Chief Martin has until Sunday to decide to challenge Choctaw vote

Published 7:42 pm Friday, July 6, 2007

Chief Phillip Martin has until Sunday to challenge his defeat for re-election as leader of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

The 81-year-old Martin, an eight-term incumbent, trailed former Tribal Council member Beasley Denson by 211 votes according to complete but unofficial returns from Tuesday’s runoff.

Any challenge would have to be filed with the Tribal Election Committee. If the challenger is not satisfied, then an appeal can be filed with Tribal Council.

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Martin has not issued a formal statement about the election results.

In an interview Thursday with WTOK-TV of Meridian, the veteran chief said: “I’m disappointed that I didn’t win but that’s OK. 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 with 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”

Once the results are certified, the winner will take office next Tuesday.

A recording at the tribal media office Thursday said the office was not accepting any messages. With absentee ballots counted, Denson had 1,697 votes to Martin’s 1,486.