During the depths of the worst depression in American history, Martin S. Conner was inaugurated as Mississippi’s governor on 19 January 1932. “We assume our duties,” he said, “when men are shaken with doubt and with fear, and many are wondering if our very civilization is about to crumble.” Conner inherited a bankrupt treasury and a thirteen-million-dollar deficit. At forty-one, Conner was one of the state’s youngest governors, but few had entered the office better trained or with more experience in public service.
Born in Hattiesburg on 31 August 1891, the son of a prosperous planter and businessman, Conner earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi and a law degree from Yale University. After opening a law office in Seminary, he won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 1916 and in his first term, at the age of twenty-five, was elected Speaker of the House. Conner was a member of the “low pressure” coalition of state legislators who believed in low taxes, balanced budgets, minimal government services, and a “pay-as-you-go” fiscal policy.
After unsuccessful campaigns in 1923 and 1927, Conner won the governorship in 1931. When he assumed office the treasury was exhausted, unemployment was at a record high, and the state’s institutions of higher learning were no longer accredited. To solve the deficit problem Conner recommended reducing expenditures by cutting back on government services and on the number of state employees. To create additional revenue, he proposed a sales tax. Most of his suggestions were enacted, making Mississippi one of the first states to impose a sales tax. Conner’s economic policies were effective, and by the time he left office Mississippi had accumulated a treasury surplus.
Under his leadership the legislature combined the three existing college boards and staggered board members’ terms. With these reforms, Conner persuaded the various agencies to restore full accreditation for Mississippi’s institutions of higher education.
To provide new jobs, Conner recommended a policy of tax incentives to attract new industry to Mississippi. That program, which was a revival of earlier efforts by Gov. Henry James Whitfield, later expanded into the Balance Agriculture with Industry plan.
Four years after leaving office, Conner was appointed to serve as the first commissioner of the Southeastern Conference, a position he held until his death on 16 September 1950.
- Roger Biles, The South and the New Deal (2006)
- Jackson Daily News (17 September 1950)
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1924–28)