The governor of Oklahoma, Kevin Stitt, is under fire from animal rights activists after expressing support for a cockfighting organization in a video.
Stitt’s endorsement of the annual meeting for the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, which aims to minimize penalties for cockfighting, has caused significant controversy.
In August, the former district director of the Gamefowl Commission was arrested on a felony charge following the bust of a cockfighting ring in Oklahoma, as reported by KFOR.
In an attempt to reduce penalties for cockfighting participants, the Gamefowl Commission has made political donations to various Oklahoma politicians, including Stitt, as noted by the Oklahoman newspaper. The organization has contributed over $70,000 to Oklahoma politicians, with $2,000 going to Stitt.
“I wish I could be with you for the Gamefowl Commission’s annual legislative meeting, but I wanted to take a moment to cheer you on from the sidelines,” Stitt expressed in the video, published on Sunday.
He continued, “Oklahomans like yourselves remain dedicated to the spirit of competition and camaraderie that runs deep in our communities.”
When reached by the Guardian for comment, Stitt’s office could not be reached.
Widely banned as a bloodsport, cockfighting entails pitting two or more birds against each other. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has deemed the practice illegal in all 50 states and a felony in 42 states, as well as the District of Columbia, according to the ASPCA.
The first law outlawing cockfighting was passed in 1867.
There has been swift backlash to Stitt’s comments.
Cameron Harsh, programs director for the nonprofit World Animal Protection, criticized Stitt’s support of cockfighting as “out of touch.”
“Cockfighting, as with all forms of organized animal fighting, is archaic and barbaric. Governor Stitt’s posturing to curry favor with a fringe group is out of touch with the majority of Americans,” Harsh stated. “The public backlash in response to the governor’s apparent pro-cockfighting stance is further evidence that animal cruelty is unacceptable.”
David Favre, a professor of property and animal law at Michigan State University, expressed shock at the governor’s support for cockfighting in contemporary culture. He emphasized the cruelty of the “sport,” stating, “It’s a ‘sport’ that kills roosters so people can have fun and make money, and I think as a culture we’ve rejected that.”
Favre acknowledged that Oklahoma was one of the last states to ban cockfighting and confirmed that the majority of people in the state oppose the activity.
“I think the majority of people have a firm no on this,” Favre said. He added that the number of people involved in cockfighting is low enough to limit their political influence.
Politicians in Oklahoma have also condemned the governor’s comments.
The former Oklahoma attorney general Drew Edmondson called Stitt’s support “pathetic.”
“To have the governor of our state embracing it, to me is pathetic and reprehensible,” said Edmondson.
Former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating referred to Stitt’s comments as an “embarrassment”.
“Recent polling shows that Oklahomans are nearly unanimous in their opposition to this form of intentional cruelty to animals,” Keating told KFOR.
“It is an embarrassment to me that any elected official seeks to turn back the clock on this morally settled issue.”