Martin, Benson in runoff for Choctaw chief

Published 3:20 pm Friday, June 15, 2007

Phillip Martin, bidding for an eighth term as chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, trails challenger Beasley Denson by 46 votes after absentee ballots were counted Wednesday.

Denson, former vice-chief, had led Martin, who has been chief since 1979, by 120 votes after Tuesday’s election. A runoff will be held but the date has not been set. It must take place within 30 days of the original vote.

Martin, 80, has not made any official comment about the election results.

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Jim Prince, publisher of the weekly Neshoba Democrat newspaper, told The Sun Herald newspaper that the runoff “is the first prospect of change we’ve had in 30 years.”

“I think it is very fair to say everyone thought (Martin) was a shoo-in,” Prince said. “In the past, for the last 30 years, Chief Martin always wins by a landslide. But I would say we are just watching democracy at work.”

Prince said he would suspect a runoff would draw a huge voter turnout and that might play in Martin’s favor.

Denson has said the Choctaw people are ready for a change. He said the vote proves that.

“The strong organization was those Choctaw members of the tribe that volunteered to help me,” Denson told WTOK-TV in Meridian. “And they had a mission, along with the same mission I have. And I believe it was a strong belief that we’ve had this current administration for too long.”