Citizens in three districts of the Choctaw Nation will head to the polls for the 2021 Tribal Council elections Saturday, July 10.
Of the 12 district seats that make up nation’s Tribal Council, Districts 4, 7 and 10 are up for grabs in this election. In three other districts that would usually be scheduled for an election this year — Districts 6, 9 and 12 — the incumbents are running unopposed. Once elected, councilmembers serve four-year terms.
Districts 4 and 7 are open seats, while District 10 voters will decide between the incumbent and a challenger who says he was improperly stricken from a ballot during the Choctaw Nation’s 2015 chief election.
All Choctaw citizens who are at least 18 years old are eligible to vote. Early voting begins July 9, and same-day registration is available at polling sites. More information is available in the tribe’s official election guide.
If no candidate in the District 7 race receives more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election between the top two general election finishers will be held on a subsequent Saturday, although a specific date is not listed on the Choctaw Nation’s elections page.
The following profiles of the candidates in the three contested districts of the Choctaw Nation Tribal Council were assembled using publicly available information. Candidates are presented in alphabetical order.
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Council District 4
Name: Jess Henry
Profession/Background: Henry, who currently lives in Pocola, Oklahoma, grew up in Tamaha and graduated from Stigler High School before earning associate degrees from Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology and University of Arkansas Fort Smith.
He spent more than 30 years in the Oklahoma Highway Patrol before retiring as a troop commander in 2016. He is also the owner of Henry Diesel Services and, according to his LinkedIn page, is the third-generation proprietor of Henry Farms, which his father and grandfather originally purchased in 1941.
His LinkedIn page also mentions that he served on the Pocola Public Schools Board from 1999-2004.
In his biography within the tribe’s official election guide, Henry emphasized his Choctaw roots.
“I know what it means to be Choctaw,” he is quoted as saying. “I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Tamaha, Oklahoma, and my grandparents were on the Dawes Rolls as Choctaw full-blood enrollees.”
Platform: Henry’s campaign materials and statements emphasize combatting poverty among Choctaw citizens.
‘We didn’t have indoor plumbing in my house until I was 10,” he said in the tribe’s election guide. “I want to see every Choctaw family overcome poverty, and I know we can accomplish that while ensuring fiscal responsibility.”
His campaign’s Facebook page says he wants to increase access to affordable housing by expanding the tribe’s LEAP program and increasing the availability of affordable rentals and housing for seniors.
He has received endorsements from Choctaw Chief Gary Batton, Assistant Chief Jack Austin and outgoing District 4 Councilmember Delton Cox.
Name: Jennifer Roberts
Profession/Background: According to her bio in the tribe’s election guide, Roberts’ Choctaw family has lived in LeFlore County for many generations.
She went to high school in Poteau, attended Carl Albert State College and earned a bachelor’s degree in counseling from East Central University in 2012.
Roberts has worked for the Choctaw Nation for approximately 10 years in various jobs, including as a career development counselor and a behavioral health therapist.
She previously ran for District 4 in 2017. Of the four candidates in that election, she finished second with 30.5 percent of the vote behind incumbent Delton Cox, who was first elected to the seat in 2001.
Platform: Roberts’ campaign statements emphasize education, health care and resources for seniors.
“Choctaw Nation has a strong presence in District 4, and I will continue to support the existing tribally developed programs and facilities in order to accommodate the ever-changing times and needs that will keep flourishing our communities,” Roberts said in her election guide bio. “New and refreshing perspectives and ideas are the change many District 4 Choctaws want to see, and I will work hard to provide that change and be the voice needed.”
In a Facebook post, Roberts indicated that she would work to change the allocation of tribal funds.
“I know firsthand and have seen how our tribal dollars, budgets, funding sources — whether federal or tribal, are allocated and disbursed to our social service departments, health care and housing,” she wrote. “There are a lot of people involved in making decisions on increasing or decreasing tribal member services and funding amounts. I have not promised that I alone can change this. What I have promised, and knowing the needs of our members and communities in District 4, I will work hard and fight to maintain and improve our services here in District 4.”
Another Facebook post, written by Roberts’ sister and shared on the campaign page, refutes apparent rumors that Roberts favors changing the eligibility requirements for tribal citizenship and benefits.
Name: Adrian Johnico
Profession/background: A welder by trade, Johnico has not served in tribal government, but has been an active member of several organizations, including the Red River Valley Downs Syndrome Society. He and and his wife, Jessie, have been married for 21 years. She serves as a teacher at Tvshka Homma. In 2017, Johnico finished second with 20.1 percent of the vote in a three-way race for District 7.
Platform: In the tribal election guide, Johnico’s bio emphasizes that he is “about helping people.”
“Adrian takes pride in using his voice, his time and effort to build relationships and ensures that he gets the support he needs to get the job done to strengthen his community,” the bio reads. “Adrian is a problem solver and will create solutions with the help of others for the good of everyone. Community leadership is about people and Adrian Johnico is about helping people.”
Johnico said he strives to inspire and motivate his community by being a living example of a true servant and by creating a strong community culture. Johnico believes that it will take every member of the community to work together and advance its long-term goals. Johnico believes the council should be progressive and look ahead, not behind, for the betterment of the Choctaw people.
Name: Melissa Reich
Profession/background: Previously, Reich served as a domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault counselor for the Choctaw Nation Tribal Police, and she later became a school resource officer as a deputy in the McCurtain County Sheriff’s Office before moving on to the Idabel Police Department. Today, she is an officer manager at a local law firm. Her husband, Jay, is a trooper for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. She has also served as a Girl Scout leader, treasurer for the Summer League and a reserve deputy.
Platform: Among Reich’s biggest goals is to be a voice of the people she serves. Most recently, she hosted a roundtable event where tribal citizens were invited to share their views on the current state of tribal government and goals for the future. If elected, Reich said she would work hard to make sure everyone is heard and their needs are met.
“I enjoy serving the people and I will be a voice for all Choctaw people,” Reich said in the tribal election guide.
Name: James H. Smith
Profession/background: Smith has worked for the Choctaw Nation for nearly three decades. He currently serves as an elder advocate with Choctaw Nation Outreach Services. In the past, Smith served as a youth counselor and executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of the Choctaw Nation. He and his wife, Linda, have four children and eight grandchildren.
Platform: Online, Smith said he has been thinking about running for the Choctaw Nation Tribal Council for nearly two decades. Among his priorities if elected is standing up for every citizen, working to improve employment opportunities and increasing wages. He said one of his biggest concerns is that some citizens of the tribe fall through the cracks and their needs are not consistently met. Smith believes it is the responsibility of the council to ensure that doesn’t happen.
“I have experience working with all ages of people. At the Boys & Girls Club as well as the Drug Elimination Program, we interact with the parents as well as the children,” Smith said in the tribal election guide. “The last 13 years working with the elderly, I have collaborated with their children while working on getting them in a safe and healthy environment. Through my years of working, at one time or another, I have worked with about every program the Choctaw Nation has to offer. So, I know where and who I need to get in touch with to get the help for our Choctaw people.”
Smith has been endorsed by Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton.
Name: Joey Tom
Profession/background: Married to his wife, Hope, for 17 years, the couple has three children. Tom is a 16-year resident of Wright City and earned an associate’s degree in applied science from the Oklahoma State University — Okmulgee campus. He has worked in surveillance at the Broken Bow Choctaw Casino before moving on to work with Choctaw Nation Outreach Services for the last 13 years. He began his work as an elder advocate and now works in youth outreach, serving more than 200 students in the tribe.
Tom has served on the Wright City Schools Board for seven years and has also been co-president of the Choctaw youth stickball league for seven years, according to the tribal election guide.
Platform: Tom is a strong believer in maintaining tribal identity through its traditions, including social dancing and stickball. If elected, he said his biggest goals would include listening to the concerns of tribal citizens and acting on them if necessary. He also hopes to solicit ideas on how to solve short and long-term problems the tribe faces.
“It was instilled in me by my parents and family to honor, respect and take care of our elders,” Tom stated in the tribal election guide.
Tom has been endorsed by outgoing District 7 Councilmember Jack Austin.
Name: Anthony Dillard (incumbent)
Profession/Background: Dillard has lived in Caney, Oklahoma, for much of his life and has served on the Choctaw Tribal Council since 2005.
He is a horticulturalist by training, with a bachelor’s degree from OSU, and he worked in the research division of the USDA for much of his career.
His LinkedIn page lists a number of volunteer positions, including long, ongoing tenures on the boards of the Southeastern Electric Cooperative, the Atoka County Rural Water District #3 and the Oklahoma Southeast Economic Development Group.
Platform: Dillard’s election guide bio emphasizes the work he has been involved with during his time in office, such as expanding affordable housing, applying for the FAA BEYOND program and expanding land holdings.
He describes himself as “a strong advocate for open and transparent government within our tribe, with the proper checks and balances to promote integrity and accountability.”
Name: Sherman Bo Miller
Profession/Background: Miller does not appear to have campaign-specific information available online, and only his contact information is included in the official election guide.
On his personal Facebook page, he mentions having served in the military and working for the Choctaw Nation. In the July 4 post about his time working for the tribe, he alleges harassment and bullying of staff and implies that among tribal leadership there are “(wolves) wearing sheep’s clothing.”
In 2015, Miller filed to run for both chief of the Choctaw Nation and to represent District 11 on the Tribal Council. However, he was disqualified from both races after the incumbents in both offices challenged his eligibility on the basis of residency and his double filing. Miller and his attorneys, Blake Lynch and Kalyn Free, maintained that he believed he was in fact eligible and that he was not granted an adequate opportunity to appeal.
“They sure don’t want me to take the chief position because no one has opposed the chief in quite a while,” Miller told the McAlester News-Capital at the time. “Now they are trying to do everything they can to block me as a candidate…. The ones who are in there are kinda protected real well.”
In a long blog post about the case, Lynch wrote that Miller “might be the nicest guy I know” and criticized the tribe’s government and election board for a lack of transparency and accountability.
Platform: Miller does not appear to have a specific platform or policy proposals posted online. He has endorsed Adrian Johnico for District 7.
Several years ago, Miller appeared in a video by the Chahta Foundation about speaking the Choctaw language.