The Complete Guide to John Burton’s Tirades, Outbursts and Expletives

Sept. 4, 2012

By John Hrabe

California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton kicked off the Democratic National Convention Monday by comparing Republicans with Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

“They lie and they don’t care if people think they lie… Joseph Goebbels — it’s the big lie, you keep repeating it,” Burton told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Joe Garofoli and KCBS Radio’s Doug Sovern.

Burton is already backing away from his comments with a clean-up statement issued Monday evening:

 “To correct press reports of my recent comments about Republican lies, I did not call Republicans Nazis nor would I ever. In fact, I didn’t even use the word. If Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, or the Republicans are insulted by my describing their campaign tactic as the big lie — I most humbly apologize to them or anyone who might have been offended by that comment.”

Burton’s comments — although offensive — aren’t surprising. Burton’s known for his “patented explosive rants” and “child-like attention span.” He’s been called “the state’s most powerful and profane Democrat.” The San Francisco Chronicle’s Vicki Haddock identified him as “a human Gatling gun of bleepable lingo.” In 2004, the Christian Science Monitor dubbed Burton “a brash Bulworth who defined an era of California politics.”

Of course, Burton’s reputation isn’t all expletives and rants. The Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition told the San Jose Mercury News in 2001, “He doesn’t double-talk you.” Former Republican Congressman Jim Rogan once described Burton as “a man of incredible integrity” and “the most honest liberal I’ve ever known.” And former State Sen. Ray Haynes said Burton is “a good an honorable man.” has reviewed two decades of archives to assemble, “The Complete Guide to John Burton’s Tirades, Outbursts and Expletives.”

The Daily Show Rant: Burton “Curse(s) More than a West Coast Rapper”

Last year, the state’s top Democrat became an Internet sensation with his expletive-filled rant on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Speaking about California’s initiative process, Burton said, “It’s totally [expletive]. It was put in place to protect people from the special interests. It’s now become a tool of the special interests to [expletive] the people.” Correspondent John Oliver told Burton, “You curse more than a West Coast rapper.” (Source: The Daily Show, 12/5/2011)

Burton: Gov. Brown “Can Try Shooting Somebody” to Get GOP Support for Tax Increases

In May 2011, Burton suggested that Gov. Jerry Brown “try shooting” Republican legislators that remained steadfast in their opposition to tax increases. “He can try shooting somebody and tell the next guy, ‘You don’t want that to happen to you, you better step up and vote.’ … What’s Jerry going to do unless he took out a gun?” (Source: Contra Costa Times, 4/29/2011 & H/T Joe Mathews, NBC Prop Zero)

Burton: “I’d End Up Shooting Myself or Somebody Else”

Burton’s shooting from the hip with shooting metaphors isn’t limited to Republicans. In 2004, he said that he’d rather shoot himself or somebody else if forced to make budget cuts to an AIDS clinic or “General Assistance people.”  Burton said, “I am not a gutsy guy. I would not want the choice between [expletive] this group of people — you know, the General Assistance people — or closing an AIDS clinic. I’d end up shooting myself or somebody else. I am really, despite what people think, an absolute wuss.” (Source: Kate Folmar, San Jose Mercury News, 12/1/2004.) 

Burton: “[Bleep] Shoot Me, All Right? [Expletive]!”

During the close of the 2000 legislative session, Democratic leaders inadvertently lost a bill that would have allocated $500 million in tobacco settlement money for health programs for the poor. “If my house lost Senator Escutia’s bill, then just [expletive] shoot me,” the Associated Press quoted Burton as saying on September 1, 2000.

According to the Metropolitan News Enterprise, “When asked how the Senate could have forgotten to vote on the bill, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton said he thought the problems occurred in the Assembly, then he got testy with a reporter who pressed the issue.”

“What the [expletive] difference does it make? It happened,” Burton said. “I cannot believe that we lost track of Healthy Families. If we did, [expletive] shoot me, all right? [Expletive]!” (Source: David Kline, Metropolitan News Enterprise, 9/15/2000.)

Burton to Protestors: “They Can Take a Dump in My Salad for $78 Grand”

At the California Democratic Party’s Spring 2011 Convention, Burton was asked to comment on protestors that interrupted President Obama’s speech during a San Francisco fundraiser. “They pay $78 grand, they can come back and insult me… they can take a dump in my salad for $78-grand,” Burton said. (Source: Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert, 4/30/2011.) 

Burton: State Finance Director Donna Arduin is  an “Ogre”

In 2003, then-Gov. Schwarzenegger brought in budget expert Donna Arduin to serve as the state’s finance director. Burton, then Senate President Pro Tem, referred to her as an “ogre.” Burton disapproved of Arduin’s past work in Florida, where she pushed for cuts to Medicaid programs. Arduin didn’t take it personally. “For a time, a mock yellow street sign on Arduin’s office door warned ‘OGRE XING’ — a joke from [then-Senate Republican Leader Jim] Brulte.” (Source: San Jose Mercury News, 3/8/2004)

Burton: The San Francisco Chronicle is a Piece of [Bleep]

In October 2010, Burton expressed his displeasure with the San Francisco Chronicle for its failure to endorse Sen. Barbara Boxer’s re-election. The Chronicle is a piece of [expletive],” Burton told a reporter with The Forward. Boxer used to serve as a former Burton staff member, according to San Franmcisco Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross. (Source: The Forward, 10/29/2010.)

Burton Demands Correction: “I Didn’t Say [Expletive]… I said ‘[Expletive]’”

In May 2010, Burton demanded that CalBuzz’s Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine correct an inaccurate quote attributed to Burton. CalBuzz ‘s correction explains the incident: “In our Saturday post about the California Democratic Party’s ad attacking Meg Whitman, but masquerading as an ‘issues ad,’ we described the abrupt ending to our conversation with CDP Chairman John Burton. Through his spokesman, Burton on Monday complained that he had been misquoted. Burton says he didn’t say ‘[Expletive].’ His actual words were, ‘[Expletive].’ Calbuzz regrets the error.”  LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus coined it the “Correction of the Decade.” (CalBuzz, 5/11/2010) 

Burton on Arnold: “Like Somebody Snorting Up Two Lines of Coke”

When asked to give public speaking advice to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Burton said, “[My advice] would probably be, if you’re in a group of more than seven people, dip your tongue in your brain before you speak. He gets in front of a crowd, man, and it’s like somebody snorting up two lines of coke.” (Source: Los Angeles Daily News, 12/6/2004.)

Burton was speaking from experience. According to the Chronicle, Burton “had grappled with a cocaine problem himself as a congressman in the 1980s.”

Burton’s Foie Gras Ban: Save Donald Duck, [Expletive] Wolfgang Puck

In 2004, Burton authored legislation to ban the sale and production of foie gras in California. The ban, which included a seven-year phase-out period, took effect this year. At the signing ceremony, Burton shared the slogan he used to convince Gov. Schwarzenegger to sign the ban: “Save Donald Duck, [Expletive] Wolfgang Puck.” The famous chef had urged the governor to veto the bill. (Source: Contra Costa Times, 9/30/2004.)

Burton: Ward Connerly “Put a Little Pepper in the Salt”

Burton, who has championed affirmative action and civil rights legislation, attacked then-member of the UC Board of Regents Ward Connerly for his plan to ban race-based admissions. “Probably the most evil consequence [of affirmative action] is the fact that Ward Connerly got on the Board of Regents, not on his ability but because he put a little pepper in the salt,” Burton said. Connerly, who is African-American, contends his appointment to the board was based on his qualifications, not race. (Source: Washington Post, 10/29/1996)

Burton Flipped Off KGO Reporter After Meeting with Arnold

Following a meeting with then-incoming Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Burton jokingly flipped off KGO radio reporter Bret Burkhart. According to San Francisco Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross, “Burton didn’t much care for Burkhart putting a microphone up to Schwarzenegger and asking what he thought about the Senate president.” (Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 10/26/2003.)

Burton: No Time for Press Because “I’ve Got [Expletive] to Do”

Reporters are a frequent target for Burton’s expletives. In 2003, while pushing legislation to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants at the end of the legislative session, the Orange County Register reported that Burton yelled at reporters, “I’ve got [expletive] to do. That’s my quote.” (Source: Orange County Register, 9/1/2003)

War in Afghanistan Causes Outburst in the Gym

In October 2001, Burton was at the gym when President Bush announced the start of the War in Afghanistan. The San Francisco Chronicle’s Matier and Ross have the story:

“David Monetta was in the Bay Club locker room Sunday morning when President Bush came on TV to announce the bombing of Afghanistan. And, boy, did Bush get an earful — from state Senate President John Burton, who happened to walk in right at that moment. Burton took one look, shook his head, then let out a barrage of swear words as he walked away.

“About 15 minutes later, Monetta said, Burton came back in — stopped again for a moment in front of the TV — and then “proceeded to restate the same eloquent speech he gave earlier.”

“Burton — a liberal Democrat known for his expletive-laced explosions — doesn’t deny the colorful commentary but says it was just a reflex he has whenever he sees Bush.

‘I had no idea he was announcing the bombing. I thought it was a replay of something earlier,’ Burton said.” (Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 10/10/2001)

Burton Hurled Expletives at Antonio Villaraigosa and the Speaker’s Staff

Back in the late 1990s, Burton had a habit of berating then-Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and his staff; Villaraigosa now is the mayor of Los Angeles. According to the San Jose Mercury News, “More than one legislative source has complained about Burton’s hurling expletives at the speaker’s staff — even at the speaker himself.” When asked about the incidents, Burton replied, “That ain’t my problem. My problem isn’t the [expletive] Assembly Democratic caucus.” (Source: Hallye Jordan, San Jose Mercury News, 8/20/1998)

Burton: “I Don’t Get This ‘New Democrat’ [Expletive]”

Burton has repeatedly criticized the Democratic Party for being too moderate. In 1998, Burton complained, “I don’t get this ‘New Democrat’ [expletive]. There are only so many ways you can feed hungry people, or get jobs for people who don’t have them, and get kids a good education.” (Source: Mark Shields, Seattle Post Intelligencer, 3/23/1998)

Burton echoed the complaint in 2001, when he once again believed “his party has sold out the disenfranchised in its quest to capture the moderate middle. My whole thing is caring for people on the edge that nobody gives a [expletive] about. Who the [expletive] stands for anything anymore? What’s wrong with making sure all kids have medical insurance?” (Source: Hallye Jordan, San Jose Mercury News, 3/26/2001.)

Burton: “The Emperor [Jerry Brown] Has No Clothes On” 

In 1990, then-Assemblyman Burton led a failed coup against then-California Democratic Party Chairman Jerry Brown.  “Somebody had to stand up and say the emperor has no clothes on,” Burton said in a New York Times interview, which the paper described as “laced with expletives.”  Burton was unhappy with Brown’s fundraising and voter registration efforts. Of Brown’s party chairmanship, Burton said, “When he came back, I said: ‘If you want to rehabilitate yourself, I love ya. But you better do it right!’ We had the plan, but when it came time to get the money to make it work, he panicked and we were left with nothing.” (Source: New York Times, 11/27/1990.)

2001 Energy Crisis Expletives: Gray Davis, “He Just [Expletive] Himself”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Senate leader John Burton ended it [2001 legislative session] with expletives and a collective middle finger from the upper house extended toward Gov. Gray Davis.” Burton didn’t like the idea of bailing out Southern California Edison, which he described as “a pile of [expletive] and a corporate giveaway.”  When Gov. Davis tried to blame the state Senate for failing to address the crisis, Burton replied, “I mean, insulting us? He just [expletive] himself.” (Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 9/16/2001.)

Gov. Gray Davis wasn’t the only recipient of a Burton energy crisis related tirade. When Debra Bowen, then-chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, tried to clarify procedural rules, Burton responded, “’I’m just telling you what they told me, Debra. Well, fine, you’re the [expletive] lawyer. Ask her. She knows it all.” (Source: Copley News, 1/31/2001)

Burton: Davis Administration “Can Go [Expletive] Themselves, All Right?”

In 1999, the Davis administration tried to thwart Burton’s health care reform agenda by floating a poll that showed its low favor with voters. The tactic “prompted a particularly angry response from Sen. Pres pro Tem. John Burton.” He told the Associated Press, “Our job is to pass legislation. Those people can go [expletive] themselves, all right?” (Source: State Net Capitol Journal, 8/16/1999.)

Burton on 2000 End of Session Bash: “Only an [expletive] Would Think This is a Conflict”

To commemorate the end of the 2000 legislative session, Burton hosted an “end of session” fundraising bash for his Democratic colleagues to mingle with Capitol lobbyists. When asked if the party, which raised $200,000 for Democratic campaign efforts, posed a conflict of interest, Burton said, “Only an [expletive] would think this is a conflict. This is like a [expletive] party. This is a $100 event.” (Source: Associated Press, 8/30/2000.)

Burton Attacks [Expletive] Davis Press Secretary and Teacher Tax Exemption Plan

It seems like ancient history now, but in 2000, California had a record budget surplus. Then- Gov. Gray Davis floated the “big idea” of exempting California public school teachers from income taxes.  Burton dismissed the idea “with a profanity-laced diatribe attacking the proposal and, by extension, the governor.” Burton said, “What [expletive] is big about saying I’ll give you a lot of money? It takes a lot of [expletive] courage: I’m going to give you guys $100? What a [expletive] sport. I mean, give me a break.”

According to then-Orange County Register columnist Dan Weintraub, Burton also called Davis’ press secretary a “[expletive] and the governor’s well rid of him when he leaves.” In 2000, Davis’ press secretary was Michael Bustamante, who now works for the Sacramento-based public affairs firm California Strategies.  (Source: Dan Weintraub, OC Register, 5/16/2000.)

Burton on His First Race: “No [Expletive] Way. No [Expletive] Way. No [Expletive] Way.”

In a fitting omen of future tirades, when then-Assembly Speaker Willie Brown asked Burton to return to politics in 1988, Burton’s first response was, “No [expletive] way. No [expletive] way. No [expletive] way.” (Source: Hallye Jordan, San Jose Mercury News, 3/26/2001.)

2011 Redistricting: Pro Publica Report is a “Complete [Expletive] Fabrication”

Every 10 years, California redraws the state’s political boundaries. And redistricting seems to be a touchy subject for Burton. After the nonprofit investigative news outlet ProPublica released a scathing indictment of Democrats’ manipulation of the redistricting process, Burton called it “a complete [expletive] fabrication.” Burton played a major role in the previous two redistricting processes. (Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, 12/22/2011.)

2001 Redistricting: Burton Says Rep. Tauscher is “Full of [Expletive]”

In 2001, then-Rep. Ellen Tauscher accused Burton of gerrymandering her congressional district “under the Democrats’ still-secret redistricting plan.” Tauscher believed Burton’s unfavorable line-drawing was retaliation for her support of Rep. Steny Hoyer’s leadership bid over rival Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a fellow San Francisco Democrat who “is like family to John.”

Burton said of the moderate Tauscher, “She’s full of [expletive]. She ought to quit whining about what’s going to happen to her district because something is going to happen to everybody’s district. I have no idea why she would be voting against the best interest of the state by voting for someone from Maryland.” (Source: Contra Costa Times, 8/3/2001.)

1991 Redistricting: “I Wish That [expletive] Brother of Mine Could Come Back for Just an Hour or Two”

Not all of Burton’s expletives are intended in a derogatory manner. During his 1991 redistricting machinations, Burton spoke nostalgically about the legendary redistricting deal making of his late brother, Rep. Phillip Burton.  “I wish that [expletive] brother of mine could come back for just an hour or two.” (Source: Lou Cannon, Washington Post, 9/22/1991.)

Burton on School Board Appointee: “She’s a Dynamite [Expletive] Principal”

Another positive expletive came in 2001 for state school board appointee Nancy Ichinaga. In explaining why he’d vote for the nominee, “Everybody just says she’s a dynamite [expletive] principal.” (Source: Debra Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle, 2/11/2001.)

Top Two Primary: “Dumbest [Expletive] Thing the State Legislature Has Done in 175 Years”

Asked earlier this year for his opinion of the state’s new top-two primary system, Burton said, “It’s the dumbest [expletive] thing the state Legislature has done in 175 years.” (Contra Costa Times, 3/9/2012.)

Burton on His Protegee Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Fiona Ma

Burton is responsible for nurturing the careers of countless Democratic stars. Sen. Barbara Boxer is a former Burton staff member. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi “is like family to John,” according to former Sen. Don Perata.

Another of Burton’s protégées is Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Fiona Ma. During her first legislative campaign, Burton was accused of masterminding her meteoric rise. He responded, “Right, like I’ve got all this [expletive] power. Like everything, I want people to [expletive] do, they do.” (Source: Matier and Ross, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/31/2006.)

Burton Stormed Out of 2004 Workers’ Compensation Negotiations

In 2004, while negotiating a deal with then-Gov. Schwarzenegger on reforming the state’s workers’ compensation system, a frustrated Burton “stormed out of the governor’s office, barking, ‘Hey, man, no hard feelings, I can’t [expletive] do this.’” He eventually returned to the bargaining table. (Source: Orange County Register, 4/16/2004.) 

2003 Budget Negotiations: No More [Expletive]

While negotiating the 2003 budget deal, Burton expressed his frustration with the governor. “No more [expletive]. We are going to see if we can come up with something we can live with and present it to him and see if he can live with it, or whatever.” (Source: Copley News Service, 12/4/2003)

Burton: Arnold’s Common Courtesy “The Day Before He Decides to [Expletive] You”

In 2004, then- Gov. Schwarzenegger met Burton for lunch the day before Schwarzenegger endorsed two initiatives opposed by Burton. “I would think I deserve the common courtesy when you’re eating lunch together the day before he decides to [expletive] you on a piece of legislation you’ve worked hard on,” a displeased Burton said of the endorsements. (Source: Contra Costa Times, 9/11/2004)

2003 Budget Negotiation: “Take The Whole [Expletive] Thing Out of Corrections

In a heated exchange with then-Gov. Gray Davis during 2003 budget negotiations, Burton “clashed immediately after the governor said Democrats should not add spending to the budget above what he proposed in May. Burton shot back with an expletive. ‘So we take the whole [expletive] thing out of Corrections. Is that OK with you?” (Source: Contra Costa Times, 6/15/2003)

Burton on Automated/ Recorded Political Calls: “Less Intrusive Than Some [Expletive] Who’s Calling with a Financial Plan

When asked his take on automated political calls, Burton said, “People seem to get less [expletive] about the recorded ones than the live ones. And, to me, they’re a lot less intrusive than some [expletive] who’s calling with a financial plan for you.” (Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 2/27/2002.)

Burton Demands Apology from Whitman Campaign Surrogate

For all of his gaffes, Burton’s been quick to demand apologies of others. In June 2010, Burton attacked Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman for an off-the-cuff birther joke by campaign surrogate Mark Larson. Burton released a statement calling the joke “reprehensible” and demanded an apology.

“For Whitman to rely on ‘Birther’ stand-up comedy to gin-up her crowd is beyond reprehensible. She should once and for all disassociate herself from the Tea Party crowd and apologize for stooping so low as to use this sleazy shtick at her campaign events,” the statement read.

Burton’s Response to Arnold’s Girly Man Comments

When asked to respond to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s controversial “girly man” comments, an epithet the governor threw at Democrats in the Legislature for not passing his program, Burton told NBC’s Today Show, “Why would I possibly call him? I mean, what are you people, nuts? ‘Hi, this is the scumbag girly boy. How are you doing? Give my best to the kids.’”

At the time, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, then leader of the Assembly Republican Caucus, noted the irony, “You’re asking John Burton whether you can use certain language?” (Source: Alameda Times Star, 7/20/2004.)

Burton would return to the “girly man” line later in the year by applying it to Schwarzenegger. Burton said, “I’m very disappointed that he decides to play girlie man for the Chamber of Commerce and go against providing health insurance for the working people of California.” (Source: Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, 9/11/2004.)

Today, Burton left the convention to return to California for a root canal. That’s the only known way to stop the expletives.

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