June 19, 2007
CHICAGO (June 19)—John H. Burner, whose down-home, southern Illinois manner was renowned in the State House in Springfield, has announced he will retire effective at the close of business June 30 from his post as assistant Illinois legislative director.
Burner, a resident of Effingham and a former Illinois Central Railroad locomotive engineer, has served in his current post since February of 1996.
“It’s been a pleasurable train ride, and I enjoyed every minute of it,” Burner said. “But I turned 65 three months ago and it’s time to let somebody else take over.”
Illinois Legislative Director Joseph C. Szabo announced that in accord with Article 93 of the UTU Constitution, the “somebody else” will be Robert W. Guy, currently serving as alternate legislative director of the UTU Illinois Legislative Board. Guy is local legislative representative of Local #234 in Bloomington, where he hired out as a Southern Pacific Railroad brakeman in 1994 after being awarded a bacherlor’s degree in communications by Western Illinois University.
“John always loved to say that he was ‘only a redneck from Southern Illinois,’ but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the UTU in Illinois has consistently been among the most effective state lobbying units in the organized labor movement and John Burner is a major reason for our success,” said Szabo. “He has been a tireless and unselfish servant working on behalf of the members and he will be sorely missed.”
Burner became something of a legend in Springfield for his relentless cultivation of votes for UTU-sponsored legislation. Some said he knew not only the names of every legislator, but the names of their spouses and children, and their secretaries’ children. Patient yet persistent, he would wait half a day in a corridor if that was what it took to talk to a busy legislator. Yet his “down-home” demeanor and Downstate drawl, always delivered with a smile, gained him acceptance where others would have been dismissed.
One element in Burner’s vote-getting success was his record as a successful fisherman. As part of building “personal relationships,” Burner would sometimes take legislators for an afternoon of fishing in one of his favorite spots, sharing his fishing skills and occasionally disclosing one of his “secret locations” where the “big ones” hang out.
Asked to name the high spots in his Springfield career, Burner said, “Personally, I think our greatest victory was passing the Medical Treatment Act and the Safe Walkway bill. Our people were breaking a lot of feet and knees out in those yards, and I feel good that we finally did something about it. And the Contract Carrier Act. It was a nightmare out there for our crews before we got that passed. I worked very hard on that issue.”
The transition from Burner to Guy is expected to be smooth. Elected alternate state director in 2004, Guy began assisting Burner and Szabo part-time and already is well known around the State House.
“Joe and John brought me in when they needed some extra help pushing the passenger-rail and medical-treatment legislation, and John really showed me the ropes,” Guy said. “He has introduced me to some of the most influential and powerful people in Springfield. He has a wealth of knowledge. I don’t know where he stores it all.
“I really regret seeing John go, but if any man ever earned retirement, he has,” Szabo said. “We were elected together as a team in February of 1996 and he has been by right hand ever since. He was the perfect balance to me. I’m a ‘city slicker’ and he’s an ‘old country redneck.’ I’m a conductor and he’s an engineer. I sometimes get excited, and John has that ever present calm demeanor. I’ll miss him.
“But I ask all our members to join me in wishing him the best because all of owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude. We and our families are safer and more secure because of what John Burner accomplished.”