Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
Oklahoma State University political scientist Bob Darcy has just done his best to dispel me of one of my favorite urban rural legends: That Brad Henry was elected governor of Oklahoma because of cockfighting.
First, here's the story. In 2002, in addition to the race for governor between Henry, a fairly conservative Democrat, and Steve Largent, a Republican congressman, there was a referendum on the ballot to ban cockfighting. At the time, Oklahoma was one of only three states to allow the fowl fights.
Largent decried the practice as "barbaric" and supported the ban, but Henry opposed the ban, saying the penalties were too harsh. As the story goes, conservative, rural Democrats showed up in big numbers as a result and propelled Henry to his upset victory.
But, according to Darcy, only a birdbrain would believe that.
He points out that the journalists who like to repeat the story often ignore an important fact: The voters approved the ban on cockfighting by a health margin, 56-44%. So, if cockfighting had truly been the dominant issue for most voters, Largent would have won. "It's a great story to write," Darcy says, but adds, "It's kind of a cheap shot at Oklahomans and it trivializes the election itself."
Instead, Darcy says Largent focused too much on divisive issues, while Henry capitalized by exuding non-ideological competency. It didn't hurt either that Henry had the endorsement of former Oklahoma University football coach Barry Switzer.
This was all very depressing to me, since I love a good yarn more than most. However, I'm planning on traveling to Arizona next week and hoping to find some solace there. Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano was only elected because her opponent was viewed as soft on polygamy. At least that's what they say.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.