OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Animal groups alongside Former Governor Keating, Former Attorney General Edmondson are calling Governor Stitt’s embrace of cockfighting as an ’embarrassment’.

Former Governor Frank Keating, former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, and leaders of Animal Wellness Action and the Kirkpatrick Policy Group on today reacted to a video message recorded by Governor Kevin Stitt for a cockfighters’ rally and fundraiser on November 12th in McAlester, Okla., calling it an “embarrassment” and “toxic to the idea of economic development and forward progress for our great state.”

“To have the governor of our state embracing it, to me is pathetic and reprehensible,” said Edmondson.

Animal activist alongside policy groups say last session, lawmakers failed to pass and intact HB 2530 or SB 1006 in either chamber, but the bills can be re-examined in the 2024 session.

“Cockfighting is every bit as cruel and backwards now as when I actively supported the ballot initiative 20 years ago, when voters decisively outlawed knife fights between animals,” said Governor Frank Keating, who served two terms as the state’s chief executive and had previously served as a U.S. Attorney. “Recent polling shows that Oklahomans are nearly unanimous in their opposition to this form of intentional cruelty to animals. It is an embarrassment to me that any elected official seeks to turn back the clock on this morally settled issue. Talk of decriminalizing cockfighting is toxic to the idea of economic development and forward progress for our great state.”

“Cockfighting is barbaric and bound up with other crimes,” said former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson (1995-2011), who defended the anti-cruelty law before the Oklahoma Supreme Court from challenges in 2003 and 2004. “Governor Stitt is associating himself with lawlessness, and that’s not a proper role for any statewide elected official.” General Edmondson is co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council for Animal Wellness Action.

Opposition to cockfighting in Oklahoma has only cemented since the approval of State Question 687 to outlaw cockfighting and associated activities in 2002.

“There’s no mistake that the crowd was cock fighters,” said Kevin Chambers, who attended the rally.

“Governor Stitt’s barely concealed embrace of cockfighting is both jarring and unique in American politics,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. “No other governor in any state during my 30 years of work on this issue has ever signaled support for staged animal fighting. Any politician supporting it embraces animal cruelty and lawlessness.”

According to the broad public opposition to cockfighting by leaders of animal welfare groups, enforcement actions have been far too limited given the scale of the ongoing crimes.

Leaders of the animal welfare groups conclude, there’s not been a single arrest in counties known to have extensive illegal cockfighting, including Atoka, Coal, LeFlore, and McCurtain counties.

In August 2023, however, Carter County prosecutors charged seven men, including a leader of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, with felony offenses related to illegal cockfighting, stemming from a bust of a cockfighting pit in Ratliff City. According to The Ardmoreite, “deputies broke up the illegal cockfighting event” in June, “confiscating [about 60] fighting roosters and equipment while impounding 20 vehicles and trailers.” There were 170 to 180 people present for the cockfight, which occurred in the Fox/Graham area.

“Oklahoma is a business-friendly and family-friendly state, and it is embarrassing for me as a native-born Oklahoma to have our governor warmly embrace a group that is engaging in illicit acts of animal cruelty,” said Louisa McCune of the Kirkpatrick Policy Group in Oklahoma City. “I know the vast majority of our state lawmakers do not agree with this kind of blatant disregard and disrespect for the rule of law.”

Prior to Jan. 1, 2023 leaders of animal welfare groups say, the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission donated $41,250 to 34 sitting House members and nine Senators, with the single largest recipient of contributions being Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-21 ($2,500) and Governor Stitt ($2,000). A number of lawmakers returned the money to the Commission after learning more about the purposes of the group. The Animal Wellness Action released two videos of leaders of the OGC (Oklahoma Gaming Commission) appearing in marketing videos made by a Philippines-based cockfighting network.

“We call for a sincere apology. We call for a retraction of those statements,” added McCune.