For a guy known as a cut-to-the-bone straight talker, John Burton sounded awfully bashful when we asked him about the May 19 special election.
Burton, expected to win slam-dunk election as the new chair of the California Democratic Party at its convention this weekend in Sacramento, dodged and demurred when Calbuzz asked where he stands on the half-dozen contentious initiatives on next month’s ballot.
Rather than declaring his views, Burton resorted to a famous line delivered by Peter Sellers, in the 1959 British flick “I’m All Right, Jack,” in which the comic actor plays a trade unionist suspected of being a communist:
“My politics are a matter between my conscience and the ballot box,” said Burton, channeling Sellers.
Burton being Burton, there are any number of possible explanations for his reticence about the May 19 Einstein Election, in which the governor and Democratic legislative leaders have foisted a batch of complicated budget issues before voters:
- On the eve of the election for party chair, he didn’t want to get between elected officials, who mostly support the props, and activists, many of whom don’t.
- He wanted to be respectful of the convention process, in which delegates are expected to take up resolutions about the props.
- Like Jerry Brown (up to a few days ago), he hasn’t read them yet.
- He was just being a prick.
In any case, pressed on the question of whether his lifelong bleeding heart liberalism would allow him to back some of the permanent budget cuts that would result if Prop. 1A is passed, Mr. Almost Chairman responded with a classic Burtonism:
“I think when it’s all over, the ones getting fucked will be the poor people.”
The 76-year old seabiscuit — a former state senate leader, assemblyman and congressman — was slightly more forthcoming when we asked him why, exactly, he wanted to be party chairman:
“The power and the glory,” he snarled. (Burton omitted any mention of the money, although the $133,000 salary for party chair matches that of his old job as senate president pro tem).
While his only opponent, party volunteer Chris Finnie, wants to make big changes in the mission and operations of the party, Burton was very clear that his top priorities would be protecting and expanding the Democrats’ hold over elected offices in California.
“We have a very important election next year,” he said. “We have a need for a Democratic governor, we got reapportionment, we have to re-elect Barbara (Boxer), and change the two-thirds vote” needed to pass a budget.
Over the past few months, Burton has been attacked by some netroots Democrats for his throwback, ward-heeler style, and accused of not being web savvy enough to lead the party in the 21st century.
“I got a Facebook, I got that shit,” he told Calbuzz, adding that he draws the line at tweeting on Twitter.
“That’s the way you’ve got to communicate now, and we’re going to be very current and techie in getting messages out quickly,” he added. “But am I going to have a computer attached to my rear end? No.”
The “vote” for party chair will take place Saturday.