New Mexico's Pet Resource SPRING 2007


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By Danielle Bays (photos courtesy Humane Society of the United States)

Cockfighters in New Mexico have had more than a few ruffled feathers as the state legislature took historic steps to finally enact a ban on their blood sport. After winning battles in two Senate committees, a bill to ban cockfighting passed the full Senate for the first time in the decades-old campaign to protect roosters and erase a symbol of animal cruelty.

The first blow came in late December when Governor Bill Richardson declared his support for a statewide cockfighting ban. Announcing his unprecedented ten-point, $3.6 million animal protection package for 2007, the Governor added, “Not only will I support a ban (on cockfighting), but I will actively try to make it law.” Richardson has long dodged the issue, saying it wasn’t on his radar or that he was undecided on the issue, providing fodder for comics and political pundits across the country. As he entered his second term as governor and stepped deeper into the national spotlight, recently publicizing his interest in the Presidency, Richardson pledged to see New Mexico added to the forty-eight states that outlaw cockfights.

The Governor further evidenced his commitment to the cockfighting ban by including his vow to see the law enacted in his State of the State address: “This year, I am confident that we are finally going to ban cockfighting. New Mexicans don’t want our state associated with this practice. I am ready to work with the Legislature to get this done.”  The magnitude of this is unparalleled—no governor in any state has included support for a cockfighting ban in an official address. Having such weight behind the ban made an impact.

Legislators, especially state senators, who had been vague or silent on the issue, began climbing down off the fence. With the enormous number of bills considered by the legislature each year, lawmakers are more likely to devote time to those with a chance of being signed into law by the governor.

After 18 years of working for the cockfighting ban, Senator Mary Jane Garcia is looking forward to adding it to her list of animal advocacy accomplishments, which includes the felony animal cruelty law she championed in 1999.

The cockfighters, in a desperate attempt to gain leverage, put Senator Garcia and two high-profile animal advocates on a target list published in Game Fowl News and reported on in the Albuquerque Journal. They hoped to dig up dirt on the Senator and thereby discredit the cockfighting ban effort, despite its support by 81% of New Mexican voters. Senator Garcia received harassing phone calls and death threats. Security around her was increased, and the cockfighters learned that it takes a lot more to ruffle the feathers of animal advocates.

On January 17th, Senator Garcia introduced Senate Bill 10 to outlaw cockfighting. She hoped this would be the last time.

Senator Phil Griego (D-San Jose), a vocal supporter of cockfighting, chaired the Senate Conservation Committee, which has wielded the death blow to the cockfighting ban in the past. On February 1st, the Roundhouse was packed with those on both sides of the issue as both factions knew the committee’s vote would be a defining moment for the future of legal cockfighting.

Senator Griego characterized the debate as being about rural lifestyle and not about animal cruelty. Allen Sanchez, executive director of the New Mexico Catholic Conference, questioned holding on to customs imbued with cruelty. After several hours of debate, the committee passed the bill by a 5 to 3 vote. Senator Garcia cried tears of joy.

The roosters won yet another round when the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the bill on February 5th. The vote was 7 to 3. The newfound support of Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-Belen) illustrated the deep understanding that the time to ban cockfighting had come.

Two cockfighters testified that they moved to New Mexico to fight their roosters legally. This contradicted claims, previously voiced by Senator Griego and Senator James Taylor (D-Albuquerque), that the ban was an attack on longstanding New Mexican cultural traditions. Arturo Sandoval of the Center for Southwest Culture drew attention to recent arrivals claiming the state’s culture as their own. Mr. Sandoval hails from a long line of New Mexicans, none of whom claimed fighting roosters as part of their heritage.

While the ultimate outcome was favorable, roosters and their supporters did not come out unscathed. The committee adopted an amendment that weakened the bill’s penalties, making a first offense a misdemeanor rather than a fourth degree felony. Before this change, the proposed cockfighting ban mirrored the state’s dogfighting ban.

Two days later, New Mexico’s roosters really had something to crow about: a decisive 33-11 vote by the full Senate to pass SB 10. The decision came down after more than five hours of debate in front of an uncharacteristically sparse audience. Debate was impassioned and at times tense. At one point, Senator Shannon Robinson (D-Albuquerque), whose father was a cockfighter, threw his hands up and stormed out of the Senate Chambers. Senator Griego shared his fear that banning cockfighting was the first step down a slippery slope that includes attacks on rodeos, hunting, ranching, traditional herbal medicine and smoking in public places.

Senator Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) countered Senator Griego’s far-reaching claims and refocused the issue on animal cruelty. Additionally, he vowed to champion future efforts to rout out cruelty to animals, regardless of where it was found.

Senator John Arthur Smith (D-Deming), recalled the cockfighters’ previous committee testimony detailing how bets were made during the fights and their admitting to wagering hundreds of dollars the previous weekend. He cautioned the Senate that allowing such activity to continue could be construed as an endorsement of gambling activity, and thus could compromise the state’s gambling compacts. These compacts bring in large sums of money to the state from casinos and other legal gambling establishments.

After fending off adverse amendments proposed by Senator Griego to make non-lethal rooster boxing legal, to enable counties to opt out of the ban, and to tack on a deadly $500,000 appropriation for enforcement, an amendment was adopted to weaken the penalties once again. Now, a first offense would be a petty misdemeanor (up to 6 months in jail and a maximum $500 fine), a second offense would be a misdemeanor and third and subsequent offenses would be a fourth degree felony. Legislators on both sides of the fight expressed a desire to give cockfighters a chance to make a few mistakes.

Another amendment was adopted that struck being a spectator at a cockfight from the list of offenses. The original bill language made it a crime to be present at a cockfight without trying to stop it. Senator Rod Adair (R-Roswell) pushed the amendment, speculating that whoever tried to break up a cockfight would end up in a fight himself.

The cockfighters have not yet conceded defeat. Many admit they will continue to fight their roosters even after the bloodsport is outlawed. They talk of filing lawsuits against the ban. A few have taken to bullying. Allen Sanchez reported that his 80-year-old mother and several of his sisters were threatened by cockfighters after the Senate passed SB 10. Authorities are investigating.

The bill then moved to the House, where it was referred to the Agriculture and Judiciary committees. It passed the Ag Committee 6-1 (House Minority Whip Dan Foley, R-Roswell, voted against it) after an unsuccessful attempt to attach an amendment giving cockfighters more time to find other work, at a February 24th hearing attended by a diminished number of cockfighting proponents as well as ban supporters. Adding to the drama were two anti-ban speakers who became so infuriated during their testimony that they were removed from the House floor by security guards. The Judiciary Committee passed the bill 9-1 two days later (Don Tripp, R-Socorro, cast the dissenting vote). Cockfighting bans have passed the full House, most recently in 2005 when the vote was 50 to 15. An equally strong vote is expected again this year. But as of press time, the ban had not yet been debated and voted on by the House.

Animal advocates throughout New Mexico are rejoicing. Not only have we moved to end knife fights between chickens, but we have hit a milestone in our evolution to a more humane society. Two decades ago, cockfighting was simply a topic of crass humor. Today, we recognize the violence and cruelty involved in blood sports is pervasive and that our compassion should extend to all animals. Cruelty should be recognized for what it is and not protected by a veil of bogus cultural claims.

How your Senators and Representatives voted on Senate Bill 10:

How did your Senator vote on cockfighting (Feb. 17th vote)? The vote was 30-11 in favor of the ban:

Voting for the ban!

1. Ben Altamirano (D-Silver City) 2. Sue Beffort Wilson (R-Sandia Park 3. Mark Boitano (R-Albuquerque) 4. Pete Campos (D-Las Vegas) 5. Joseph Carraro (R-Albuquerque) 6. Carlos Cisneros (D-Questa) 7. Kent Cravens (R-Albuquerque) 8. Dede Feldman (D-Albuquerque) 9. Mary Jane Garcia (D-Doña Ana) 10. John Grubesic (D-Santa Fe) 11. Gay Kernan (R-Hobbs) 12. Steve Komadina (R-Corrales) 13. Lynda Lovejoy (D-Crownpoint) 14. Richard Martinez (D-Española) 15. Cisco McSorley (D-Albuquerque) 16. Steven Neville (R-Aztec) 17. Gerald Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) 18. Mary Kay Papen (D-Las Cruces) 19. William Payne (R-Albuquerque) 20. John Pinto (D-Tohatchi) 21. Lidio Rainaldi (D-Gallup) 22. Leonard Lee Rawson (R-Las Cruces) 23. Nancy Rodriguez (D-Santa Fe) 24. John Ryan (R-Albuquerque) 25. Bernadette Sanchez (D-Albuquerque) 26. Michael Sanchez (D-Belen) 27. William Sharer (R-Farmington) 28. John Arthur Smith (D-Deming) 29. Diane Snyder (R-Albuquerque) 30. David Ulibarri (D-Grants)

Voting against the ban.

1. Rod Adair (R-Roswell) 2. Vernon Asbill (R-Artesia) 3. Dianna Duran (R-Tularosa) 4. Phil Griego (D-Las Vegas) 5. Clinton Harden (R-Clovis) 6. Stuart Ingle (R-Portales) 7. Tim Jennings (D-Roswell) 8. Carroll Leavell (R-Jal) 9. Linda Lopez (D-Albuquerque) 10. Shannon Robinson (D-Albuquerque) 11. James Taylor (D-Albuquerque)

House vote was 49-20 on March 8th in favor of the ban:

Voting for the ban.

1. Thomas Anderson (Albuquerque). 2. Janice Arnold-Jones (Albuquerque). 3. Richard Berry (Albuquerque). 4. Donald Bratton (Hobbs). 5. Anna Crook (Clovis). 6. Justine Fox-Young (Albuquerque). 7. Jimmie Hall (Albuquerque). 8. Dianne Miller Hamilton (Silver City). 9. Larry Larrañaga (Albuquerque). 10. Kathy McCoy (Cedar Crest). 11. Brian Moore (Clayton). 12. Bill Rehm (Albuquerque). 13. Thomas Taylor (Farmington). 14. Gloria Vaughn (Alamogordo). 15. Jeannette Wallace (Los Alamos). 16. Eric Youngberg (Corrales). 17. Teresa Zanetti (Albuquerque). 18. Ray Begaye (Shiprock). 19. Jose Campos (Santa Rosa). 20. Joseph Cervantes (Las Cruces). 21. Gail Chasey (Albuquerque). 22. Nathan Cote (Las Cruces). 23. Miguel Garcia (Albuquerque). 24. Thomas Garcia (Ocate). 25. Roberto "Bobby" Gonzales (Taos). 26. Joni Marie Gutierrez (Las Cruces). 27. Irvin Harrison (Gallup). 28. John Heaton (Carlsbad). 29. Manuel Herrera (Bayard). 30. Dona Irwin (Deming). 31. Rhonda King (Stanley). 32. Antonio Lujan (Las Cruces). 33. Ben Lujan (Santa Fe). 34. Patricia Lundstrom (Gallup). 35. Antonio "Moe" Maestas (Albuquerque). 36. Ken Martinez (Grants). 37. Rick Miera (Albuquerque). 38. Andy Nuñez (Hatch). 39. Al Park (Albuquerque). 40. Danice Picraux (Albuquerque). 41. Edward Sandoval (Albuquerque). 42. Sheryl Williams Stapleton (Albuquerque). 43. Jeff Steinborn (Las Cruces). 44. Mimi Stewart (Albuquerque). 45. Thomas Swisstack (Rio Rancho). 46. Jim Trujillo (Santa Fe). 47. Luciano "Lucky" Varela (Santa Fe). 48. Richard Vigil (Ribera). 49. Peter Wirth (Santa Fe).

Voting against the ban.

1. Paul Bandy (Aztec). 2. Nora Espinoza (Roswell). 3. Candy Spence Ezzell (Roswell). 4. Daniel Foley (Roswell). 5. Keith Gardner (Roswell). 6. William Gray (Artesia). 7. Jane Powdrell-Culbert (Corrales). 8. James Strickler (Farmington). 9. Don Tripp (Socorro). 10. Shirley Tyler (Lovington). 11. W. C. "Dub" Williams (Glencoe). 12. Elias Barela (Belen). 13. Andrew Barreras (Tome). 14. Ernest Chavez (Albuquerque). 15. Mary Helen Garcia (Las Cruces). 16. James Roger Madalena (Jemez Pueblo). 17. Debbie Rodella (Ohkay Owingeh). 18. Henry "Kiki" Saavedra (Albuquerque). 19. Nick Salazar (Ohkay Owingeh). 20. Daniel Silva (Albuquerque).

Democrats not voting:

George Hanosh (Grants).

SB10 was signed into law by Governor Richardson March 12th!

Danielle Bays has been a professional animal advocate for more than a dozen years and is currently freelancing to create more humane public policy in New Mexico.

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