Agriculture secretary gives group advice on how to fight petition

Wednesday, October 20th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- Agriculture Secretary Dennis Howard gave
cockfighters tips this weekend on how to fight an initiative
petition that would make the sport illegal in Oklahoma.

"I gave them a lesson in Politics 101," Howard told the Tulsa
World. Howard spoke at the Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association's
annual meeting in McAlester. He described the proposed ban on
cockfighting as an example of "big government" adopting pieces of
an animal rights agenda.

"Too many of our freedoms are slipping away," Howard said.

Howard said felony convictions for cockfighting would "make
criminals out of law-abiding citizens."

Cockfighting opponents say they have about 50,000 signatures so
far on petitions that seek a November 2000 statewide vote to make
cockfighting illegal. They hope to have at least 100,000 signatures
from registered Oklahoma voters by the Dec. 13 deadline.

In cockfighting, roosters with steel knives lashed to their
heels fight to the death. Oklahoma is one of three states where the
sport is legal. The others are New Mexico and Louisiana.

Howard believes that the smaller the voter turnout, the better
the chances that the anti-cockfighting measure will fail. But the
November 2000 election will include the presidency, which usually
means a heavier turnout.

Howard said the cockfighters should do everything they can to
challenge the signature process and postpone the cockfighting
measure to another date.

"I told them, `You need to pick an election date when you can

The petition would make it a felony to pit roosters in a fight
or to raise them with the intent of fighting them. It would also be
a felony to manage a site where roosters are fought or to provide
cockfighting equipment, such as the steel knives or gaffs that
cockfighters lash to the heels of their birds.

Each spectator at a cockfight would be guilty of a misdemeanor
if the petition became law.

Anyone guilty of felony cockfighting could be punished with one
to 10 years in prison and/or a fine between $2,000 and $25,000.
Misdemeanor convictions would be punishable by no more than a year
in prison and/or a fine not to exceed $500.

Howard contends an animal-rights movement is leading the effort
to ban cockfighting.

"Would rodeos be next?" he asked.

"Look at Texas," said Janet Halliburton, chairwoman of the
Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting." Cockfighting was banned
there in 1907.

"Cockfighting is illegal. But do they hunt? Do they have
rodeos? I think they do. Cockfighting is illegal in almost every
place in the United States. But I don't know of any place where
rodeo is illegal."

About 800 members of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association
attended the Sunday meeting in McAlester.

Meanwhile, the World reported that its latest Oklahoma Poll
shows that 59 percent of Oklahomans would vote to ban cockfighting,
down from 65 percent in the fourth quarter of 1998.

Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said they wouldn't vote to
ban cockfighting, up from 31 percent last year.

The quarterly poll of 750 people statewide is taken by Tulsa
Surveys and is sponsored by the World. It has a margin of error
rate of plus or minus 3.5 percent. The poll was taken Sept. 28-Oct.

"There has been slippage across the board among
anti-cockfighting proponents, but there is still significant
support for doing away with it," said poll consultant Al Soltow of
the University of Tulsa.

Soltow said the biggest swing in poll results came in more rural
areas where those opposed to cockfighting fell from 65 percent to
57 percent.