After a year of battling FEMA, the state of Louisiana has a new enemy--New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.
This week the Governor signed legislation to make cockfighting illegal in his state, leaving Louisiana in conspicuous isolation as the only state to be Cockfighting Friendly.
Of course last year Richardson said there were "good arguments" on both sides of the cockfighting debate.
("Really?" replied Jay Leno. "What's the good argument for cockfighting? [It] keeps roosters off the street. It gives those roosters without any skills a chance to make it. What reason is there for cockfighting?")
But then he wasn't running for President.
While legislation to ban cockfighting seems to die every year in the Louisiana legislature's House Agriculture Committee--a committee "full of country boys in cowboy boots and blue jeans, some wearing T-shirts that celebrated cockfighting" says the associated press--2006 looked promising because of Katrina.
Louisiana simply couldn't "afford to allow this country-bumpkin practice to continue while we try to get sympathy--and money--from the federal government to recover from last year's hurricanes," said Sen. Art Lentini a Republican from Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans and the bill's sponsor.
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Even Governor Kathleen Blanco wanted to see a ban, despite hailing from the rural cockfighting haven of Acadiana herself--and without known presidential ambitions.
But the ban failed.
"It's a $2 million industry," said Sen. Don Cravins (D-Opelousas) who has several co*k pits in his district and had a political fundraiser at one of the establishments. "I'm not going to stand here and turn my back on the people who sent me here."
"It's a way of life in our area," said Sen. Nick Gautreaux (D-Meaux) who explained with tears in his eyes that cockfighting could lead a young man away from a life of crime and degeneracy and toward a more productive existence. (He did not say "other" degeneracy.)
Pretty soon we won't be able to go "alligator trapping" or "kick back at a crawfish boil," agitated Rep. Troy Herbet (D-Jeanerette). "Those animals suffer just like a wounded gamecock does."
Cockfighting involves attaching three inch blades to the legs of roosters and tossing them into a ring so fans can bet on which will die first. If birds live but lose their eyes, "blinker derbies" are sometimes held between blind birds. Often the birds are drugged to keep them fighting as thousands of dollars in bets change hands.
But cockfighting supporters say the sport isn't cruel.
Cockfighters "take care of their chickens better than most people take care of their kids," says Ron Maturin who owns S&R Feed & Supply in Coutea, LA with his wife.
I wish I had a speck of the heart and spirit these birds have," agreed cockfighter and breeder Pete Kidder of Arnaudville, LA at a cockfight at the Atchafalaya Game Club in Henderson, LA last year. "They give it everything they have."
Nor do they think it's bad for children.
"Look, there are all ages," said Sue Stewart of Independence, LA at the same cockfight. "You don't see drugs or drinking or fighting."
Well, fighting between people that is.
But law enforcement professionals and educators disagree.
"It is barbaric," said Louisiana State Police Lt. Rhett Trahan before a Senate committee last year, recounting a boy about eight years old betting and yelling during a cockfight fight "kill him, kill him, kill him!"
"My blood boiled when I read about breeders' pride in [the] roosters' determination after two years of nurturing," wrote Cleveland Bailey Sr., a retired educator from Baton Rouge in the Advocate. "One rooster in a cockfight kept on fighting with a broken neck. To breeders this was a sight to behold. How they admired the rooster's spirit."
"Then I remembered how many of my slave ancestors--human beings--were also nurtured and trained, forced to fight in a ringside slaughter. Dehumanized and sacrificed in a "sport," "our heritage," "our pastime."
"I sincerely hope this cruelty to the lowly rooster is nearing an end...[and] at the dawn of a new early morning, as the sun eases over the horizon in Pointe Coupee, St. Landry and other parishes, many a person may be awakened by the crowing of numerous roosters perched on fences" freed from "this scourge."
Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)