Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt in Cockfighting Controversy

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Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt (pictured) has been criticized by animal rights groups and others after recording a supportive video message for a group that has campaigned for reduced penalties for cockfighting in the state.  

Stitt recorded a video message for the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission (OGC) in which he expressed encouragement to its members.

“I wanted to take a moment to cheer you on from the sidelines,” the Governor said in the message.

“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.”

This message has been met with stern criticism from animal rights groups and political opponents, who view it as a tacit endorsement for the illegal practice of cockfighting.

Recently, Stitt also put forward his surprise plan for a future Oklahoma sports betting market. Which, whatever the Governor’s actual opinion, definitely did not include cockfighting.

The Backdrop of Oklahoma’s Cockfighting Ban

Cockfighting, a practice where spectators bet on birds fighting, often to the death, was banned in Oklahoma through a 2002 referendum. It took until 2004 for that to come into effect after a series of legal challenges.

By 2007, the ban spread to all 50 States. In 2019, President Donald Trump extended the ban to U.S. unincorporated territories like Puerto Rico, where it has also proved controversial.

Despite this federally agreed ban, cockfighting has remained a contentious issue in various U.S states. That has historically included Oklahoma.

Not only do illegal fights continue to take place, such as a recent gathering in Texas that led to 19 arrests when it was busted by law enforcement, but groups like the OGC continuing to lobby for changes in legislation.

The OGC does not expressly say anything about cockfighting on its website. However the list of legislative bills it says it has helped push through in recent years include several aimed at reducing penalties for those caught organizing cockfighting.

Political Responses Not Positive

Stitt’s video came as a surprise to many, given the clear legal stance against the activity.

Former Governor Frank Keating, under whose administration the ban was instituted, did not hold back in his words on the issue.

“Recent polling shows that Oklahomans are nearly unanimous in their opposition to this form of intentional cruelty to animals,” Keating said.

“It is an embarrassment to me that any elected official seeks to turn back the clock on this morally settled issue.”

Politicians and animal rights groups also pointed out that OGC’s lobbying efforts have been robust. That has included significant donations of $70,000 to various Oklahoma lawmakers, including a $2,000 contribution to Stitt’s office.

Governor’s Response

“The governor, of course, does not support animal cruelty,” said spokesperson for the Governor’s Office, Abegail Cave, speaking to local media outlet The Oklahoman.

“He supports Oklahoma agriculture and often records videos for ag groups around the state. He has not seen or endorsed any legislation on this topic. He is supportive of the Oklahoma agriculture industry.”

Stitt will be hoping this controversy doesn’t get in the way of his recently announced sports betting plans.

Under the Governor’s vision, Oklahoma retail sportsbooks would be integrated into existing Sooner State casinos operated by various tribes.

The Oklahoman Indian Gaming Association says it has not yet been consulted on the idea, but isn’t opposed to working with the Governor on it in the future.

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