Dedication of John Burton Highway in San Francisco
The event was attended by Senator John Burton; Board Member Fiona Ma; US Democratic House Leader/Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Jackie Speier, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, California State Controller Betty Yee, California State Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Kelly, and his only child/daughter Kimiko Burton and his grandkids, as well as numerous local leaders, activists and community members.
Senator Burton was born in Ohio and moved to San Francisco with his family shortly after. He graduated from San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco School of Law. He served in the United States Army in between his undergraduate and law school years from 1954 through 1956. After graduating law school, he was admitted to the bar and worked in a private practice law firm until he was elected to the State Assembly in 1965. He became active in Democratic politics alongside his late brother, Phil Burton, and his longtime friend and ally (later Speaker of the Assembly and SF Mayor), Willie L. Brown, Jr. who he met at San Francisco State University.
Senator Burton first served in the California State Assembly from 1965 to 1974. He served in the United State House of Representatives from 1974 to 1983. After a brief hiatus from public service, he returned to the California State Assembly and served from 1988 to 1996 and then served two terms in the California State Senate from 1996-2004 as President pro Tempore, leading the Legislature’s upper house during a tumultuous period that saw the California Energy Crisis, the recall of Governor Gray Davis and the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
After he termed out of the State Senate, Senator Burton decided to focus his passion on improving the quality of lives of the tens of thousands of California’s foster, former foster and homeless youth by forming the John Burton Foundation for Children without Homes. Through the Foundation’s advocacy and hands-on programs, he is creating a community that helps homeless, foster and former foster youth obtain essential education and healthcare and helps fill in the gaps in their basic needs: food, clothing, housing, transportation, and emotional support. The odds are stacked against at-risk youth and the John Burton Foundation seeks to support them in achieving their full potential.
In April 2009, many of Senator Burton’s friends and supporters urged him to reenter public service and lead the California Democratic Party out of the Great Recession. He was elected Chair (having previously served as Chair in 1973) and the following year, despite massive Republican gains nationwide, the California Democratic Party swept all the statewide offices being contested and won one additional seat (thus increasing their majority) in the State Assembly while maintaining all their current seats and the majority in the State Senate. He was reelected unanimously in 2013 to another four year term.
Throughout his time in public office, Senator Burton was known as one of the most forceful, passionate and effective advocates for the poorest, sickest and most vulnerable Californians. He often evoked his upbringing during the Great Depression as his motivation for compassion towards those struggling to cope with challenging circumstances. His time in office was enormously productive, and he proposed and passed groundbreaking and progressive legislation.