Cockfighting remains legal in Ariz. after Legislature rejects bill

By Ann McBride
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 19, 1996

PHOENIX - A debate last week in the Arizona House on whether to outlaw cockfighting came with its share of theatrics.

One avid cockfighting fan removed and waved his artificial leg at legislators. Another asked them to fulfill a dying woman's wish by banning the activity.

But in the end, House Bill 2519 did not have a fighting chance as members of the House Committee on Judiciary took the side of the more than 150 supporters of the "sport" at Wednesday's hearing and defeated it 8-3.

The original bill, which proponents said was the most lenient to date, would have made cockfighting a class two misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $750 and four months in jail. An amendment added by Rep. Robert Updike, R-Phoenix, would have reduced that penalty to a petty offense, which carries a first-time fine of $300.

Jamie Massey, who spoke on behalf of Citizens Against Cockfighting, said he was surprised by the vote. He said he thought legislators were persuaded by the number of telephone calls they received and the large turnout at the hearing. He said he would send a letter to animal protection groups and see if they were interested in placing the issue on a 1998 state ballot.

The bill, which was sponsored by Andrew Nichols, D-Tucson, has appeared in some form in front of the Legislature 22 times since 1959. Cockfighting is legal in only five states - New Mexico, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri and Arizona.

During a cockfight, two roosters are placed in a closed pit to fight until one dies or can not fight anymore. Wagering on the birds is an important part of the sport and, in addition to injecting them with drugs, some owners place specially-designed knives on the roosters' feet to add to the show.

Proponents of the bill said there are many studies that show cruelty to animals during childhood precedes violent behavior against people later in life.

Carol Munroe, executive director of the Tucson Humane Society, said violence is violence regardless of the victim. She said many mass murderers began their violent lives with cruelty to animals, but, she said, nobody cared "because they were just animals."

Maria Nasif of Tucson said she was insulted by the argument that cockfighting is an important part of Hispanic culture. She said 45 states have banned cockfighting including those that have the largest Hispanic populations - Texas, Florida and California. She told committee members they would not ban cockfighting because they were afraid of being called racist.

"Any of you who think most Hispanics approve of cockfighting do not know your constituents," she said.

Curtis Washington of Phoenix said he and his two sons enjoy the cockfights. He said his sons have never been in trouble and they are not violent because of their association with cockfighting. As for the treatment of the animals, Washington said, "These birds are treated better than many children in our inner cities."

Cockfighting is a family affair for Brenda Hubbard of Phoenix as well. She said her entire family spends many hours collecting eggs, raising chickens and attending cockfights. She said opponents should look at the whole picture and realize an animal's life and a human's life are different.

Frank Celaya, a Vietnam veteran from Buckeye, said he fought for his country, yet it now wants to take away his right to fight chickens.

At one point he removed his artificial leg and raised it above the podium, "If this is not enough for my country, to be able to ... fight chickens whenever I want ... what is this country coming to? ... These are just chickens."

Reps. Updike, Elaine Richardson, D-Tucson, and John Verkamp, R-Flagstaff, voted for the ban on cockfighting.