Longform

Out, Out, Damn Sport!

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"He got his point across," recalls Smith.
House Bill 2519, which would have made raising gamecocks a misdemeanor, was rejected on an 8-3 vote.

Determined to halt cockfights, Massey decided on a new tactic. "I realized we needed to get out of the Capitol building, and onto the streets." And so he started raising money and recruiting petition circulators. And he was successful.

The Citizens Against Cockfighting needed 112,961 signatures from registered voters to put Proposition 201 on the November 3 ballot. In July, Massey turned in 188,000 signatures, more than 150,000 of which were qualified by elections officials. (Massey gathered signatures many days in Tucson, wearing a three-inch cockfighting knife around his neck like a pendant.)

"Until now, we only had to deal with state legislators who had good, common sense and understood rights and freedoms," Hodges complains. "Now, enough foreigners have come into Arizona, all these out-of-staters, that they got this damn thing on the ballot."

The 188,000 signatures were gathered by a combination of more than 200 volunteers and $23,500 worth of paid petition circulators. Through August 19, according to the CAC's campaign finance reports, the anti-cockfighting group had received nearly $80,000 in donations, including $5,000 from the Animal Protection Institute in Sacramento, California; $1,000 from the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Petaluma, California; $5,000 from the Humane Farming Action Fund in San Rafael, California; and $10,000 from the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C. The rest of the money is from hundreds of individual donations, mostly in the $15 to $100 range.

"They kill these poor victims for spectator sport, just as the Romans used to set lions against bears in an amphitheater and spectators would delight in the blood and gore," Arizona Humane Society executive director and CAC board member Ken White wrote in a June fund-raising letter.

"[Cockfighting] has remained alive because a small but influential cell of cockfighters has been able to block efforts to ban the activity. Now facing the prospect of trying to influence millions of voters rather than a handful of powerful legislative leaders, the cockfighters are busying themselves to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars."

By the end of last month, according to campaign finance reports, the cockfighters had busied themselves enough to raise a total of $788 (this figure does not reflect money raised at the rock quarry).

"Cockfighters are mostly working people," Hodges says. "We have to bleed our people for any amount."

Knowing it could never compete with the pro-201 forces in a campaign, the 4,000-member Arizona Game Fowl Breeders Association sought to fight on technicalities. It organized regional teams of volunteers to double-check every petition that Citizens Against Cockfighting had submitted to the state.

Hodges shows copies of petitions on which dozens of the signers list the homeless shelter at 813 West Madison as their address. He has three petitions both circulated and apparently signed by Tucson state senator and Citizens Against Cockfighting board member Carmine Cardamone (it's a misdemeanor in Arizona to knowingly sign such a petition more than once).

AGFBA president Dave Harris says his group turned up enough questionable signatures to disqualify Proposition 201, but the organization blew a filing deadline, and a judge threw the appeal out of court on September 22.

"We just ran out of time," Harris says.
Hodges says if Proposition 201 passes, he may not keep fighting his birds, but he's sure as hell going to keep raising them. "What are they going to do to me? I'm almost 80 years old."

Ken White, who has squared off against Hodges in several recent broadcast debates--and was referred to by one critic in a recent answering machine message as "you faggot Jew boy from San Francisco"--seems to feel less animosity toward his adversary than pity.

"Although I don't think it's shared, I have a certain amount of sympathy and affection for Belton Hodges," White says. "I see him as a man whose way of life the world is passing by, and it's sort of sad, in a way."

White has lived in Arizona for three years. Before that, he worked for the National Humane Society in Washington, D.C., for three years, and before that, the Humane Society in San Francisco for 15.

He also eats chicken.
"It's an issue I struggle with deeply. I try only to eat free-range chickens, so I am someone who's trying not to be hypocritical in that respect."

Hodges eats anything that tastes good.
"Hell, I've got a bass boat, a house full of guns, and four freezers stocked with game and fish. I've killed everything from bass to buffalo in my day."

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David Holthouse
Contact: David Holthouse