From the collection of the Old State House Museum
Futrell, born at Jones Ridge in Greene County on August 14, 1870, received his education in public schools and attended the University of Arkansas in 1892 - 1893. In September of 1893 he married Tera A. Smith. The couple had six children.
Futrell began farming and entered the timber business while pursuing the study of law. In 1896 he was elected state representative from Greene County and reelected in 1900 and 1902. In 1912 he was elected state senator. His colleagues chose him president pro tempore, making him acting governor for five months when Joe T. Robinson resigned to become U.S. Senator. He was admitted to the Arkansas bar in 1913 and practiced law in Paragould for the next eight years. In 1921 he was appointed circuit judge and in 1924 and 1930 he was elected to six year terms as chancellor of the Twelfth District. He resigned in 1932 to wage a successful campaign for governor.
Inaugurated in January, 1933, Futrell confronted a state on the brink of financial ruin. The funding request from the various state agencies approached $40,000,000, while projected revenues were only $24,000,000. In addition, the state's highway building program had left it with a bonded debt of $146,000,000. Futrell's response was to reduce the size of state government. He pledged to pay all outstanding state debts and to put the state government on a pay-as-you-go basis until state debts has been paid. To accommodate the former goal he proposed to consolidate the bond debt and renegotiate its terms. Though the legislature balked at first, the so-called Highway Refunding Act was eventually passed in special session. Futrell's answer to pay-as-you-go was the 19th and 20th Amendments to the Arkansas Constitution. The first required a three-fourths vote to raise any tax then in existence. The second required voter approval of any bond issue. The legislature and the voters approved both measures, which remain in effect today.
More controversial was Futrell's proposal to save state funds by ceasing support for public education beyond the 8th grade. Futrell's policies ran afoul of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which supplied relief to needy individuals and school districts. Harry Hopkins, the FERA director, was angered by Arkansas's refusal to supply its share of funds for this effort. He threatened to cut off all federal funding to Arkansas if the state did not appropriate $1,500,000 for relief and education. One result of this was that Arkansas passed its first sales tax, the most regressive possible tax, in the midst of the Depression for the simple reason that such a tax was not covered under the three-fourths provision of the 19th Amendment. The state also moved to repeal prohibition and to legalize dog racing at West Memphis and horse-racing in Hot Springs. This generated enough revenue to salvage federal funding.
Though Futrell may have saved Arkansas from bankruptcy, his historical legacy was marred by his apparent lack of compassion. In 1935, for example, when black and white farmers at Tyronza joined to protest the eviction of sharecropper families, Futrell sided with the landlords while the sympathy of the nation was with the Southern Tenant Farmer's Union. Ironically, when Futrell left office in 1937, Roosevelt appointed him attorney to the federal agricultural colony at Dyess, where many of the displaced agricultural workers had found shelter.
Futrell suffered a stroke in 1948 and died an invalid in 1955.
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