don't share the same political beliefs.
"I am my own person," Clinton says proudly, putting an arm around his dad's waist.
Art nods: "He will let you know what he thinks. When he gets hold of an idea, he's like a bulldog. He doesn't let go."
Janet stays out of it. A nurse and director of the emergency room at Kingman Regional Medical Center, her issue is health care. She and Clinton's sister, Cassy, texted back and forth during the debates.
Who is Clinton's dad voting for? "Not the same guy you are, that's for sure," Art tells his son, chuckling again.
Clinton plans to vote for President Barack Obama.
"I watch candidates on TV, and I heard Barack Obama say about health care and education and jobs," he says.
Clinton also agrees with Obama that it is time to end the war in Afghanistan: "We need those guys to come back home."
Clinton is among the many who have felt the impact of this tough economy. A year and a half ago, budget cuts forced his Kingman group home to close.
"I lost my home," Clinton says. "That shouldn't happen to anybody."
He moved here, where he has friends -- including a girlfriend -- and plenty to do. Today he has plans to go bowling, followed by a cooking class, and then out again for karaoke.
There are staff members here at all times, and someone comes in every day for a few hours to take Clinton to the grocery store and help with meal planning. He cleans his apartment and does his laundry.
"I love it here," Clinton says.
But Clinton wishes he could find a job, a real one, full time, maybe as a mechanic, or a chef's assistant. Really, he'll take anything.
"I just want to work," Clinton says. "Most of all, I am a hands-on kind of guy."
When he moved here, Clinton had to leave his Safeway job. The only work he's found is cleaning up a parking lot after a swap meet on Mondays.
"I am voting for Barack Obama because he says more jobs," Clinton says again.
His dad smiles and says, "I hope you are right, Clint. I hope you are right."
Later that day, Clinton and his friends, all adults with disabilities at New Horizons, are just back from bowling at Havasu Lanes, where Clinton scored a 77 -- not his highest game ever but not bad, he says.
They are gathered in the communal kitchen on the grounds, which include several studio apartments and three group homes, to make pizza.
Everyone does something -- open the can of olives, find the tin foil -- to help. Clinton slices green bell peppers with even strokes of a big knife, just like his dad taught him.
He would like to have his own cooking show one day. He throws his arms wide and says it would be called "Clinton's Homemade Cooking."
"I like it," says Jimmy Slonina, who is leaning on the counter and watching.
"Think we have enough pepperoni?" asks Robert Peterson, a staff member overseeing the cooking venture.
"Definitely," Clinton says as he spreads red sauce on the individual-size pizza crusts with the back side of a ladle.
"Put some more sauce on that one," Peterson tells Clinton, pointing.
"You've got it, Chef!" Clinton says.
Clinton doesn't talk politics with his friends unless someone else brings it up, and he never asks who someone is voting for.
"Your vote is private," Clinton says. But he is happy to talk about his choice, or listen to someone else talk about theirs if they choose.
The talk turns to a candidate forum on disability issues being held at New Horizons the next day, sponsored by the same groups that pushed for the new voting-rights law.
Clinton's best friend, William Kawa, already knows what he is going to ask: "Are you willing to support a bill to help people like me get dental and vision insurance?" He adds, "Because I need to get my teeth cleaned and my eyes checked."
Dental and vision services for disabled adults with state health care were cut in 2009.
"That is a very good question, Will," Clinton tells him, throwing one arm around his shoulders.
Asking tough questions
At the candidate forum the next morning, every seat is taken, wheelchair users in the front row, staff and caregivers standing in the back.
"Look at that spark," says Radecic of the Arizona Center for Disabilities Law as she watches Clinton make his way through the room, shaking hands and posing for pictures as if he were running for office himself.
"It takes a heart like Clinton's to make a positive plea. Now he's opened this door for so many more people to vote," Radecic says.
Kelli Ward, who is running for state Senate, and Sonny Borrelli, a candidate for the House, both Republicans, sit at a table at the front of the room.
New Horizons CEO Terry Delia talks about the new law and how it came about: "Thanks to our own Clinton Gode."
Clinton stands, holds his arms wide and bobs his head, acknowledging the applause.
This forum is an opportunity for clients to ask questions and think about the issues that impact them, a life skill like cooking or computer class, Delia says. Of 35 clients, Delia says, one is a regular voter.
A person's disability does not determine what he or she is capable of, Delia says.
"Can I step up? I have really big questions for them," Clinton says. Really, it is more of a statement: "We need our dental care. We need our budget cuts minimized. I know you have your side, but I want to open the front door to everyone to get dental care and vision care."
And then more questions come, and they are not easy to answer, or hear.
The state budget for adults and children with developmental disabilities was cut 10 percent in 2009 and another 5 percent in 2011, Delia explains in a whisper. Many in this room have lost dental and vision coverage or have been forced out of job programs or classes.
In the front row, Roxanne Harshman, who has Down syndrome, leans to her left to read from a piece of paper in Kayla Brumet's lap. Brumet uses a wheelchair.
"This is for Kayla," Harshman says, and she explains that because of budget cuts, Brumet can't afford a communication device to talk to friends and family. Brumet nods to confirm.
A man speaks up who only has $20 left from his Social Security after paying room and board. It is enough for one soda every day, his only pleasure.
Clinton raises his hand again: "We need to find jobs to get money. We want to contribute. We do not want to sit around and do nothing."
"That's right!" says Jeff Crouse, who uses a wheelchair. He leads the applause.
Afterward, Mike Ward shakes Clinton's hand: "Great job, man." Clinton knows Mike and Kelli Ward well. They are both doctors, and Mike Ward works with Clinton's mother.
"You've got a future career in politics," he tells Clinton.
Clinton circles back through the room to find Borrelli. Clinton wants someone to sponsor a bill to provide state funding for Special Olympics, an idea he wants to run by Borrelli.
"I want to work with you, and you and me to sit down and work together," Clinton tells him.
Borrelli, a former city councilman, is interested. He says they should come up with a plan.
"I thought the forum was awesome," Clinton says. "They listened to what we had to say."
Empowered by that, Clinton says next he will invite Obama to visit him at New Horizons. He'll introduce the president to his friends, and he can see for himself what it is like for them.
Clinton believes the president will listen too.
"Oh, he's going to listen. If not," he says, raising his forefinger, "I'm going to say, 'Barack Obama, you need to hear me.'
"I am a voter."
Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/news/articles/2012/10/17/20121017against-long-odds-man-vote.html?nclick_check=1#ixzz2AcEAnpJb