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The Sedalia Democrat (MO)
Cockfighting causes columnist to question home state

2002-11-13

Ever since I left Oklahoma in 1993, there has been one constant in my life. And that has been to spread the gospel on how great the Sooner state is.

From Seattle to Sedalia, and everywhere in between, there is not one place that I can think of that I didn't proudly tell everyone where I came from. That attitude may have put off a few people, but it was for their best.

However, that almost came to an end during the election last Tuesday. That was when I made a discovery about my home state that I must have been shielded from.

I found out that there was sanctioned cockfighting in Oklahoma and no one ever invited me. I couldn't believe it. There was money to be made on the dueling of two mean-spirited chickens and this was never brought to my attention.

Cockfighting is very much alive and widespread in Oklahoma. There are several active cockfight "pits" where fans can go and put down hard-earned money to see which rooster would prevail in a fight to the death.

But all that came to an end Tuesday, as Oklahoma joined 47 other states in outlawing cockfighting with the passage of State Question 687. By a count of 565,967 to 441,220, they spoke loud and clear that cockfighting has gone the way of parachute pants and the plaid jacket -- out of style.

With the passage, cockfighting is only legal in Louisiana and New Mexico. The new law says it is a felony for anyone found cockfighting and a misdemeanor for being a spectator in Oklahoma. But that doesn't sit well with everyone.

Instead of worrying about how the Republicans now own Congress, Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, said Wednesday he'll introduce legislation in next year's session to lower the penalties set out in State Question 687. Shurden told The Daily Oklahoman that SQ 687 would make it a felony to raise the birds and that hard-working Oklahomans would be lumped in with murderers, rapists and drug dealers.

Shurden isn't alone in his thinking.

"Cockfighters are a cross-section of America," says Charles Berry, the director of the American Animal Husbandry Coalition. "You know, we're God-fearing people who pay our taxes."

When I started to see some of these remarks, that is when I found it hard to display any Oklahoma garb. People on both sides of the issue are making Midwesterners look silly.

"They are pumped up with stimulants," cried Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States. "They have knives or ice-pick-like gaffs affixed to their legs. And they immediately hack each other to death. Punctured lungs, gouged eyes, other grievous wounds are part-and-parcel of cockfighting in America."

"Nationwide, these illegal activities are crimes of violence, drug crimes and gambling crimes," says Janet Halliburton of the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting.

In my view, this looks like some backwoods, redneck, "Deliverance" type of fun. Why anyone would want to see some poultry fight each other to the death is beyond me.

Amazingly enough, Missouri banned cockfighting in 1873, but had it overturned in 1984 and then banned again in 1998.

I don't know what upset me more, that Oklahoma wasted a century in finally banning it or that they let Missouri beat it to the punch by four years.

In Missouri, it is a Class D felony to fight gamecocks, stage a cockfight, knowingly attend a fight, sell a gamecock, possess cockfighting implements such as gaffs (razor-sharp blades attached to the bird's leg) and sell such implements.

This is the one time I am glad Oklahoma is following the lead of Missouri.