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Burton Watch Offers Revealing Critiques Of The Man Who Would Be CDP Chair

by: David Dayen

Thu Feb 12, 2009 at 16:59:23 PM PST

It's been distressing to see the race for CDP chair turn from an election into a coronation, with John Burton lining up institutional support, muscling out the grassroots and forcing his competition to the sidelines.  Coming off an historic Presidential election, with the demographics squarely on the side of Democrats and a new generation of activists who have boundless ideas to bring a different organizing philosophy to California, the right chairman of the Party could really leverage the energy and activity into something special, to lay the groundwork for a re-imagining of the political structure.  Sadly, the best can be said of Burton is that he's an old workhorse, but there are troubling signs that he is unaware of the changes in modern campaiging, unconcerned with reforming the broken institutions both inside and outside the party, and unable to use the new energy and excitement to any decent ends.  It appears that the frenetic organizing outside the party structure may be the only hope for progressives in the near term.

But it could be even worse than that.  The new site Burton Watch offers a substantive critique of the former State Senator, with information that every delegate and voting member of the Party ought to know before turning over the reins to this guy.  The initial post surveys how Democrats could lose California under this version of leadership:

Because the public instinctively knows that when power and money compete with the public interest, we all suffer. If you've ever registered voters or walked precincts for a candidate, you've undoubtedly been greeted with this response: "I'm not going to vote because it doesn't matter. All politicians are the same." And as the cynicism grows, voter turnout declines and the Decline To State registration escalates -- now approximately 20% of all Californians are registered DTS. So how do we combat the innate distrust that drives a large segment of our population to disengage from political parties and even voting? Well, Obama showed us a part of the solution [...]

When previously disenfranchised voters, minorities, and the young are all flocking to the Democratic Party because we represent a new way, a vision of hope and change, why on earth would we want to take a giant step backwards to the bad old days? And yet that's exactly what Democrats in California are poised to do this April. The California Democratic Party, instead of rising to meet the challenges of a new millennium with openness and inclusion, is set to reach back to one of the oldest and most entrenched political machines in California history for its leadership.

Enter John Burton, California's much older version of Rod Blagojevich. There are so many reasons why John Burton is unfit for the role of Party Chair in California, that I'll be doing a series of posts, each one dedicated to a disqualifying aspect of his background. All of the material I'll be using has been obtained through basic use of the google, and the state's Republicans could easily find and use it against California Democrats. And trust me, they will.

At the end of this series, I think you'll agree that John Burton is the wrong person to lead the California Democratic Party in 2009.

The next installment recounts perhaps the most infamous episode in Burton's past - the very public sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former staffer, with excerpts from the complaint filed by Kathleen Driscoll in San Francisco Superior Court:

During DRISCOLL'S employment, BURTON engaged in hostile, demeaning and sexually abusive conduct such that DRISCOLL'S working conditions were significantly altered. His conduct over the past year easily rises to the level of severe or pervasive conduct for a hostile work environment sexual harassment claim both in California and under federal law. The harassing acts started in approximately September 2006. They consisted of numerous events, which took place throughout DRISCOLL'S employment, including but not limited to:
Asking DRISCOLL over the phone, "What are you wearing?" on approximately 10 occasions;

On one occasion, DRISCOLL sent a temporary employee to deliver paperwork to BURTON. BURTON ordered DRISCOLL to never send someone on her behalf again by berating her, "When you drop stuff off, stop in will ya? I mean I'm not getting laid under the fuckin' table."

Singling DRISCOLL out for exorbitant demands and attention, included but not limited to excessive demands for immediate and frequent meetings to go over routine matters, including on weekends after the work week was over in contrast to her co-workers;

There's more at the link, and it's pretty graphic.  It goes without saying that women make up an extremely large bloc of the Democratic base.

I don't know what more Burton Watch will trot out, but here are some facts: Californians have little connection to their state government other than knowing that they don't like it.  They hear things like how politicians are living high off campaign donations and it's both alienating and corrosive.  The rules are already rigged in favor of a conservative wipeout of government and the last thing Democrats need as they seek to make structural changes is the spectre of an old-school pol with a lot of skeletons hanging over their collective heads.  John Burton has the potential to take the state backwards and it's a chance that delegates should think long and hard about.

David Dayen :: Burton Watch Offers Revealing Critiques Of The Man Who Would Be CDP Chair
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There are two sides to every story (0.00 / 0)
First, I endorsed Burton a while ago, just to get that out of the way.

The complaint is only one side, and quite the yarn, too. However, it was never proven, no judge or jury has granted any veracity to any of these statements.  To take the word of the complaint as gospel is kind of like taking the word of the men's room at the local high school.

Does Burton swear a lot? Yes, I don't think you'll find a lot of people who will disagree with that. However to render him ineligible for the CDP based upon some curse words would disqualify 98% of the population. The fact is that John Burton has the potential to move the Democratic Party forward in a number of positive ways, personal attacks nothwithstanding.

To dismiss his record fighting for women's rights because of one complaint is foolhardy and disengenious.  I encourage everybody to take a look at the sheer numbers of female leaders he has mentored.

He helped build the careers of Barbara Boxer, Carole Migden, Betty Yee, and a long list of local leaders in San Francisco politics.  His voting record on women's rights issues is second to none. That's why he has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood and a parade of female leaders.  

I would also add that he has been endorsed by a long list of female grassroots leaders, precisely because they know that he will fight for women's rights issues.

Look, the sexual harassment case has been out there for a while now. But, still all these people and organizations have chosen to support him.

I think?

nobody rendered anybody ineligible (0.00 / 0)
And of course this is simply a celebrated case in a series that, from the looks of things, will focus much more on internal corruption and backroom dealing.  The plain fact is that this will be part of the atmosphere over four years, and if you're explaining, you're losing, and you're not doing the work of the party besides.

I wish too you would distinguish between a personal attack and a matter of public record.

[ Parent ]
Explaining equals losing? (0.00 / 0)
To follow that logic, every political leader under attack would have to be disowned and the Joe McCarthy's of the world would run everything.  

As for this website, lets give this a little examination.  First, the person putting this site up is doing so anonymously.  Sometimes there are reasons for that, but in this case I would bet a lot of money this was done by someone who was on the other side of John Burton politically and since Burton has traditionally been considered among the most liberal if not the most liberal elected officials in California, it is probably the work of someone who considers them a moderate Democrat and has a grudge over some battle in the past.

But the sad thing about this is it's not really an attempt to beat Burton, it's obviously an attempt to pester and harrass an older person and nothing more.  

If the person who did this was trying to defeat Burton in the Party Chair election, they could have attacked him back before delegates to the State convention were chosen when there were other potential candidates.  

But instead they waited until now when it's all over.  Why wait and why come up with something as phony as this nonsense lawsuit? (To give you an idea of what nonsense this is, can you imagine Barbara Boxer working all those years for someone who acted like that?  Can you imagine her keeping quiet about it for all those years?)  It's all rubbish.

I think because the person who wrote this stuff is trying to make Burton pay a personal price for political battles in the past and I think it's sad when activist Democrats join in.  

Of course this person could convince me I am wrong if he simply wants to go public so people can judge his motives or if he feels he must remain anonymous, to even allow rebuttal comments on his site.  I wrote in twice in response to factual errors I believe were in his posts, but neither comment was allowed on the site.  I wonder how many others were left off.  That's the site owner's right because he paid for the page, but even if I didn't know John Burton's background, I still wouldn't give much credibility to a person who anonymously attacks and then creates an image of debate by picking and choosing the comments on the other side that he allows.  

[ Parent ]
Indeed it is all public record (0.00 / 0)
And people can feel free to use it if they so desire, but it's hardly bringing hope to the people. BurtonWatch can feel free to go as negative as they want, that's their decision. But when you say that "The plain fact is that this will be part of the atmosphere over four years", I think you've already convicted the guy.

As much as I didn't think I would write this, I think doughnut's got a good point.  Would Barbara Boxer have stuck around with Burton for as long as she has if he really treated people like that?

Look, you fight long enough, and hard enough, for as many things as Burton has, you are going to have your enemies.  And Burton has his share and a whole lot more.  

At any rate, I think the anger is still somewhat misplaced.  At the very least, it sounds like someone is hatin' the playa when they should be hatin' the game.

I think?

[ Parent ]
Sorry, but no (0.00 / 0)
There is a difference between being an effective legislator and being the head of a party that needs to pay more -- a LOT more -- attention to what the grassroots are saying.  Senator Burton was effective as President pro tempore, and I do not negate for a second his record on the issues.  However, the "inside baseball" skills that served him well in the legislature are precisely what the state party doesn't need in 2009.  We have suffered through that enough under Art Torres and his ilk, and the disdain he showed for the workers on the ground.  I remember well how Burton redrew legislative boundaries in 2001 to punish legislators -- fellow Democrats -- who opposed him on issues.  I am tired of Sacramento cutting the legs out from under candidates like Charlie Brown, Bill Durston, and Jerry McNerney.  I will be casting a blank ballot at the convention.

[ Parent ]
Heh (0.00 / 0)
The funny part of that is that when we tried to challenge Ellen Tauscher, a big push of the netroots, the  2001 redistricting was key. If you want to elect progressive legislators, those districts really weren't all that bad.

Furthermore, I'm far from convinced that the districting in CA-03 really affected the race that much in that unless you grab some of central Sacto you don't have a much more Dem friendly district.  CA-04 was essntially unaffected by the 2001 districting.  McNerney's race was made a lot more difficult, but that's the one that we won.  

Frankly, districting is a really over-hyped issue.

I think?

[ Parent ]
Sorry for the confusion (0.00 / 0)
The 2001 redistricting and the party's failure to support grassroots-driven candidates were meant as two separate issues.  I blame Burton specifically for the former, while the latter is part of the current insider-driven culture that needs changing.  

By the by, CD-3 was a competitive district in the 1990s, held by a Democrat until 1998.  When Vic Fazio retired, the party in its infinite wisdom foisted upon us an appallingly weak candidate, then went out of its way to talk down the nominee in 2000.  In 2001 the lines were radically altered to create a safe Republican district -- the party wimped out on drawing competitive boundaries and making an effort to regain the seat.

[ Parent ]
My bad, you are right (0.00 / 0)
I was looking at the wrong district there. My apologies.

I think?

[ Parent ]
Exactly my point (0.00 / 0)
Thank you Solano Voter. This is exactly why I decided to run against Senator Burton for CDP chair. The CDP really does one thing: it runs what it laughably calls "the coordinated campaign." As nearly as I can tell, the coordinating goes on between the chair, highly paid consultants, and powerful elected officials.

Eric Bradley, current CDP controller, confirmed this when he spoke to the L.A. DCC on Tuesday--saying in response to a question from the audience that the chair controlled decisions on how CDP monies were spent. Not in coordination with anybody. The chair decides.

Those of us who were elected to posts in the Party, and who swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution and laws--just as any other elected official--have no say in or approval over any of this. I have checked with county chairs and regional directors, with e-board representatives, and caucus chairs. They all say the same. They hear from the Party when they want something, usually money. Otherwise, those of us doing the Party's work in the state are on our own.

Senator Burton indicated to me in a phone conversation that he intends to continue that, saying it was up to local Democrats to recruit and support candidates for state senate seats. With the 2/3 rule currently enabling the GOP to hold the state hostage every budget cycle, this seems shortsighted.

I agree with you that this feudal structure is no way to grow the Party, to attract new volunteers, and to overcome the public perception of Party politics the original post alludes to.

But I also do not accept that it must stay this way. In this year of change, surely California can change too.

And I propose to change the CDP. I propose to actually coordinate with the people doing the work of the Party statewide. I propose to work with the state standing committees instead of ignoring them. To listen to Party caucuses instead of just talking at them. To find best practices that have succeeded in one area and share them throughout the state, so that we can support areas that are struggling on their own. To use the vast human resources of talented, dedicated people who have for so long been left out of the Party they've worked so hard for.

Please don't leave your ballot blank in April. I would be honored to have your vote. To see my complete plan for the future of the California State Democratic Party, see my website at www.chrisfinnie4cdp.com

[ Parent ]
Or the politics of participation (0.00 / 0)
It does appear, as Brian says, that people are willing to overlook Senator Burton's personal communication style because he has been effective on many levels. However, these are largely people who have dealt with him professionally.

As David rightly points out, that is not the makeup of the California Democratic Party. We are volunteers--volunteers who spend a great deal of our own time and money to do the Party's work. One thing about an organization like that, it always needs new people. We need the new enthusiasm and the boundless ideas you speak of. And I don't think the attitude Senator Burton showed so clearly in my brief meeting, and only slightly longer phone conversation with him, will attract the volunteers we need.

I'm concerned, rather, that it will drive them away in droves.

When I talk to non-political friends and tell them why I'm running. When I tell them about this "coronation, not election" David speaks of. About the union shills who stuffed the delegate ballot boxes, they usually roll their eyes and say something like, "Well, that's politics for you."

I'm sorry, I don't accept that. I don't accept that the Democratic Party doesn't stand for democracy at all levels. I don't accept that politics has to happen in back rooms. But believe it is a participatory affair that allows ordinary citizens to be a part of our government. I don't buy in to the idea that change is impossible. That we cannot do better.

Senator Burton's background--for good or ill, proven or unproven--is not the point. The point is that the elected officials and delegates of the Party were elected by our neighbors to represent them. And it's time we got the chance.

That's why I'm running for CDP chair. Because I believe in democracy. I believe in change. And I believe in participation--the more the better.

And best of luck to you (0.00 / 0)
I'm all about democracy, and I'm almost always in favor of contested races.  And this one should be contested as well. Hey, I doubt there are anybody who wishes any more that Eric Bauman was still in the race, as his change of races pushed me out of the Vice-chair race. CDP elections are a long and hard process that take a lot of investment, in terms of time and resources. So, I understand the hard work that you are doing.

It's just that I'll be supporting John, because I believe that John brings a lot to the position.  He'll be able to address a slew of problems that have been ignored simply for lack of funds and attention.

He is concerned that the CDP isn't as effective as it should be. He will work to empower grassroots leaders in a number of ways, despite what has been said to the contrary. That's why grassroots leaders across the state have endorsed him after meeting and talking with him about the issues facing the CDP.

I have high hopes for the CDP under John Burton because the people that know him best, grassroots leaders here in San Francisco, support him.  He has always been an asset to the Democratic Clubs here, and he'll continue to be so if he is elected as CDP Chair.

Now, I don't think he'll be perfect, or my ideal. I will certainly disagree with him on occasion, but I trust that he has the best interest of the Party and the state at heart.

I think?

[ Parent ]
Driscoll lawsuit (0.00 / 0)

You call the allegations in the Driscoll complaint "the most infamous episode in Burton's past"?

Do you know anything about that case other than reading the complaint?

Did you know that it was filed in January 2008 but not served until the after the Court issued two orders to show cause as to why the complaint should not be dismissed because the Plaintiff did not serve it on the defendant?

Did you know that the Plaintiff, Kathleen Driscoll, never signed the Complaint? It is an unverified complaint that contains only unsubstantiated allegations and is signed only by Ms. Driscoll's attorney.

Did you know that Kathleen Driscoll dismissed her Complaint against all defendants within two weeks after she served the Complaint (right on the heels of the Court dismissing the case because the Plaintiff failed to serve it)?

Did you know that there's not a single deposition or a single word of sworn testimony in the case?

Oh, and by the way, is this the same Kathleen Driscoll from San Francisco that was sued by the California Employment Development Department in 1997 and had a judgment rendered against her to repay $1,000 to the State. Because that case looks like it’s about the wrongful collection of unemployment benefits. If she’s the same Kathleen Driscoll, that might explain why she abandoned her case against Burton so quickly. 

All of these things - individually and together - tell me that there's not much to the unverified allegations contained in the Complaint. You realize, of course, that California's anti-SLAPP laws provide, in all practical sense, complete immunity for anyone to say anything they want as long as they do so on paper with numbered lines along the side and with a court's stamp on it. An unverified complaint is, therefore, of zero evidentiary value.

If you really think this is the "most infamous episode in Burton's past," well, methinks Burton has a more sterling past than most politicians could dream to have.

I’m all for having a healthy debate about who’s the right person to lead our party. But smear campaigns like this are nothing but a slimy distraction.

While we're critiquing (0.00 / 0)

Although the headline of your post is "Burton Watch Offers Revealing Critiques . . ." it seems Burton Watch isn't interested at all in receiving revealing critiques. Comments must be approved by the administrator? What's up with that? (Surprisingly, my comments still have yet to be approved. Shocker.)

Nothing like wanting to encourage a real, honest debate.

I smell a dirty smear campaign.

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