Praises Oklahoma Game Fowl Commission for “preserving heritage”
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma––Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt all but dropped his rooster into a cockpit and placed a bet at the Oklahoma Game Fowl Commission annual legislative meeting on November 12, 2023 in McAlester, Oklahoma.
“Hey everyone. Governor Kevin Stitt here,” he opened, addressing the meeting by video.
“I wish I could be with you for the Game Fowl Commission’s annual legislative meeting,” Stitt said. “But I wanted to take a moment to cheer you on from the sidelines. You all know Oklahoma’s long and storied history with game fowl, from statehood to today.
“Make sure our gamefowl traditions are instilled in our culture”
“Oklahomans like yourselves remain dedicated to the spirit of competition and camaraderie that runs deep in our communities. The Oklahoma Game Fowl Commission has come to play a big role in preserving this heritage,” Stitt continued.
“And your work helps to make sure our gamefowl traditions are instilled in our culture for decades to come. In less than two years,” Stitt said, 15,000 Oklahomans have joined your ranks, a true testament to the grassroots nature of the Game Fowl Commission.”
Stitt, a Republican in his second term as governor, did not mention that 16,157 Oklahomans died from COVID-19 during the same two years, most of them after Stitt in October 2021 signed a state bill, SB 658, which prohibited requiring “vaccination against Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) as a condition of admittance to or attendance of the school or institution.”
“We need to protect gamefowl farmers”
Concluded Stitt in his address to the Oklahoma Game Fowl Commission meeting, “We need to protect the nearly 5,000 gamefowl farmers across Oklahoma and lift up our rural and municipal economies. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish together in the next legislative session. May God bless you and may God bless the great state of Oklahoma.”
Reported Erin Christy of KJRH television news in Tulsa, “Tulsan Kevin Chambers attended the cockfighters’ meeting, which he says was open to the public. He’s against cockfighting, but wanted to see what the meeting was all about. He saw several lawmakers in attendance and said it was clearly a cockfighters’ conference, even though they occasionally used the term ‘chicken farmers’ to describe themselves. He said vendors were selling jewelry made of gaffs used in cockfighting.”
Sheriff boasts of cockfights attended
Said Chambers, “State Representative David Hardin of Adair County said he had been to so many cockfights he didn’t know how many. And he’s the former sheriff of Adair County,” who as sheriff swore to uphold the 2002 Oklahoma state law, passed by ballot initiative, that made cockfighting a felony.
Recalled Terré Gables of KFOR television in Oklahoma City, “In August 2023, Carter County prosecutors charged seven men, including a leader of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission,” who subsequently resigned, “with felony offenses related to illegal cockfighting, stemming from a bust of a cockfighting pit in Ratliff City.
“According to The Ardmoreite,” Gables recited, “deputies broke up the illegal cockfighting event” in June 2023, “confiscating [about 60] fighting roosters and equipment while impounding 20 vehicles and trailers.”
Noted Gables, “There were 170 to 180 people present for the cockfight, which occurred in the Fox/Graham area.”
Governor Stitt’s endorsement of cockfighting came to public notice through a November 15, 2023 media conference jointly organized by Animal Wellness Action and Showing Animals Respect & Kindness.
Both organizations have extensively investigated gamefowl breeding and cockfighting in Oklahoma.
Kirkpatrick Policy Group
Co-hosting the media conference was the Kirkpatrick Policy Group, describing itself as “a non-partisan, independent, 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization established in 2017 to identify, support, and advocate for positions on issues affecting all Oklahomans, including concern for the arts and arts education, animals, women’s reproductive health, and protecting the state’s initiative and referendum process.”
The Kirkpatrick Policy Group is headed by Kirkpatrick Bank and Kirkpatrick Oil & Gas Company chair Christian Keesee, of Oklahoma City, who also heads the Kirkpatrick Foundation and the Kirkpatrick Family Fund.
Posted Kirkpatrick Policy Group coordinator Brendan Hoover to the KPG web site, “The one-minute, eleven second video [in which Stitt addressed the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission] was played in front of a crowd of between 300 and 400 people. The cockfighting supporters also posted the video on their Facebook page.
“Recent polling doesn’t concur”
“If Stitt’s message was meant for political gain,” Hoover suggested, “recent polling doesn’t concur. According to a March 2023 Sooner Survey poll, 87% of statewide registered voters surveyed said that cockfighting should remain illegal. This sentiment was nearly identical across all demographics––including Republican, Democrat, and independent voters, urban and rural voters, and male and female voters.
Concluded pollster Mat McFeron of the Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates polling agency, “Any candidate for office that toys with the idea of permitting cockfighting to occur without the risk of a felony is at odds with voters.”
But money talks
Continued Hoover, “The Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission PAC was created in 2022 and made more than $70,000 in contributions to candidate committees during the past eighteen months, according to Oklahoma Ethics Commission campaign finance reports.
“One of the political action committee’s largest donations, $2,000, was made to Stitt’s reelection campaign on August 27, 2022.”
Only Oklahoma state senator Lonnie Paxton, a Republican from Chickasha who has sponsored legislation to legalize cockfighting, was given more. Paxton’s campaign fund received $2,500.
“Embarrassing for me as an Oklahoman”
Said Kirkpatrick Policy Group executive director Louisa McCune, following up on Hoover’s remarks, “Oklahoma is a business-friendly and family-friendly state. It is embarrassing for me as a native-born Oklahoma to have our governor warmly embrace a group that is engaging in illicit acts of animal cruelty.
“I know the vast majority of our state lawmakers,” McCune said hopefully, “do not agree with this kind of blatant disregard and disrespect for the rule of law.”
“Cruel, backwards, barbaric, & bound up with other crimes”
Other participants in the November 15, 2023 media conference that exposed Oklahoma governor Stitt’s endorsement of cockfighting included former two-term Oklahoma governor Frank Keating, also a Republican, and former Oklahoma attorney general Drew Edmondson, a Democrat who served from 1995 to 2011, and successfully defended the state cockfighting ban before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 2003 and 2004.
Edmondson is now co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council for Animal Wellness Action.
“Cockfighting is every bit as cruel and backwards now as when I actively supported the ballot initiative 20 years ago, when voters decisively outlawed knife fights between animals,” said Keating.
“It is an embarrassment to me,” Keating added, “that any elected official seeks to turn back the clock on this morally settled issue. Talk of decriminalizing cockfighting is toxic to the idea of economic development and forward progress for our great state.”
Offered Edmondson, “Cockfighting is barbaric and bound up with other crimes. Governor Stitt is associating himself with lawlessness, and that’s not a proper role for any statewide elected official.”
“Zero prosecutions where cockfighters openly operate”
Explained Animal Wellness Action president Wayne Pacelle, “The Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission worked in 2023 to introduce HB 2530/SB 1006,” sponsored by Paxton in the state senate, “to decriminalize cockfighting in Oklahoma. The bills did not attract sufficient support to advance, but they can be re-examined by lawmakers in 2024.
“We are calling on sheriffs and district attorneys to enforce the existing anti-cockfighting law,” Pacelle said, “and not to let the governor’s expressions of support for cockfighting or the sideshow at the capitol cause them to pause enforcement.
“There have been zero prosecutions in many of the counties where the leading cockfighting traffickers are openly operating,” Pacelle reminded, “including Atoka, Coal, LeFlore, and McCurtain counties,” where Showing Animals Respect & Kindness drone videos have gathered extensive evidence of cockfights in progress and local sheriffs not responding to tip-offs about the illegal activity.
“We are, on a regular basis, providing evidence to authorities about ongoing felony violations throughout the state,” Pacelle and Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi both affirmed.
Major vector for H5N1, also known as HPAI
Animal Wellness Action senior veterinarian Thomas Pool, who formerly headed the U.S. Army Veterinary Command, pointed out that cockfighting is a major vector for the spread of the avian influenza H5N1.
Summarized Pacelle of Pool’s testimony, “Oklahoma has reported four recent bird flu outbreaks in backyard poultry flocks. Dr. Pool, an Oklahoman, has documented the widespread movement of fighting birds raised in Oklahoma and sent as far off as Guam and the Philippines.”
As Pool himself explained during the media conference, the movement is scarcely all outward bound. Thousands of gamefowl are imported into Oklahoma each year for fighting and breeding, each of them a potential carrier of H5N1, also known as high pathogenic avian influenza, often called HPAI for short.
“61.26 million birds”
“In total since early 2022,” Pacelle said, “61.26 million birds have been affected by HPAI, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and it’s already the most expensive animal disease outbreak in U.S. history, costing billions of dollars to, so far unsuccessfully, attempt to extirpate the virus.
“Within the last five weeks,” Pacelle continued, “the USDA Animal Plant & Health Inspection Service reported more than 54 commercial and backyard flocks [including gamefowl flocks] have been infected by H5N1/HPAI nationwide, resulting in the depopulation of 2.5 million birds in October and November 2023.
“The USDA Animal Plant & Health Inspection Service won’t say how many of these 23 backyard flocks are gamecock operations, but cockfighting flocks are almost certainly part of the matrix of infected populations,” Pacelle emphasized.
Carrying Newcastle to chickens
ANIMALS 24-7 can confirm this, having been told by USDA Animal Plant & Health Inspection Service veterinarians that they do not participate in criminal law enforcement against cockfighters and gamefowl breeders to avoid losing access to infected flocks.
Pacelle also mentioned that, “Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy,” earlier in 2023, “released a comprehensive 62-page report on the links between cockfighting and virulent Newcastle Disease.
(See Cockfighting: Playing chicken & gambling with potentially pandemic Avian influenza & virulent Newcastle Disease,” by Jim Keen, DVM, Ph.D., and Tom Pool, DVM.)
“There have been 15 introductions of virulent Newcastle Disease into the United States since 1950,” Pacelle reminded, “10 of which occurred via the illegal smuggling of gamecocks from Mexico. Just three of those outbreaks cost the federal government close to $1 billion.”
Aiming at e-sabong bucks?
The Oklahoma poultry industry employs more than 27,000 Oklahomans, with annual production value of more than $750 million, generating about $7 billion in total economic activity per year.
But Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt does not appear to be putting all that at risk for just a $2,000 campaign contribution.
Stitt on November 3, 2023 announced a scheme to legalize sports betting in Oklahoma, a necessary first step, along with legalizing cockfighting, before introducing online betting on cockfights.
Online cockfighting, called “e-sabung,” is reportedly a $1 billion-a-year industry in the Philippines, a major destination of Oklahoma-raised gamefowl.
But cockfighting and alleged fight-fixing are also a notoriously murderous business, especially in the Philippines.
At least 34 cockfighters are known to have “disappeared” in the Philippines between April 2021 and January 2022.
Reported Hicham Raache for KFOR, “Stitt’s plan allows Oklahomans to place in-person bets at gaming sites operated by federally recognized tribes – which his office says protects tribal investment in brick-and-mortar facilities [casinos] – as well as on state-licensed sportsbooks via their mobile devices.
“Unfortunately,” responded Choctaw Nation chief Gary Batton, “the governor did not consult with the Choctaw Nation before announcing his proposal, despite our many years of leadership in operating gaming in Oklahoma and our clear interest in moving the economy forward.
“Upon initial review, we do not believe the plan represents the best interests for the people of Oklahoma or the tribal nations that have done so much to support the state.”
Tribes oppose cockfighting
In early November 2002, on the eve of the election in which Oklahomans voted overwhelming to ban cockfighting, informants within the Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association told Kiowa attorney Jon Wyatt that someone was trying to sell members permits to fight cocks on Native American reservations.
“Someone could try it,” Caddo Tribe chair LaRue Parker told Ron Jackson of The Oklahoman. “But my God, I sure hope not. Cockfighting goes against everything that is sacred to Indians. We are the keepers of the land and protectors of the animals.”
Kiowa Tribe chair Clifford McKenzie pledged that any evidence he discovered linking the Kiowa to cockfighting would be turned over to the proper federal authorities for prosecution.