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By Dean Manning and Trent Knuckles
Corbin/Whitley News Journal
U.S. Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin’s itinerary listed a recent event at The Arena in Corbin as a “states rights rally,” but event organizers say the sole purpose was to build support to legalize cockfighting in Kentucky.
Bevin addressed the crowd of about 700 people at the event, which was closed to the media.
“The movement is about changing the law, not breaking the law,” said Michael Devereaux, Director of the Gamefowl Defense Network, the organizer of the event. He said the entire rally dealt with how to use the democratic process to do so.
Under current state law, cockfighting is illegal and is a misdemeanor offense and is seen by advocates as one that is not enforced enough.
After attending the 66th Annual Lincoln Day Banquet later in the evening, Bevin said he did not realize the event had anything to do with cockfighting.
“I was the first person to speak and then I left,” Bevin said. “They knew I was here. They asked if I would be interested in speaking. I’m a politician running statewide, any chance I get to speak to a few hundred people I’m going to take it.”
Bevin, a businessman from Louisville, is challenging incumbent U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in the Republican Primary. McConnell serves as Minority Leader in the Senate.
Bevin said it was his understanding that the gathering was focused on “state’s rights” and the concern by Kentucky citizens that the federal government has become overreaching.
Organizers say there was never any ambiguity about why they were meeting.
Devereaux said a new federal spectator law criminalizes not only those who participate in cock fighting, but any spectators at the event.
However, wording in the federal law states that if cockfighting is legal in the state and none of the fowl have crossed state lines, the federal law is moot.
“The basic argument is that the people of Kentucky have the right to determine how this issue is dealt with in their state,” Devereaux said.
“Very clearly, the state doesn’t want to crack down,” Devereaux said, noting several attempts to amend Kentucky Law to make cock fighting a felony have failed.
Devereaux said those who raise fighting cocks have done a poor job advocating their position to the public and telling their story. As a result, public perception equates cock fighting to dog fighting.
The largest issue is that while dogs are raised to be companions to people and dogs are not predisposed to fight one another, more than 8 million chickens are consumed in the United States, annually.
“Commercial poultry lives about six weeks as opposed to two years for a game fowl,” Devereaux said.
In addition, because of breeding, Devereux said gamecocks are predisposed to fight if they get near each other, similar to male beta fish that are put into the same tank.
Devereaux said gamecocks are not just thrown in the trash. The fowl are edible. In addition the feathers are used for fly-fishing lures and for decoration.
Advocates don’t just want the state to legalize cockfighting. Devereaux said they want the state to regulate all aspects of it, including the health of the fowl the process and, especially, the gambling.
“Once you regulate it and bring it out of the shadows, you eliminate the other issues such as the drugs that are sold at some of the events,” Devereaux said.
Devereaux said the movement has at least one friend in the Kentucky Legislature.
State Rep. Richard Henderson, D-Mt. Sterling, attended the event and offered his support on the legislation.
While there is no bill in the 2014 legislative session, Devereaux said those at the event and those who support the effort are asked to contact Henderson to thank him for his support and to contact their own legislators in an attempt to generate a bill and support for that bill in the 2015 legislative session.
“Let's send a thousand emails and make a thousand calls and show Representative Henderson that we are willing to vocally stand up and fight for our rights using the democratic process,” Devereaux stated on the American Gamefowl Defense Network Facebook page.
Editor’s note: Reprinted with permission through the Kentucky Press News Service.