Chief Martin concedes re-election to challenger Denson

Published 10:24 pm Saturday, July 7, 2007

Phillip Martin conceded the re-election as leader of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Friday to challenger Beasley Denson, an official with Denson’s campaign said.

“To Beasley Denson, I offer you my sincere congratulations. I ask all tribal members to put this election behind us and give him your full support during this period of transition. Let us unite as a tribe,” Martin said in a news release Friday.

Martin, 81, an eight-term incumbent, trailed former Tribal Council member Denson by 211 votes according to complete but unofficial returns from Tuesday’s runoff. He had until Sunday to challenge his defeat.

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Denson was expected to be sworn in as chief on Tuesday.

“I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish together. I will be forever grateful to the Choctaw people for the privilege of serving as a tribal leader for 48 years,” Martin said in the news release.

On Thursday, Martin, in an interview with WTOK-TV of Meridian, said: “I’m disappointed that I didn’t win but that’s O.K. That’s life. The election process has worked. The people have decided who they want as their leader and that’s enough.”

During Martin’s tenure, the 9,000-member tribe emerged from extreme poverty thanks in large part to the development of a sprawling resort with casinos and a water park on tribal land in the red clay hills of east central Mississippi.

Martin was also criticized for the tribe’s ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and for the hiring of non-Choctaws in casino management.

Martin and the tribe were not implicated in the corruption probe of Abramoff, now awaiting sentencing on a Capitol Hill public corruption case involving his service to the Choctaws and other tribes. Still, Martin was criticized for not publicly explaining his dealings with Abramoff, including the specific financial transactions between the tribe and Abramoff’s firm.

Martin had said he was not aware of any violation of lobbying or disclosure laws in connection Abramoff’s activities for the tribe.

Denson, 57, would become only the third elected tribal chief since the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, after which most members were driven to Oklahoma.

“I am relieved that the counting is over and thrilled with the result,” Denson said in a news release Thursday. “I know what it took to win this election — hundreds of hours of walking door to door, dozens of rallies and covered dish dinners. My campaign volunteers worked tirelessly and that was a big difference between my campaign and Martin’s”

With absentee ballots counted, Denson had 1,697 votes to Martin’s 1,486.