Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Fighting About Cockfighting

SANTA FE – As predicted here last month, the war on cockfighting has escalated.
In late October, former Baywatch babe Pamela Anderson wrote Gov. Bill Richardson -- with copies to the media -- warning him that Hollywood is watching and suggesting that film companies may not want to do business with a barbaric state that permits cockfighting.
Since then, former Golden Girl Rue McClanahan visited Santa Fe and held a rally on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. And now, the Humane Society of the United States is weighing in.
Last week, Wayne Pacelle, head of the national organization that claims 8 million members, visited Santa Fe to meet with reporters and legislators. “We really believe that 2005 will be the end of legal cockfighting in New Mexico,” Pacelle said.
His organization was very active in ending cockfighting in Oklahoma two years ago. That leaves New Mexico and Louisiana as the only two states where the practice is still legal. Both will be targets next year, and reportedly New Mexico is in the bull’s eye.
Gov. Richardson is still officially undecided on the issue, but says he is reacting negatively to the implied threats form Hollywood types, which he calls “condescending and insulting.”
Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, of Las Cruces, announced last week she will introduce legislation to ban the practice. Garcia recently was re-elected majority whip in the Senate, so her clout will be felt. Sen. Steve Komadina, a Corrales Republican, who carried the Senate version of a cockfight ban last year, announced earlier that he will do so again this time.
Sen. Garcia, also has introduced cockfighting legislation previously. Usually once is enough for any lawmaker. Most end up shaking their head in amazement, saying they never knew they had so many cockfighting constituents.
Often it is an unsuspecting first-year lawmaker, whom animal rights groups convince to introduce their legislation. Those who have been around to witness a cockfighting debate know it is somewhat overwhelming for the sponsor.
It isn’t that the bill’s opponents are threatening, but there are so many of them and they feel so deeply that cockfighting is part of a family heritage they don’t want destroyed. One report estimates there are 10,000 game fowl breeders in New Mexico. That seems high, except when sitting in a committee hearing room with them.
Another recent addition to the effort to ban cockfighting is Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez. He says it doesn’t help his efforts to attract high-tech companies when cockfighting arguments are being bandied about in the news. Chavez calls cockfighting “knife fights with roosters.”
Chavez argues that cockfighting has nothing to do with Hispanic culture and that he cringes when he hears that claim. Some cockfighters, however, believed it strongly enough that they claimed it is protected by the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which pledged to allow the traditions of the Mexican people annexed by the United States to continue. New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid, however, opined that the treaty didn’t go that far.
Maybe cockfighting is not a legitimate part of Hispanic heritage, but it is a rural tradition. I grew up in a rural community where there was plenty of it happening out on the farms. Those people were my friends and many still are. And they are the best people you’ll ever meet.
I spend quite a bit of time discussing biennial cockfighting controversies in our Legislature because they are very much a part of New Mexicana, more than most people realize – until a 60-day legislative session rolls around.
Gov. Richardson says he doesn’t think the subject merits the attention it receives and it distracts from more serious issues affecting our state. That may sound as though he would like to ban cockfighting in order to get it out of the way.
But cockfighting opponents had better not get Big Bill too riled up.


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