Press Release

Governor Stitt’s Embrace of Cockfighting Out of Bounds and an Embarrassment, According to Keating, Edmondson, and Leaders of Animal Welfare Groups

Stitt sent a videotaped message to cockfighters at a fundraising rally this past weekend in McAlester, as the illicit cockfight season is set to resume next week and the Legislature may re-examine pro-cockfighting legislation in the new year.

Oklahoma City, OK — Former Governor Frank Keating, former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, and leaders of Animal Wellness Action and the Kirkpatrick Policy Group reacted to a video message recorded by Governor Kevin Stitt for a cockfighters’ rally and fundraiser on November 12th in McAlester, Okla., calling it an “embarrassment” and “toxic to the idea of economic development and forward progress for our great state.”

In a mildly coded direct-to-camera message, Governor Stitt associated himself with the gamecock community, praised its contributions to rural Oklahoma, and signaled that he’d support their efforts in the upcoming legislative session in Oklahoma City. Last session, lawmakers failed to pass and intact HB 2530 or SB 1006 in either chamber, but the bills can be re-examined in the 2024 session.

“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 Governor Frank Keating, who served two terms as the state’s chief executive and had previously served as a U.S. Attorney. “Recent polling shows that Oklahomans are nearly unanimous in their opposition to this form of intentional cruelty to animals. It is an embarrassment to me 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.”

“Cockfighting is barbaric and bound up with other crimes,” said former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson (1995-2011), who defended the anti-cruelty law before the Oklahoma Supreme Court from challenges in 2003 and 2004. “Governor Stitt is associating himself with lawlessness, and that’s not a proper role for any statewide elected official.” General Edmondson is co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council for Animal Wellness Action.

Opposition to cockfighting has only cemented since voters handily approved State Question 687 to outlaw cockfighting and associated activities in 2002. According to an April 2023 Sooner Survey, less than 10 percent of Oklahomans think cockfighting should be legal and nearly 90 percent of voters favor the existing statewide ban that makes cockfighting a felony.

“Governor Stitt’s barely concealed embrace of cockfighting is both jarring and unique in American politics,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. “No other governor in any state during my 30 years of work on this issue has ever signaled support for staged animal fighting. Any politician supporting it embraces animal cruelty and lawlessness.”

Despite broad public opposition to cockfighting, enforcement actions have been far too limited given the scale of the ongoing crimes. According to the District Attorneys Council, from 2004 to 2022 there were only 29 law enforcement actions resulting in the arrest of individuals involved in cockfighting, an average of 1.75 busts a year for 76 of 77 counties in Oklahoma. There’s not been a single arrest in counties known to have extensive illegal cockfighting, including Atoka, Coal, LeFlore, and McCurtain counties.

In August 2023, however, Carter County prosecutors charged seven men, including a leader of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, with felony offenses related to illegal cockfighting, stemming from a bust of a cockfighting pit in Ratliff City. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for tomorrow on this case. According to The Ardmoreite, “deputies broke up the illegal cockfighting event” in June, “confiscating [about 60] fighting roosters and equipment while impounding 20 vehicles and trailers.” There were 170 to 180 people present for the cockfight, which occurred in the Fox/Graham area.

The non-profit organization Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) has obtained drone footage of three of the cockfighting farms from the president, vice president and sergeant at arms for the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission. Animal Wellness Action also released two videos of other leaders of the OGC appearing in marketing videos made by a Philippines-based cockfighting network.

“Oklahoma is a business-friendly and family-friendly state, and 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,” said Louisa McCune of the Kirkpatrick Policy Group in Oklahoma City. “I know the vast majority of our state lawmakers do not agree with this kind of blatant disregard and disrespect for the rule of law.”

Prior to Jan. 1, 2023, the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission donated $41,250 to 34 sitting House members and nine Senators, with the single largest recipient of contributions being Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-21 ($2,500) and Governor Stitt ($2,000). A number of lawmakers returned the money to the Commission after learning more about the purposes of the group. An investigator obtained audio from this weekend’s cockfighting rally, and Animal Wellness Action is making that audio available today.

Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy released a comprehensive 62-page report on the links between cockfighting and avian influenza and virulent Newcastle Disease. There have been 15 introductions of vND into the United States since 1950, 10 of which occurred via the illegal smuggling of gamecocks across the southern border from Mexico. (Virulent Newcastle disease is endemic in Mexico and all of Latin America.) Just three of those outbreaks cost the federal government close to $1 billion.

Animal Wellness Action is leading an effort to strengthen the federal law against animal fighting, partly as a reaction to the lawlessness documented in Oklahoma. The Fighting Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Trafficking (FIGHT) Act would enhance the enforcement opportunities by banning simulcasting and gambling of animal fighting ventures; halting the shipment of mature roosters (chickens only) shipped through the U.S. mail (it is already illegal to ship dogs through the mail); creating a citizen suit provision, after proper notice to federal authorities, to allow private right of action against illegal animal fighters; and enhancing forfeiture provisions to include real property for animal fighting crimes.

U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and John Kennedy, R-La., are the lead authors of S. 1529, and by U.S. Reps. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Andrea Salinas, D-Ore., are the authors of H.R. 2742.

Center for a Humane Economy is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(3) whose mission is to help animals by helping forge a more humane economic order. The first organization of its kind in the animal protection movement, the Center encourages businesses to honor their social responsibilities in a culture where consumers, investors, and other key stakeholders abhor cruelty and the degradation of the environment and embrace innovation as a means of eliminating both. The Center believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @TheHumaneCenter

Animal Wellness Action is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) whose mission is to help animals by promoting laws and regulations at federal, state and local levels that forbid cruelty to all animals. The group also works to enforce existing anti-cruelty and wildlife protection laws. Animal Wellness Action believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @AWAction_News