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John Burton to launch bid for Dem Party chair

Former Senate Leader John Burton is poised to announce his candidacy for California Democratic Party chairman.

Burton, a San Francisco Democrat, has told those close to him that he is running to succeed outgoing chairman Art Torres, who will leave the post after the party elects a new chairman in April. Burton was not immediately available to comment.

The job of party chairman is particularly important in this era of legislative term limits, and since voters approved Proposition 34, which set campaign contribution limits to candidates, and greatly enhanced the state parties’ rolls as arbiter of millions in political donations during campaign cycles. Burton was one of the authors of the initiative.

Other candidates in the race include current party vice-chairman Alex Rooker. Los Angeles County Party Chairman Eric Bauman has also been mentioned as a candidate.

Rooker has developed a long endorsement list, which includes incoming Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and a number of legislators and members of Congress. It was unclear how Burton’s entry into the race would effect those endorsements.
Rooker could not be reached for comment.

State Democratic Party delegates will vote to replace Torres on April 25, during their spring convention. The new chairman will take office one day after the vote.

For Burton, taking over as party chairman would be coming full circle, in a way. He was the legislative author of Proposition 34 in 2000. That measure was designed to shift political money, and fundraising power, away from individual candidates and increase the stature of political parties.

Under the rules of Proposition 34, parties can receive unlimited donations, but the measure introduced new contribution limits for legislative and statewide candidates. As a result, much of the money that is raised by legislator’s moves through the state party’s bank accounts.

The most notable recent example was former Speaker Fabian Nunez’s fundraising against a redistricting measure backed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2005. Nunez directed donors to give money to the state party. At the end of the campaign, the party cut Nunez a check for $4 million to his personal campaign account, angering some Democratic activists who felt the party should have kept the money.

Since leaving office in 2006, Burton has headed the John Burton Foundation for Children Without Homes, a non-profit “dedicated to improving the quality of life for California’s homeless children and developing policy solutions to prevent homelessness,” according to the foundation’s Web site.


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