The Legislature didn't treat poor people very well last session, according to a woman who called me last week to complain.
"We don't have clout like rich folks," she said.She talked at length about what it's like to try to raise her three children on a $470 monthly Aid to Families with Dependent Children grant. The poverty level for a family of four is $880.
I was particularly interested in her comment about clout, because as a legislative observer for the past three years I had to agree with her. Basically lawmakers try to provide for the disadvantaged, but sometimes in the process priorities change and programs seem to be perpetually underfunded.
I felt sorry for her. Her tone was discouraged and even lifeless. When she asked for justice, there was little passion, although she said she was asking for the sake of her children.
Realization of exactly how discouraged she was didn't hit me until I tossed a question her way.
I asked her if she had contacted her elected representatives and whether she had supported them in the last election.
"I didn't vote," she said. "Why bother? They don't represent ordinary people like me anyway. And I doubt they'd even take my call. I don't have clout, I tell you."
She's right. She doesn't have clout.
This woman does not take advantage of the one area in which absolutely no one has a greater advantage: one person, one vote.
She may not have the means to provide her children with the finest clothes. She may not have a reliable car. She may constantly be juggling limited funds to provide food and shelter and other necessities. And she may long ago have given up on some of the luxuries of life.
There's one thing she does have. She has a vote.
I suspect there are a lot of others just like her. People who rely on the political system for their very survival but have become so defeated and disenfranchised that they don't participate in that process.
No clout for the disadvantaged. I don't think that would be true if more of them took the time to get involved. There's really no reason not to. It doesn't cost anything to vote. There are advocate groups that will help with transportation and registration of voters if that's an issue.
A lot of different populations say they didn't fare well in the last session: the elderly, the disabled, the poor, the homeless.
Consider the numbers.
More than 16,000 Utah households receive welfare grants. Each of those households has at least one voting-age adult.
In 1989, more than 141,000 Utahns were over age 65. And senior citizens are the fastest-growing segment of the state's population.
The state Division of Services to the Handicapped estimates that there are 23,700 people in Utah who have disabilities. While some of them are children or are not mentally capable of voting, each of them has relatives with a vested interest in programs for the disabled. They have brothers and sisters, parents and grandparents who can vote.
The same is true of people who are mentally ill or of teenagers with substance-abuse problems. Literally thousands of people care about them and have an interest in seeing that programs are funded to help them.
The list goes on and on. If everyone who cares about children's issues like poverty, neglect, abuse, substance abuse and delinquency not only voted, but made it clear that those issues and the appropriate programming are of major concern, lawmakers would listen.
If you added up the numbers, you'd find that people concerned about human-service needs in a very personal and direct way outnumber the total of votes cast in the last election.
But like hope, it's not something that falls out of the sky and hits you in the head. You have to actively seek it.
If you want a say in the laws your state passes and in the budget priorities it sets, you have to vote. And then you have to let lawmakers know what you think.
Low voter turnouts indicate that at least half of the people who are eligible to vote - people of all backgrounds, ages and economic statuses - are not getting involved.
This has been said a thousand times before in just as many ways.
It seems to me that people who are disadvantaged and rely on the government for their survival have an even bigger stake in the decisions that government makes.