Phyliss Anderson: Confidence in a new Mississippi Choctaw vote

Phyliss J. Anderson is a council member and candidate for chief of Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Everything Will Be Okay
Wow…How did we get here and where do we go now? That’s the question so many on the reservation are asking. Recently we enjoyed a break from the tumultuous election season and spent time with family and friends at the Choctaw Indian Fair. It was a time of celebration – of which we have many things to be thankful. Now that the fair is over, it’s back to reality and for many tribal members it’s a hard pill to swallow.

We are about to enter a third round of elections and are still awaiting word on the FBI investigation ongoing at the Pearl River Resort. Times are certainly different here on the reservation and it’s easy to see people are ready to move on.

So how did we get here?
After a long few months of campaigning and an even longer four years of failed promises and irresponsible leadership, our tribe is still in the lurch. On June 14th during our first round of tribal elections, 56% of tribal voters cast their vote against incumbent Beasley Denson. Our people want and need change. During that election the voting precinct in Pearl River, the largest of our tribal communities, experienced long lines all day and at 8 pm when the polls were scheduled to close, some 200 people were still in line. Election officials decided to cut off the line at 8 pm but let those who were already in line enter the poll.

This is the contentious issue. Should the 200 people in line at 8 pm be allowed to vote? Our Tribal Election Commission acting on precedent and with legal counsel found these tribal members had the right to cast their ballot in this important election because they were an extension of the poll. This is a decision that most local election authorities have the power to make.

Furthermore, in considering the complaint filed in response to this decision, the Election Commission found that counting or not counting these votes would not have made a material difference in the outcome of the election - as the final vote count showed.

The Tribal Election Commission, appointed by Miko Denson and approved by Tribal Council, acted independently and rightly ruled the petition was without merit. They found it was in the best interest of the Tribe to protect voter rights and allow tribal members to cast a ballot.

So we moved on to the run-off election on July 5th. In the run-off election that was conducted professionally and without the hint of impropriety, the Chahta people voted by a margin of 55% to 45% to elect a new Chief. Almost 2,000 Tribal members voted to reject the politics of threats, intimidation and the well-publicized and documented interference by outside interests groups, namely those in Atlanta. It is unusual for an incumbent to have all of his election rivals openly unify against him in a run-off as was the case here. The result was that his share of the vote only increased 1%. Such was the determination of the Chahta people to vote Beasley Denson out.

Then on July 8th during a special-called tribal council meeting Miko Beasely Denson cast the tie-breaking vote to throw out the original June 14th election and overturn the decision of the Tribal Election Commission. In that act, he disenfranchised the 2,000 Tribal members who voted for change July 5th in an admittedly open and fair election.

In explaining why he made that decision, Beasley Denson stated to a Clarion Ledger reporter, "If I go to a polling booth, I would vote for myself and not my opponent." So that’s why Denson voted in favor of a new election. He also said “The loss opened our eyes somewhat. Being a politician, I still make mistakes." He continued by saying he was "not paying attention. We got outsmarted."

I, like so many other tribal members, are disappointed that Beasley Denson made this selfish decision simply because he did not like the results. What happened to his campaign promise “Chahta First?” He overruled the will of his Choctaw people and put himself and his Atlanta backers first.

Onwards and Upwards!
So where do we go from here? We must continue the work we began more than six months ago with this campaign and remain vigilant in the protection of our Tribe. Like the old saying goes… it’s onwards and upwards from here. We must move on to something better; forget about where we are now and focus on making the future better.

Our future is bright. Our sovereignty is strong. As a tribe we must demand fair and open elections, transparency in our government, responsible and responsive leadership and moral decision makers.

We must be bold and should not fear threats and intimidation. We need to look at ways to create new job opportunities on the reservation, diversify our economy and holdings, elevate the quality of life, improve our healthcare, open new housing options, take care of ALL our elders, and get our tribe back on track.

I am confident, with another fair and open election -- a principle our sovereignty was built on and a principle embedded in our tribal constitution--our tribal members will return to the polls and tell Beasley Denson his time is up. Our people want new leadership. We deserve a voice and a transparent government. The time is now to end dirty politics on the reservation and get to work for our tribal people.

The Choctaws are a strong, proud, and resilient people. I have faith in our Tribe and I know together we shall overcome these adversities.

Related Stories:
Mississippi Choctaw council won't reverse order for new election (7/22)
Phyliss Anderson: Mississippi Choctaws deserve new leadership (7/15)
Beasley Denson: Mississippi Choctaw election tainted by others (7/15)
Editorial: Democracy tested with Mississippi Choctaw election (7/14)
Mississippi Choctaw council orders new election for chief's post (7/11)
Editorial: Mississippi Choctaws make history with woman leader (7/8)
First woman to lead Mississippi Choctaws wants to be called chief (7/7)
Mississippi Choctaws pick Phyliss Anderson as first woman chief (7/6)
Mississippi Choctaw chief and top rival head to run-off in July (6/16)
Unofficial results from election for Mississippi Choctaw chief (6/15)
Another candidate enters Mississippi Choctaw chief race (4/21)
Candidate for Mississippi Choctaw chief challenges incumbent (3/22)

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