Matt Bevin’s speech at Corbin rally raises questions

Cockfighting group sponsors event; campaign says it was to promote states’ rights

By Kevin Wheatley, Published:

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin’s decision to speak Saturday at a Corbin rally organized by a pro-cockfighting group raises questions about his campaign’s judgment as the May 20 primary nears, a Western Kentucky University political science professor and chairman of the Warren County GOP said Wednesday.

The Corbin News Journal reported Wednesday that Bevin spoke to a crowd of about 700 at The Arena in Corbin during an event closed to the media and sponsored by the American Gamefowl Defense Network to promote the legalization of cockfighting in Kentucky. Bevin’s itinerary, emailed to the press Friday, listed the Corbin event as a rally for states’ rights.

Bevin, reached by The Corbin News Journal at a Lincoln Day dinner that evening, told the newspaper he was unaware of the event’s link to cockfighting.

“They knew I was here,” Bevin said, according to the newspaper. “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’s spokeswoman, Rachel Semmel, did not return messages from The State Journal. She told The Louisville Courier-Journal, “It was not a cockfighting rally, it was a states’ rights rally.”

But a statement posted to the American Gamefowl Defense Network’s Facebook page by David Devereaux, the group’s director, appears to contradict that message.

The event was held “for the purpose of unifying and uniting gamefowl enthusiasts around the principle of using the democratic process to change the law, not break the law,” Devereaux said in the statement.

Devereaux, of Tacoma, Wash., did not return messages from The State Journal seeking comment.

“The American Gamefowl Defense Network chooses to not participate in any interviews that concern any questions related to political races, political candidates, or issues not directly related to gamefowl,” he said in the statement, which adds that such matters are “nonpartisan.”

His group seeks the legalization of cockfighting in Kentucky and other states, which would negate a new federal law within the 2014 Farm Bill against attending such events.

The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act exempts states that allow cockfighting as long as no out-of-state roosters are brought for events. Cockfighting is illegal in every state and a Class A misdemeanor in Kentucky.

Scott Lasley, an associate professor of political science at WKU and chairman of the Republican Party of Warren County, said Bevin’s appearance at the rally to legalize cockfighting in Kentucky could do more harm than good for his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Bevin likely found a receptive audience at the event, but he risked alienating moderate GOP voters, Lasley said, describing cockfighting as a “such a trivial issue” with far more prominent problems facing the country.

“I think it hurts in the broader audience because he’s trying to build from a pretty narrow base,” Lasley said. “… I can’t imagine that this helps beyond a relatively very narrow audience and probably works against him in the grander scheme.”

Pleading ignorance of the rally’s intent “doesn’t say much about the campaign,” he said.

“They can sit there and say, ‘We never talked cockfighting, we didn’t know there was cockfighting,’” Lasley said. “Sometimes in politics there’s guilt by association.

“Either they were totally unvetted and unprepared for it, which says a lot about the campaign and its ability to compete at this level, or, I don’t think Matt Bevin at the end of the day is probably in favor of cockfighting, but clearly I think that they think that message is going to be receptive. Otherwise you don’t go there.”

Allison Moore, McConnell’s campaign spokeswoman, was more direct.

“Only Matt Bevin would go to a cockfighting rally and claim he didn’t know what they were doing there,” Moore said in a statement.

But Craig Davis, chief executive officer of Americans Watching Washington and president of the Kentucky Gamefowl Breeders’ Association, said Bevin’s speech at the rally would resonate with rural Kentucky voters. Americans Watching Washington is the sponsor of the American Gamefowl Defense Network, according to the latter group’s Facebook page.

Bevin spoke for about half an hour at the beginning of the rally and then left for another event, Davis said, noting the candidate made no mention of cockfighting.

“They’re tired; they’re fed up,” Davis said of rural Kentucky voters as roosters crowed in the background on his Leitchfield farm. “Every time they turn around, the federal government’s stepping on their rights.”

He added later: “It’s not just about the Farm Bill, but this Farm Bill is one of the things that actually brought it to the attention of not most, but some of the Kentucky constituents, and we’re just fed up with the federal government taking our rights away from us.”

The Kentucky Gamefowl Breeders’ Association rented The Arena in Corbin for the rally, according to the Courier-Journal report, and Davis appeared with Bevin during a March 21 campaign event in Radcliff on the United Kentucky Tea Party’s Unbridled Liberty Tour.

Davis himself was running for state representative as a Republican in the 18th District, but he discovered last week he was a registered Democrat, according to a report by cn|2 Pure Politics. He told The State Journal he has since dropped out of the race.

Bevin’s talking points at the rally centered on the U.S. Constitution, tradition, heritage and culture, said Davis, who attended Saturday’s rally and has endorsed Bevin’s candidacy. He bristles at the “nasty” term cockfighting, preferring “rooster fighting” instead.

“We can’t take and be so judgmental on a person standing up for our constitutional rights and the culture and heritage for which the United States was based on or built off of,” he said.

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  • It's a chicken.  You see them on the table every Sunday afternoon...probably the loser. We have more important things to worry about.

  • WeHaveTheRight: "...then by all means vote for McConnell..."

    Not farking likely, by me nor anyone within my sphere of influence.

  • For all of those just running your mouth without knowing anything about the issue, then by all means vote for McConnell and see which of your rights are being impinged next. This rally/discussion of states' rights involves more that just gamefowl. If you enjoy hunting, fishing, or any other outdoor sport that involves animals then perhaps you should pay closer attention to what is going on in Washington. If you don't believe in what we are fighting for, that is your right! However, it is also our right to fight for what we believe is our constitutional right! It should tell you a lot about current Washington politicians that the "spectator" clause had to be added to the "Farm Bill". Farmers need help and support in an ever changing industry, so therefore, let's strip away other rights if we are going to give them any help! What makes Kentucky look like the weakest link of the states is NOT "cockfighting"! It is the people that sit and pass judgement on others without knowing anything about them or the process of which they are judging. Come on Kentucky, don't let our rights be stripped away bit by bit. Stand and fight together. I am a hunter, love to fish, and among all else am a GOD fearing/loving person. Today spectators might be the hot topic, tomorrow it will be coal again. Some people in this state know exactly what is going on and are choosing to stand up against it! I hope all of you big mouthed, judgmental, political hypocrits find which one of your rights is being taken away before it is too late...  

  •  These fine folks just want "to bring back the simple civilized pleasure of watching two animals fight to the death":

  • Bevin panders himself to ****-fighters while McConnell and Paul want to continue to allow "soring" of walking horses' feet.  Republicans suck!  I would never vote for any of these heartless b*st*rds.

  • Bruno, finally you & I agree on something!

    Stories like this do make us the laughing stock of the nation.  So do politicians like Rand Paul, Matt Bevin and Mitch McConnell, though.... for once in a blue moon, I'm in Mitch's corner (ewww, that stings just typing it!) on Bevin being hypocritical.

    Bevin doesn't deserve anyone's vote if he doesn't have the wherewithall to know what he's attending and why.  He went because there were hundreds of people there?  In other words, you are a vote whore.

  • This stuff has been apparent for some time and is pretty standard fare for Teabaggers.  What were the "questions that this "raises" again?  And with whom? Those of us who are conscious already know these answers...and it ain't pretty!  Stories like this makes KY the laughing stock of the world!