John L. Burton

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John L. Burton
John L. Burton 1977.jpg
Chairman of the
California Democratic Party
Assumed office
Preceded by Art Torres
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 5th district
In office
January 3, 1975 – January 3, 1983
Preceded by Phillip Burton
Succeeded by Phillip Burton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 6th district
In office
June 4, 1974 – January 3, 1975
Preceded by William S. Mailliard
Succeeded by Phillip Burton
Personal details
Born John Lowell Burton
(1932-12-15) December 15, 1932 (age 82)
Cincinnati, Ohio
Political party Democratic

John Lowell Burton (born December 15, 1932) is the Chairman of the California Democratic Party since April 2009 and a professor of California Politics at San Francisco State University. He is an American politician who served in the California State Assembly from 1965 until 1974, in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1975 until 1983, in the State Assembly again from 1988 until 1996, and in the California State Senate from 1996 until 2004 (representing the 3rd district).

Life and career[edit]

Burton earned a BA degree in social science in 1954 from San Francisco State University and was the University’s Alumnus of the Year in 1998. From 1998 until he was forced out of office by term limits in 2004, he served as the President pro tempore of the State Senate. Prior to his time in the Senate, he served in the California State Assembly from 1965 until 1974, and again from 1988 until 1996. He was originally elected to the Assembly to succeed his brother Phillip Burton, who had been elected to Congress. He was returned to the Assembly in a 1988 special election to succeed Art Agnos, who had been elected Mayor of San Francisco. Burton also served in the U.S. House of Representatives, alongside his brother, from 1975 until 1982, when he resigned, citing addictions to cocaine and alcohol[citation needed].

As a legislator, Burton was known for expanding the Cal Grant scholarship program, and passing a law (subsequently defeated in a referendum) that would have required California businesses to pay for health coverage for their workers. The magazine California Journal said about Burton's departure from the Senate in 2005: "Gone will be the Senate's most vehement partisan for social services for the poor, the Senate's angriest voice against tax breaks for businesses and the wealthy, its loudest voice for protection of workers, its fiercest pro-labor advocate and its disciplinarian."[1]

After leaving the Senate, Burton formed the John Burton Foundation, an organization that, according to its web site, is "dedicated to improving the quality of life for California’s homeless children and developing policy solutions to prevent homelessness." In February 2007 he was appointed board member of the University of Phoenix.[2]

On April 26, 2009, it was announced that Burton had won the election for chair of the California Democratic Party, succeeding Art Torres. He received roughly 76% of the vote, over his sole challenger, Chris Finnie of Santa Cruz.[3]

Burton is a graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law.


In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on September 3, 2012, he talked about Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, saying, "They lie and they don't care if people think they lie. Joseph Goebbels . It’s the big lie, you keep repeating it." Burton added to his former comments in an interview with ABC Affiliate KGO (AM), saying, "If you're not telling the truth, you're lying. Joseph Goebbels' concept was the big lie. If you tell it enough, people will think it's the truth."[4]

The 79-year-old Californian, a former member of Congress whom the Daily Show’s John Oliver once accused of cursing “more than a West Coast rapper,” returned home abruptly to the Golden State after making those remarks.[citation needed]

In 2008, Burton settled a $10 million sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Kathleen Driscoll, then the executive director of his charitable foundation for homeless children. Driscoll claimed Burton repeatedly swore at her and directed lewd and suggestive comments at her on nearly a daily basis. She also claimed he routinely made lewd comments about her underwear and body parts.[5]

According to Driscoll’s lawsuit, Burton suggested she was “probably wild sexually like all Catholic girls,”[citation needed] and introduced her to business associates as a “thong model.”[5] He also allegedly made “hand gestures mimicking masturbation” while in her presence on approximately ten different occasions.[citation needed]

Burton served in Congress from 1975 until 1982, resigning after seeking treatment for drug addiction. After a stint in rehab, he served in the California Assembly from 1988 to 1996 and then in the State Senate until 2006.


  1. ^ Murphy, Kathleen (September 15, 2004). "Term limits mean pink slip for Californias Burton". 
  2. ^ "Members of the Board of the University of Phoenix". 
  3. ^ Hecht, Peter (April 25, 2009). "Veteran pol Burton vows to lead Democratic future". Sacramento Bee. [dead link]
  4. ^ Haskell, Josh (Sep 3, 2012). "Calif. Dem Says Ryan Lies Like Nazi’s Goebbels". ABC News. 
  5. ^ a b Reiterman, Tim (24 January 2008). "Sexual harassment suit filed against John Burton". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 January 2015. 

External links[edit]

California Assembly
Preceded by
Phillip Burton
California State Assemblyman, 20th District
Succeeded by
Dixon Arnett
Preceded by
Art Agnos
California State Assemblyman, 16th District
Succeeded by
Barbara Lee
Preceded by
Tom Bates
California State Assemblyman, 12th District
Succeeded by
Kevin Shelley
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William S. Mailliard
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 6th congressional district

June 4, 1974–January 3, 1975
Succeeded by
Phillip Burton
Preceded by
Phillip Burton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Phillip Burton