Virginia state Sen. Ken Cuccinelli may be one of the only elected officials in the country running for statewide office who is an apologist for staged animal fighting and has the record to prove it. He’s running this November for attorney general in Virginia, yet he’s soft on dogfighting and cockfighting. One of the last boosters of cockfighting to run for statewide office, former Democratic U.S. Rep. Chris John, got clobbered when he ran for U.S. Senate in Louisiana in 2004 and it was his tolerance for animal fighting that was his undoing.
Chris John had been the cockfighting industry’s point man in the House, when he represented the rural southwestern corner of Louisiana, and had declared cockfighting to be “a cultural, family-type thing.” Louisiana at the time was one of two states where cockfighting was still legal, and conventional wisdom was that it was part of the rural lifestyle. But statewide polling showed that 82 percent of Louisiana voters wanted to ban cockfighting, and a majority from all demographic groups and party affiliations would be less likely to support a political candidate who favored the bloodsport.
Animal advocates did not want a proponent of this barbaric practice in the U.S. Senate, and Humane USA, a political action committee, ran television ads in Louisiana and sent mailings to women voters, exposing John’s support for cockfighting. Then-Rep. David Vitter, an animal advocate and opponent of cockfighting, defeated John in the open election and exit polls showed that 32 percent of white Democratic women voted for Vitter, the Republican candidate. Many of them crossed party lines because they just couldn’t stomach John’s support for cockfighting.
Five years later, Louisiana has become the 50th state to criminalize cockfighting, and 39 states—including Virginia—have established felony-level penalties for the practice. But Ken Cuccinelli recently told the Charlottesville Daily Progress he was proud to be one of only two senators to oppose a strong anti-cockfighting law in Virginia. He apparently thinks it shows his willingness to buck his own party, but instead it shows just how out of step he is with mainstream Virginia values.
Prior to 2008, cockfighting had essentially been decriminalized in Virginia, but bipartisan legislation—backed by HSUS and by sheriffs and humane societies throughout the commonwealth—made it a felony and banned possession of fighting animals. Since the law was enacted, there has been a major crackdown on animal fighting and at least five cockfighting rings broken up in Virginia. The new policy brings Virginia one step closer to rooting out illegal animal fighting, which can’t come soon enough—especially as animal fighting is closely associated with violent crimes and drug trafficking, and some of the cockfighters arrested in Virginia were suspected gang members affiliated with MS-13 and the Mexican Mafia.
Candidates for attorney general usually try to play up their tough-on-crime bona fides, but Cuccinelli instead wants to be soft on people who attach razor-sharp knives to roosters’ legs, pump the birds full of drugs to heighten their aggression, and force them to hack each other to death—all for gambling profits and the titillation of spectators who enjoy the bloodletting. And it’s not the only time he stood nearly alone on the wrong side of the fence—he was also one of only three senators to oppose restrictions on large-scale puppy mills, where dogs are treated not like family pets, but like a cash crop.
When Cuccinelli ran for reelection to the Virginia Senate in 2007, the Humane Society Legislative Fund took out ads letting voters know about his extreme opposition to modest animal protection policies. Now that he’s running for Virginia’s top law enforcement post, you can be sure we’ll let voters know it would be a major setback to have an attorney general like Cuccinelli who opposed having animal protection laws on the books in the first place.