Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 09, 2004


SANTA FE The war on cockfighting has escalated. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has recruited actress Pamela Anderson to play the lead in its biennial effort to ban chicken fighting in New Mexico.
The former Baywatch babe wrote to Gov. Bill Richardson two weeks ago asking him to ban cockfighting in the state. She warned that “The whole country is watching, especially Hollywood, which your office actively courts for the film business.”
It is uncertain how much influence cockfighting has on the decision of producers to film in New Mexico. Their mostly-liberal leanings might suggest it would have some effect, but some recent New Mexico polling results may put that assumption in question.
Almost surely, Pamela Anderson’s opposition to cockfighting will have no effect on Hollywood decisions to film in New Mexico. But her injection into the 2005 Legislature’s deliberation on the question will make a difference, possibly a crucial difference.
The announcement of Anderson’s letter to the governor ran in top-of-the-page stories in many newspapers, along with a color picture of the sexy starlet. It doesn’t take a pundit to predict that there will be more announcements and that they will receive attention PETA could never expect get with its own news releases.
Another easy prediction is that Anderson will visit New Mexico’s Capitol at a significant time during the 2005 session. Some lawmakers already are looking forward to that.
Gov. Richardson has not announced his answer to Anderson. He’s been otherwise occupied the past several months and he may want to play hard-to-get for awhile.
Two years ago, when a cockfighting ban made its way farther through the Legislature than it ever had, Richardson indicated he might entertain requests to sign the measure. The bill passed the House for the first time ever, but died in the Senate.
PETA also has another factor working in its favor this year. The organization has conducted polls in the past revealing wide public acceptance in New Mexico for a cockfighting ban. But polls by advocacy organizations are looked at suspiciously, because responses are dependent on the way questions are asked.
This year the Albuquerque Journal asked the question in an August poll and learned that two-thirds of likely voters would support a cockfighting ban. That is likely to have an influence on a governor who watches poll results carefully. The results also show more Republicans than Democrats supporting the ban.
The question this year will be whether the governor decides he wants to have the legislation introduced. That’s essentially what Anderson was asking when she requested Richardson to outlaw cockfighting. The governor doesn’t have the power to do that.
My hunch is that Richardson will not initiate the legislation. Experience shows that passing a cockfighting ban requires a great amount of political capital, something the governor needs to conserve for his major priorities.
Why is it so hard to pass a cockfighting ban? Gamecock breeders are proud, hardworking people. They are a bunch of country folks who feel so strongly about preserving a tradition and a way of life that they’ve become very effective lobbyists. They’re from the sticks, but they sure know how to play defense.
They throng to the Capitol, packing committee hearing rooms. But they aren’t the cruel militants one might expect. They are polite, respectful, sincere and deeply committed to preserving their heritage. They portray cockfighting events as family affairs that are drug free and cleaner fun than their kids might be having otherwise.
Their effect on lawmakers is often powerful and positive. They appeal to some legislators by questioning whether government should be so involved in regulating people’s lives and businesses. They appeal to others by noting that cities and counties already can ban cockfighting, and many do.
It won’t be an easy decision for lawmakers. They must weigh an end of a tradition against cruelty to animals – because it’s both.


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