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(DV) Rosenberg: Louisiana Forced to Look at Peculiar Cultural Tradition of Cockfighting





Thanks a Lot New Mexico!
Louisiana Forced to Look at Peculiar
Cultural Tradition of Cockfighting

by Martha Rosenberg
March 18, 2007

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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 hedged on the issue saying there were "strong 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.

Efforts to ban cockfighting in Louisiana have gone over like a dry Mardi Gras. 

The House Agriculture Committee -- "full of country boys in cowboy boots and blue jeans, some wearing T-shirts that celebrated cockfighting" says Associated Press -- sees to that. 

But last year, with post Katrina visibility, supporters thought it would be different.  

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 yearís hurricanes," said Sen. Art Lentini a Republican from Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, the bill's sponsor. 

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 they were wrong.

"Itís a $2 million industry," said Sen. Don Cravins (D-Opelousas) who has several cock pits in his district and had a political fundraiser at one of the establishments. "Iím not going to stand here and turn my back on the people who sent me here." 

"Itís 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) employing the "what's next?" argument so popular in blocking humane legislation. "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,Ē says Ron Maturin who owns S&R Feed & Supply in Coteau, 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. ďYou donít see drugs or drinking or fighting."

Well, fighting between people that is. 

Cockfighting is usually defended as a sacred cultural tradition.

But its emotional hold on individuals is pure abnormal psych. 

"If I didnít have my roosters, I donít know what I would do with the rest of my life,Ē Clarence "Wooly" Bunch told Advocate reporter Will Sentell while taping a three inch knife to the leg of his bird Little Rebel at the Atchafalaya Game Club. "This is what I live for every day. This is what keeps me going. Iím serious." 

"I'm so upset that it's damn near ruining my life," said Ronald Barron, president of the New Mexico Game Fowl Association when the ban passed. "I've got 38 years doing this. I don't know if I should hatch off some baby chicks right now. This isn't a business. It's my pleasure. It's my right, or rather it was my right."

And then there's former Washington State Legislator Jack Cairnes who actually moved to New Mexico to raise and fight gamecocks in 2005.

"I'm tired of being scandalized and criminalized for something that should be neither," says Cairnes who calls cockfighting "family entertainment" and the New Mexico ban "racist."  

Bet he's not moving to Louisiana.

Martha Rosenberg is a Staff Cartoonist at the Evanston Roundtable. She can be reached at: