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OU Daily

Our View
2002-11-11

Don't weaken anti-cockfighting law in legislature

Referenda allow the people to express their will directly. When state questions are put on the ballot, their fate is put in the hands of voters who have no PACs or campaign contributors to placate. These types of elections are the essence of democracy, the decision of the people without the taint that political finagling often entails.

State Question 687, the resolution to ban cockfighting in Oklahoma, was recently passed by 56 percent of voters. The resolution had been years in the making, starting with an oft-challenged petition drive. Already, the issue has been credited for high voter turnout in Oklahoma's midterm elections and the narrow victory of Oklahoma governor-elect Brad Henry.

We supported the passage of SQ 687, but we realize that any law that makes something illegal will face problems with implementation. Essentially, gamefowl breeders in Oklahoma found that their livelihood became illegal overnight. Last Friday, gamecock breeders received a temporary restraining order to prevent law enforcement from implementing the new law, saying that the resolution as passed was too vague.

We disagree with the accusations of vagueness. It's not illegal to own a dog, but dog fighting is illegal. In the same way, it has not become illegal to own a chicken, even though cockfighting is now illegal. Still, we realize that some confusion is possible in this situation, since a state industry cannot be eliminated as quickly as the law was passed. We hope that the injunction will soon be lifted.

Seeking injunctions to temporarily suspend the law is preferable to the course of action that State Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, is pursuing. The state senator is attempting to change the new anti-cockfighting law by reducing its felony penalties to misdemeanors. As the law was passed by the people, changing it in the legislature would be a political low blow. Attempts to weaken a law passed by the people should wait for future referenda.

Enforcement of the new law will generally fall to local law enforcement. If the crimes are reduced to misdemeanors, we feel it is more likely they will slip through the cracks. Deferred prosecution will be more likely and the law would become less than the strong ban that the people approved.

We feel that tolerance of cockfighting is a state issue, not an industry one. The entire state has faced condemnation for the act (most recently on "The Daily Show," where footage of a cockfight made the "moment of Zen"). The law was passed by the people and it is not the position of Shurden or special interests to modify the law with anything less than another popular vote.

Having passed the law, Oklahoma needs to make every effort to ensure that it goes into effect as intended. We realize that temporary restraining orders are probably attempts to simply delay law enforcement, but state authorities should operate as quickly as possible to combat accusations of vagueness. Shurden should abandon his attempts to change the new law and be willing to accept the popular vote in this situation.