Kentucky’s Bevin Courts Cockfighting Vote
Politicians running for statewide office are known to show up at festivals, parades, county fairs, diners, a variety of commemorations, and even funerals. But it takes a very special kind of candidate to be a featured speaker at a cockfighting rally, of all places.
That’s what U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin did, when he attended an event Saturday organized to promote the legalization of cockfighting in Kentucky. Bevin, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s Republican primary, said he didn’t know it was a cockfighting event, and his campaign told the Louisville Courier-Journal it was “a state’s rights rally.”
But it’s hard to imagine anyone accidentally stumbling into a cockfighting meet-up. Even the event’s organizers said there was “never any ambiguity” about why they were rallying, which was to advocate for making cockfighting legal. In fact, here are some of the ads promoting the event, which were circulated through pro-cockfighting Facebook pages and web sites:
There’s no hidden purpose here: Organized criminals want to repeal Kentucky’s already weak anti-cockfighting statute. We have plenty of evidence that they are brazenly breaking the law, strapping razor-sharp knives and icepick-like gaffs to the legs of roosters, throwing them into a pit and forcing them to hack each other to pieces—just so they can shout out bets and be titillated by the violence and bloodletting.
Bevin’s claims about not knowing ring hollow, as he is now parroting the language of anyone who defends animal cruelty but masks their true intent by speaking of “states’ rights.” His campaign spokesperson told the Lexington Herald-Leader his position on cockfighting: “Matt doesn’t believe this is a federal issue, and the state government can handle it.”
The fact is, both the federal government and the states have a big role to play in cracking down on this form of intentional, malicious cruelty to animals. A substantial share of dogfights and cockfights involve interstate transport of the animals and parties from multiple states. There are also instances where due to corruption, lack of resources or lack of interest, local agencies refuse to prosecute large-scale animal fighting rings. Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation was prosecuted by federal authorities when the local commonwealth attorney refused to take action. In the absence of a federal animal fighting law, which Matt Bevin apparently opposes, the Michael Vick case would never have moved forward.
All 50 states now ban cockfighting, and it’s a felony in 41, though it’s still a misdemeanor in Kentucky. It’s now moved to an underworld enterprise, but it’s still such a problem that the Congress has seen fit to upgrade the federal law against animal fighting four times since 2002, closing loopholes that cockfighters try to sneak through. The latest upgrade to the federal law—to punish the spectators who finance the fights with their admission fees and gambling wagers and provide cover to animal fighters who blend into the crowds during law enforcement raids—passed the U.S. Senate three times before being folded into the final Farm Bill package.
Bevin’s primary opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell, rightly voted for the animal fighting spectatorship amendment that made it into the final Farm Bill. That legislation was cosponsored by dozens of Republicans and Democrats, and endorsed by the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and more than 300 individual sheriffs and police departments across the country, as well as veterinary, animal welfare, and other groups. The only people on the other side? Illegal animal fighters.
There’s still a small and active group of cockfighters out there, but most politicians have left them behind, as society itself has done. Now, they are flocking to the remaining few states with weak misdemeanor penalties, like Kentucky, where they hope they can get away with a slap on the wrist, while the window is surely closing upon them. Matt Bevin showed appalling judgment in associating himself with this band of lawbreakers and perpetrators of unspeakable animal cruelty. He’s brought discredit upon the state of Kentucky, and he should withdraw from the Senate race.