Bill to reduce cockfighting from felony to misdemeanor cleared the Oklahoma House & is now before the Oklahoma Senate
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma––A bill to allow individual Oklahoma counties to reduce cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor is halfway to becoming law, despite overwhelming opposition from Oklahoma voters.
House Bill 2530, by state representative Justin Humphrey, a Republican from Lane, in Atoka County, easily cleared the Oklahoma House of Representatives on March 21, 2023 by a vote of 59-19, only one day after failing, 50-47.
The bill is now being pushed in the Oklahoma State Senate by senator Lonnie Paxton, representing the Tuttle district in the southwestern suburbs of Oklahoma City.
Little precedent for letting counties opt out of state law
If approved by the Oklahoma State Senate and signed into law by Governor Kevin Stitt, the Justin Humphrey bill would require counties in which 5% of the voters sign a petition to reduce cockfighting to a misdemeanor to hold an election on the question.
Allowing voters at the county level in any state to opt out of enforcing a state level felony penalty is almost without precedent.
That this may occur in Oklahoma appears especially bizarre in view of opinion survey findings released on March 29, 2023 by Pat McFerron, president of the Oklahoma City polling firm Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates, whose work primarily advises Republican political candidates.
Both the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Oklahoma State Senate tilt strongly Republican, by margins of 81-20 and 40-8, respectively.
Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates surveyed 500 registered Oklahoma voters from March 20, 2023 to March 23, 2023, while House Bill 2530 was first narrowly defeated and then resurrected and approved by a better-than-three-to-one margin the very next day.
House Bill 2530 was and is backed primarily by the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, described on March 10, 2023 by Ben Felder of The Oklahoman as “a political action committee advocating for the loosening of laws around the illegal sport of cockfighting,” which “has donated more than $70,000 in political donations to state lawmakers over the last year.”
“Few issues unite Oklahomans more”
“There are few issues that unite Oklahomans more than their belief that cockfighting should be illegal,” blogged McFerron in the March 29, 2023 edition of the Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates publication Sooner Survey.
“Fully 87% say this practice should be illegal while only 8% oppose,” McFerron wrote.
“Every major group has at least eight-in-ten wanting cockfighting illegal, including 87% of registered Republicans and 90% of registered Democrats,” McFerron reported.
“Additionally,” McFerron found, “this is not the geographic battle some would lead Oklahomans to believe. While 88% of those in the two metro areas [Oklahoma City and Tulsa] oppose this [cockfighting], we see 87% of those in the 71-rural counties having the same belief.
“Uber-majorities want cockfighting to be illegal”
“Even in the southeast (86%),” the region Justin Humphrey represents, “and southwest (80%), the most rural part of Oklahoma, “we have uber-majorities wanting cockfighting to be illegal.
“In fact,” McFerron said, “in each of the five congressional districts in Oklahoma, at least 83% want cockfighting to be illegal, and in no instance does support for legality exceed 12%.
“Not only do Oklahomans want cockfighting to be illegal,” McFerron emphasized, “but they want it to be a felony.
“When asked about changing the penalty for participation to a misdemeanor, 71% oppose this change, while less than a quarter support it,” McFerron said. “Most striking is that 62% say they ‘strongly oppose’ this change and only 11% ‘strongly favor’ it. It is seldom that we see this sort of intensity difference on issues getting serious consideration.”
Both Republicans & Democrats oppose cockfighting
Oklahoma is arguably the most Republican-leaning state in the U.S., but observed McFerron, “In this world where almost every issue takes on a distinct partisan edge, that is not the case with cockfighting.
“Those on the left, including Democrats (73% oppose), Twitter users (75% oppose), and liberals (83% oppose), are joined by Republicans (70% oppose), those with an unfavorable impression of Joe Biden (68% oppose), evangelicals (76% oppose), and even self-described ‘very conservative voters’ (68%) in opposing lessening the penalty on this activity.
“All of these groups have less than a quarter of their membership favoring making cockfighting a misdemeanor,” McFerron said.
Allowing county opt-out from felony penalties is also strongly opposed
Neither did the Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates polling firm find much support for Justin Humphrey’s proposal to allow counties to opt for misdemeanor rather than felony penalties for cockfighting.
“More than twice as many oppose (67%) as support (28%)” the concept behind the Justin Humphrey bill,” McFerron explained, “and strong opposition remains very high (58%).
“More than twice as many Republicans oppose (64%) as support (31%), while Democrat opposition remains very high,” with 75% in opposition, while only 21% favor letting counties opt out of felony penalties.
“The county option is high throughout the state,” McFerron noted, “hitting 75% opposition in the rural northeast, 67% in the Tulsa metropolitan area, 68% in central Oklahoma, and 64% in the rural southeast,” Humphrey’s home turf.
“Every age & income group has at least 60% opposed”
“The narrowest advantage for [opponents of counties opting out of felony penalties for cockfighting] is in the southwest,” McFerron reported, but even there, 56% oppose the county option, against 38% in favor.
“Every age and income group has at least 60% opposed,” the Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates poll found.
Wrote McFerron, “Striking is how united upper-income voters are on this issue. Among the 13% of Oklahoma voters in households earning more than $150,000 a year, 91% think cockfighting should be illegal, 73% oppose changing the penalty to a misdemeanor, and 73% oppose allowing a county option.
“Strong fundraising tool”
“In addition, the intensity is high, with more than half saying their positions in opposition to be ‘strong.’ This means that any political figure could likely use stopping the expansion of cockfighting as a strong fundraising tool.
“In analyzing polling issues in Oklahoma since 1990,” McFerron began in wrap-up, “I have seen only a handful of issues where I see similar numbers to what I see on cockfighting.
“Not only are the overall numbers against lessening the penalty on cockfighting strong, but voters also say it will affect their votes. Fully 77% of voters say they are at least inclined to vote against anyone advocating for a lower criminal classification for cockfighting, while only 11% say they would vote for such a candidate.
“This issue is in no way balanced”
“What sets cockfighting apart from other litmus test types of issues like abortion, guns, or taxes,” McFerron explained, “is that this issue is in no way balanced. There really is only one side. While you will have significant numbers of voters on both sides of the abortion debate, that is not the case with cockfighting, yet it still has the same intensity.
“When asked about a legislator’s view on cockfighting, 57% say it will determine their vote: 5% say they will definitely vote for a candidate who wants to make it a misdemeanor, while 52% say they will definitely vote against that candidate.
“While the sample size does not allow for looking at individual seats,” McFerron acknowledged, “I would be hard-pressed to believe that any legislative seat in the state has even a plurality of voters supporting a reversal of the 2002 state question that Oklahoma voters passed,” which made cockfighting a felony.
Opposition to cockfighting stronger now than when voters first banned it
McFerron did not discuss the extent to which Oklahoma voters’ opposition to cockfighting has hardened, either since 2002 or since Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates previously polled Oklahomans about cockfighting in December 1999.
Comparing the poll findings, however, shows what support there was for cockfighting more than 20 years ago has considerably weakened.
As of December 1999, a similar survey of 500 Oklahoma voters found that 49% favored the proposal to make cockfighting a felony, with 34% opposed and 17% undecided.
Only in the southeastern Ada-Ardmore region did the proposal to ban cockfighting appear likely to lose, with 21% in favor, 53% opposed.
Across Oklahoma, 53% of women and 43% of men favored banning cockfighting, but only 33% of women and 35% of men favored keeping it legal.
Republicans favored banning cockfighting, 49% to 34%; Democrats favored banning cockfighting 48% to 31%.
Jamaka Petzak says
Sharing with gratitude.
Rich McLellan says
i am not sure local law can take precedent over state law in reducing a penalty, only strengthening it. If Governor signs it I am sure an injunction can be obtained be obtained. Any attempt to obtain a reduction of offense would upset so much prior precedent that I am sure the Supreme court would rule on it if it even got that far. I think the state house is “blowing smoke” to gain a few more votes. I am not worried but of course these are crazy times and even the democracy may not survive.