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Oklahoman Editorial: Leave it to Brad?

AS Gov. Brad Henry campaigns hard to bring one controversial proposal before the voters, he needs to ensure that another measure never makes it.

Henry's lottery issue appears headed to a statewide vote, perhaps as early as August. Unfortunately, so does a legislative measure that would reduce the penalties on cockfighting, not even five months after Oklahomans have spoken on the issue. Mostly the people in the Legislature who support both ideas are Democrats, and our Democratic governor may have to make a choice soon.

We think he would strengthen his support among all Oklahomans if he will succinctly but firmly promise pro-cockfighting sympathizers a gubernatorial veto of legislation that guts the state question overwhelmingly approved by Oklahomans in November.

Lawmakers' lack of respect for the wishes of their constituents on this issue is galling. A House committee last week routinely approved the essence of a Senate bill that would reduce the penalties for cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Here's at least part of the reasoning, as given the Tulsa World by Rep. Randall Erwin, who is shepherding the action in the House: "A lot of people that voted for State Question 687, while they didn't like chicken fighting, thought the penalties were too tough."

No, Rep. Erwin, they didn't think the penalties were excessive. What they approved, by a margin of more than 124,000 votes, was a measure that was tough enough to essentially wipe out the barbaric "sport" of cockfighting in Oklahoma, much like 46 other states have done at some point over the past century. SQ 687 wouldn't have been approved if voters thought making felons out of cockfighters was too much.

Instead we have the spectacle of a Legislature cavalierly ignoring the intent of an initiative petition that was tied up in court for years by cockfighters before finally coming to a vote. On a November ballot crowded with a flurry of federal, state and local races, plus eight other state questions, discerning Oklahomans clearly demanded that cockfighting be outlawed.

At this point, however, there appears to be little to stop the Legislature in its flagrant disregard of the law.

Also on that Election Day ballot was Brad Henry, whose narrow victory that night probably is owed at least in part to a heavily Democratic turnout in areas of the state where cockfighting is condoned.

Thus the question of whether to excuse the Legislature's brazenness on this issue might end up in Henry's lap. Succumb to it, and he risks damage to what we sense is a fair amount of good will he enjoys with Oklahomans of all political stripes, who sincerely want him to be a successful governor. Is that a risk worth taking?