The Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt has been soundly denounced by animal rights activists after making a video in support of a cockfighting organization.
Stitt made a video in support of the annual meeting for the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, a group that has been working to reduce penalties for cockfighting in the state.
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The former district director for the Gamefowl Commission was arrested and charged with a felony in August after authorities busted a cockfighting ring in the state, KFOR reported.
The Gamefowl Commission has donated to several Oklahoman politicians, including Stitt, in an attempt to lessen penalties for those participating. The Oklahoman newspaper said the organization has given over $70,000 to Oklahoma politicians, including $2,000 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 said in the video published on Sunday.
“Oklahomans like yourselves remained dedicated to the spirit of competition and camaraderie that runs deep in our communities” he added.
Stitt’s office could not be reached by the Guardian for comment.
Cockfighting is a bloodsport in which two or more birds are put in an enclosed space to fight each other. The practice is outlawed in all 50 states, and a felony in 42 states as well as the District of Columbia, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The first law outlawing cockfighting was passed in 1867.
Backlash to Stitt’s comments has been swift.
Cameron Harsh, the programs director for the nonprofit World Animal Protection, called Stitt’s support of cockfighting “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 said. “The public backlash in response to the governor’s apparent pro-cockfighting stance is further evidence that animal cruelty is unacceptable.”
David Favre, professor of property and animal law at Michigan State University, said: “I’m a bit shocked that any governor at this point and time in our culture would support cockfighting. 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 said Oklahoma was one of the last states to make cockfighting illegal, but added that the majority of people in the state are against the activity.
“I think the majority of people have a firm no on this,” Favre said. He said the number of people participating in cockfighting is low enough to limit their political influence.
Oklahoman politicians have also decried 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 called Stitt’s comments 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.”