John Burton (American politician)

John Burton
John Burton in 2015.jpg
Burton at the dedication of the John Burton Highway in 2015.
Chair of the
California Democratic Party
In office
Preceded byArt Torres
Succeeded byEric C. Bauman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California
In office
June 4, 1974 – January 3, 1983
Preceded byWilliam S. Mailliard
Succeeded byPhillip Burton
Constituency6th district (1974–1975)
5th district (1975–1983)
Member of the California State Assembly
In office
Personal details
John Lowell Burton

(1932-12-15) December 15, 1932 (age 87)
Cincinnati, Ohio
Political partyDemocratic
RelativesPhillip Burton (brother)
Sala Burton (sister-in-law)

John Lowell Burton (born December 15, 1932) is an American politician. He served as Chairman of the California Democratic Party from April 2009 until May 2017. A professor of California Politics at San Francisco State University, he served in the California State Assembly (1965–74), in the U.S. House of Representatives (1974–83), in the State Assembly again (1988–96), and in the California State Senate (1996-2004) (representing the 3rd district). Burton is a graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law.

Life and career[edit]

1977 Congressional photo of Burton.

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 1965-74, and again from 1988-96. He was originally elected to the Assembly to succeed his brother, Phillip, who had been elected to Congress.

Burton 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 1975-82, when he resigned. 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, Burton was elected chair of the California Democratic Party, succeeding Arthur Torres. He received roughly 76% of the vote, over his sole challenger, Chris Finnie of Santa Cruz.[3]

Burton stepped down as Chairman of the California Democratic Party in May 2017. He was succeeded by Vice Chairman Eric Bauman. At his farewell, he was reported to have punctuated his comments with profanity-laced tirades on President Donald Trump and others in front of such influential lawmakers as Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris, Tom Perez, and Gavin Newsom.[4]

Sexual harassment lawsuit[edit]

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. She claimed Burton sexually harassed her by making unwanted advances, using suggestive language and commenting on her body.

At a 2008 news conference in her attorney's office, Driscoll said, "I had a dream of helping homeless children through a job I loved. John Burton turned that dream into a sexual harassment nightmare and quite frankly a living hell." [5]


  1. ^ Murphy, Kathleen (September 15, 2004). "Term limits mean pink slip for Californias Burton". Retrieved May 22, 2017.
  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. Archived from the original on April 30, 2009.
  4. ^ "California Democrats say farewell to party leader John Burton. To no one's surprise, he responded with profanity",; accessed May 22, 2019.
  5. ^ Reiterman, Tim (January 24, 2008). "Sexual harassment suit filed against John Burton". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 16, 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
California Senate
Preceded by
Milton Marks
California State Senator, 3rd District
Succeeded by
Carole Migden
U.S. 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