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Tulsa World

Cockfighting fight coming up?
2002-12-08

The question of whose interests to support may force Oklahoma's lawmakers into a battle of rural versus urban, county versus state.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Sen. Frank Shurden's threat to gut the state's new cockfighting law in the Legislature next year raises an interesting question for lawmakers to ponder.

Do lawmakers represent the will of a majority of the people who voted in a statewide election to outlaw cockfighting, or the will of their own constituents, many of whom opposed the proposal?

The strongest support for State Question 687 -- the proposal to ban cockfighting -- was in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metropolitan areas. There were 565,967 votes for SQ 687, and 245,569 of those were cast in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties.

Eight counties that adjoin the two urban counties also gave strong support to the proposal.

It was adopted by a 117,000-vote margin statewide. The combined margin in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties was 140,000. But a majority of voters in 57 counties and vast areas of the state opposed the state question, some by substantial margins.

Legislators represent residents of all those counties. So, whom do they listen to?

If Shurden has his way, it will be the folks at home and not the anti-cockfighting activists, who tend to be concentrated in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

It could boil down to a classic rural-urban fight in the Legislature.

Shurden's plan is to make cockfighting a county option. And the vote in counties where SQ 687 failed to get a majority would be considered a vote for cockfighting, making the sport legal in those counties.

It would be illegal only in the 20 counties where a majority voted for the state question.

That prompted anti-cockfighting forces to label the proposal "a step toward anarchy" and "a mockery of state law-making" and "against democratic principles" and "a charade" and "lunacy."

But the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting shouldn't make the mistake of underestimating Shurden -- an aw-shucks, good ole boy from Henryetta whose Senate District includes McIntosh County, where the state question was defeated, 3,786 to 2,758.

If nothing else, Shurden is persistent. It took him nearly 20 years to pass the state's conceal-carry law, but he finally got it done. And he still hasn't given up on his long-running proposal to castrate sex offenders.

Shurden has spent a total of 24 years in the House and Senate and has learned a trick or two along the way. He knows how to pass a bill.

His first hurdle will come in the Senate, where the bill's committee assignment will be crucial.

It will be one of the first tests for Senate President Pro Tem Cal Hobson, D-Lexington, and Majority Leader Ted Fisher, D-Sapulpa, the new Senate leaders, who will decide which committee gets Shurden's bill.

Creek County, Fisher's home county, and Hobson's Cleveland County both approved the state question. But many of the Demo cratic caucus members, who elected the leaders, represent districts where support is strong for cockfighting.

An assignment to a friendly committee gets the bill to the Senate floor and gives Shurden a chance to pass it and send it to the House.

An unfriendly committee assignment means the bill probably won't make it to the floor and will stay in committee. That's what happened to Shurden's conceal-carry bills year after year until he finally got that friendly committee assignment.

But, since he knows his way around the Capitol, he may still be able to get his proposal into law, even if his bill doesn't make it out of a Senate committee.

An identical bill always can be launched in the more rural and friendlier environs of the House, where passage might give it momentum in the Senate.

And it's always possible to amend other bills on their way through the legislative process.

If Shurden can get the proposal to a vote in the House and Senate, anything is possible, including some old-fashioned legislative horse trading to get support for the measure.

The legislative galleries and hallways also are likely to be packed with cockfighting home folks lobbying their legislators for passage. But if the anti-cockfighting folk can fend him off for a few years, they may be able to outlast Shurden.

Time runs out on him and he "terms out" of the Legislature in four years under Oklahoma's term limit law.