It used to be that my favorite time of year for this newspaper—not for me personally—was the wondrous six- or seven-week period that comprised Utah’s annual legislative session. It was always a heyday of wackiness. Nearly by the minute, one could come up with reams of columns about some gaffe, inconsistency, hypocrisy, idiocy, or any other multitude of sundry attacks on regular Utahns. What the Legislature does—with minor, but notable exceptions—during those 45 days is simply to pad, protect and preserve their own asses.
So, for the past few years, I’ve pretty much taken a sabbatical from Utah politics during the session. Count me among the tired and weary—but I’ve also learned that for all the blow-harding that goes on, the real bills all get funneled through at the last hour when nobody can do anything about them. Will there be an end to the Zion Curtain? Tune in at midnight on the final night of the session. Will there be funding for charter schools that takes funding from public schools? Tune in at midnight on the final night of the session. Will Stericycle be rewarded or spanked for polluting our valley? Tune in at midnight on the final night of session.
If I’m going to go prematurely gray, it’s not going to be due to worrying about things I cannot control. And I cannot control the waddling ducks who masquerade as the Utah State Legislature. Nor can Gov. Herbert. Nor can Becky Lockhart control the teals and mallards of her own dominant Republican Party. And there are so few Democratic ducks that half the time they peel off and flock up with the Republican ducks for the simple hope that they can at least be seen as accomplishing something—anything.
And, man, how those hopes can be dashed. Take cockfighting—the sport wherein you take two asshole but otherwise harmless roosters, put them in a confined area and watch as their inbred aggressiveness causes one to beat the living crap out of the other. Or—when metal gaffs are tied to the roosters’ feet and their flailing legs slash each other’s throats—kill each other. Bleeding to death is fun to watch, you know, especially if the one bleeding to death is “just a chicken,” as one scholar told the local media. The recent debate on whether cockfighting participants should be charged with a felony instead of a misdemeanor on their second offense has been championed by Sen. Gene Davis—a Democrat. Davis needs Republican help to pass his bill. Wanna bet that cockfighting in Utah remains a misdemeanor, and that you won’t find out until midnight of the final night of the session?
One might think that after the bad publicity and brouhaha surrounding NFL player Michael Vick when he was punished for breeding and fighting pit bulls, society would have developed less of a tolerance for breeding and killing roosters, too. But society doesn’t always stretch into Utah. In Utah, the “good-ole-boy” claim is that such cockfights are held in “humane” circumstances, with big pads tied to the roosters’ feet. So, those angry roosters just knock themselves silly, but aren’t killed. There is still a winner and there is still money exchanged in the form of betting, and no one is worse for the wear, right? Well, sort of—because despite that flimsy canard, those roosters are indeed still fought to the death in very secretive mini arenas.
How do I know? Because I once considered fly-tying to be a hobby. The beautiful rooster feathers that adorn those dry flies floating on the Weber or Provo rivers didn’t just fall off onto the ground where some fly-tyer found them. Anyone who’s ever tied an Adams or a Royal Wulff knows that the best feathers come from the capes of roosters, and the very best of those come from the capes of fighting roosters. Or did—it’s been many years since I’ve tied, to be honest. True confession: I’ve never been to a lethal cockfight, but did once see a couple of roosters fight with their “gloves” on in training. In my life, I’ve known guys who raised fighting roosters. And those guys gave me rooster capes. Those rooster capes provided the feathers that caught the fish I have eaten.
Yet, I’m dead-set against cockfighting. It’s cruel. It’s inhumane. Gambling on death of any kind simply shows that we’re not that far removed from Ancient Rome. Utah is Caligula.
I don’t buy the argument that cockfighting roosters are treated more humanely than a Tyson chicken (tell that to the roosters that are shipped off to the Philippines, where fights to the death are legal), and that if I were really morally outraged, I’d take up my protest in front of the grocery’s poultry section. More true confessions: My grandfather raised chickens. They were lifeblood, not bloodsport. Also, I worked at an egg farm in Riverton many years ago. Crappy life for the chickens, sure, but the eggs were free.
And what does the Utah Legislature do? Not much, except proclaim, with some moral superiority as always (Hi, LDS Church—what’s worse? Watching a cocktail being poured or a chicken bleeding to death?), but run from it in the end. Here’s how bad it is: Even Russians are mocking the moral standards of Utah. Look what was forwarded to me floating on the Internet the other day:
Ouch, comrade! But, oh, for the definitive rooster-fighting song, listen to “Gallo de Ciello” by Joe Ely. Thanks, Tom Russell, for the lyrics.