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The Oklahoman

Cockfight Bill Should Meet Early Demise

IN BRAD HENRY'S mind, there are big issues and little issues. This is as it should be. The incoming governor is already prioritizing the issues.

An issue that many Oklahomans thought would be quite small by now is cockfighting. Although 56 percent of voters said cockfighting should be banned, the issue remains large in the minds of game fowl breeders and some of the politicians who support them. It was a big issue through much of 2002 and sadly remains that way as the year nears its end.

Henry didn't endorse State Question 687, the cockfighting ban referendum that shared the ballot with the governor's race last month, but he's clearly ready to move on. Although he may have benefited from enlarged voter turnout in some areas due to SQ 687, Henry has more important things to do than worry about cockfighting.

During a luncheon last week with reporters and editors of The Oklahoman, the governor- elect declined to say he would veto any legislative attempt to revive legalized cockfighting in certain counties. But Henry did say he believes the voters have spoken and "I'm duty-bound to uphold the law."

The question about cockfighting was raised because state Sen. Frank Shurden, D- Henryetta, said he will sponsor a bill to make cockfighting legal in the 57 counties in which 687 failed to get a majority. If the next governor is overly concerned about this issue, he certainly didn't indicate it at the newspaper luncheon.

"This is an issue that I consider to be past us," Henry said. "I've got big things like education and budgets and frankly I don't know why we're spending so much time and energy talking about cockfighting. If people would get that interested in helping us figure out how to fix this budget crunch and fund schools and all these big issues to attract new jobs ... Just think what we could do. Let's direct our energy in that direction."

Amen. Henry and the Legislature don't need any distractions as they sort out the budget crisis. To face a distraction from a "past" issue that was settled by voters is ridiculous. The courts will continue to sort out the legal questions arising from SQ 687, but the legislative and executive branches of state government should move on.

If Shurden refuses to drop his ill-advised attempt to subvert the will of voters, the first legislative committee that hears the bill should render it dead on arrival so other lawmakers and Henry don't have to give it the time of day.