Inside the Capitol

Monday, July 07, 2008

7-16 Cockfighting Still With Us

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- So what's been happening in the world of chicken fighting in the 13 months since it became illegal?
Not much, judging from what has been in the news. Bernalillo County Sheriff and congressional candidate Darren White has been vocal about a raid his officers conducted last month. They issued two misdemeanor citations.
And last December, down in southern Dona Ana County, 150 officers raided a Christmas Cockfighting Derby, confiscated some chickens and issued four misdemeanor tickets.
News reports of these two raids made them look like major drug busts but instead of the offenders facing 20-year jail sentences, they paid a fine and that was it.
Law enforcement officials aren't especially happy about their orders to raid cockfights. Costs have ranged from $10,000 to $25,000 dollars for the busts, which included use of helicopters. All for a few petty misdemeanor charges.
Officers say they would prefer to use that money for a drug bust or a DWI checkpoint, in which they could have taken 20 dangerous drivers off the road. As one officer was reported saying, "I'd rather save lives than chickens."
Normally law enforcement agencies don't even investigate misdemeanors. But politicians, prodded by animal rights groups, are applying such pressure that resources are being diverted from more serious crimes.
In addition to a state law, New Mexico now has a full-time animal control investigator and a special cockfighting task force. In the 2009 Legislature next January, animal rights groups will ask for an additional $200,000 to finance more positions such as a full-time prosecutor for animal rights cases and for $1.1 million for three new animal custody facilities.
The two raids in Bernalillo and Dona Ana counties weren't the only ones conducted in New Mexico in the past year. The other raids didn't result in anything the authorities wanted to publish.
Cockfight promoters have relocated to clandestine sites on sprawling properties. Lookouts are stationed atop dusty mesas, and speakers, which in the past blared out mariachi music, now carry feeds from police scanners.
New Mexico promoters reportedly still are attracting cockfighters from four of our five neighboring states, where the sport is a felony. Reportedly there are 17 states where cockfighting still is just a misdemeanor. After decades of trying to ban cockfighting in New Mexico, chicken advocates got all they could hope for. But they're sure to be back.
Despite the continuation of cockfighting in New Mexico, enforcement efforts are having some effect. The New Mexico Gamefowl Association took the new law to court claiming tribal, religious and cultural sovereignty to win exemptions from the ban.
That suit lost in the state Supreme Court last December. The Gamefowl Association then filed suit in January claiming economic devastation. That suit was dismissed.
What once was reported to be an $80 million industry in the state is said to be down as much as 70 percent. Farmers who supplemented their income with cockfighting say they may lose their farms.
So the passage of the cockfighting law has had some effect. But it won't end the sport. Prohibition usually doesn't change much. It will cut it down some but it won't stop cockfighting any more than prohibition in the 1920s stopped liquor.
A boost for the cockfighting ban came from the conviction of football star Michael Vick in a dog fighting operation. There are few things closer to many people's hearts than dogs.
Witness billionaire Leona Helmsley, who left $12 million to her dog and the rest of her $6 billion fortune, give or take a billion or two, to dogs. That's 10 times the combined assets of the 7,381 animal-related nonprofit groups in the nation, according to the New York Times. Think of what that could have done for needy kids. Meanwhile, you may want to start a puppy farm and apply for some of that money.
WED, 7-16-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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