Martin trails in bid for eighth term as Choctaws leader

Published 3:36 pm Thursday, June 14, 2007

Phillip Martin, bidding for an eighth term as chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, trailed challenger Beasley Denson in unofficial returns from Tuesday’s election.

With eight of eight tribal communities reporting, Denson led by 120 votes over Martin. Four other candidates were out of the running.

Absentee and affidavit ballots were to be counted Wednesday.

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To be declared tribal chief, a candidate must receive a majority of all the votes cast in the race. If no candidate receives that majority, the two highest contenders will meet in a run-off election within 30 days.

Martin, 80, has been chief since 1979.

He said his administration had been successful in creating jobs on the reservation and economic development for the tribe as a whole. Martin said work force training has improved, more housing has been available to tribal members, and there are more scholarships for Choctaw students attending colleges and universities.

Martin has his share of detractors. Some tribe members have criticized Martin for a lack of management jobs, a serious housing shortage and what they claim is a stifling environment of secrecy in the 9,660-member tribe spread across 35,000 acres in east central Mississippi.

Martin also has faced criticism over the activities of Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist now imprisoned and awaiting sentencing on a Capitol Hill public corruption case involving his service to the Choctaws and other tribes.

Martin and the tribe, who are big campaign contributors, were not implicated in the corruption probe.

Critics say Martin never publicly explained his dealings with Abramoff, including the specific financial transactions between the tribe and Abramoff’s firm.

Martin has said he was not aware of any violation of any lobbying or disclosure laws in connection with activities undertaken by or for the tribe by Abramoff.