Beware, all ye cantaloupes in Indiana — Dan Burton is coming home.
The Indianapolis Star reports that the Republican congressman, who was first elected in 1982, announced his retirement today at the Indiana statehouse.
Over time, the once-entrenched Burton has become increasingly vulnerable to a primary, and he was already facing four opponents this year. In 2008, he won by only 52%-45% in a two-way race. Then in 2010, with many more candidates running and the opposition split, Burton won renomination with a mere 30% of the vote, followed by his nearest opponent at 28%.
Burton overcame humble beginnings and a very hard childhood to become a successful real estate broker, and then a politician. After serving on and off in the Indiana legislature starting in 1966, and losing races for Congress in the early 1970’s, he was finally elected to a very safe Republican seat in 1982, where he became known as a conservative firebrand.
Burton was at his most famous in the 1990’s, when he led many of the investigations against President Bill Clinton. “If I could prove 10 percent of what I believe happened, he’d [Clinton] be gone,” Burton declared in 1998. “This guy’s a scumbag. That’s why I’m after him.”
His campaigns against Clinton began in full force when he delivered a House speech in which he alleged that Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, whose death was ruled a suicide, was actually murdered and his body moved to Fort Marcy Park in northern Virginia.
“Who moved the body?” Burton said sternly in a House floor speech — then most famously describing that he had re-enacted the alleged shooting in his own backyard, by firing bullets at a “head-like object” that has been variously reported as a watermelon or a pumpkin (though trustworthy sources have said it was really a cantaloupe).
In September of 1998, as the Monica Lewinsky scandal was heading towards the impeachment of Clinton, Vanity Fair revealed that Burton himself had previously had an affair in 1983, in which he fathered a son out of wedlock.
In a town hall meeting, Burton alleged that the Clinton administration had orchestrated the article, in an effort to sabotage his investigation of them:
“I’m under fire by the president and his friends because I’m getting close—I’m getting very close to some information that I think will be damning to the president, and he and Janet Reno know it. If the president’s watching, I hope he gets this. There is nothing that can be done that will deter me from getting to the bottom of our investigation and getting the facts out to the American people. We’re not going to back down a half an inch.
“My intent is not to talk about my personal life, because my family knows my personal life, and I’m not going to get into that because it’s nobody busi—nobody’s business but my own. I haven’t broken any of the laws, and I haven’t done anything that I think is illegal or unethical. And—but if I—if I have done something that—that I should own up to, then I will do that. But until that point comes, I’m going to keep my personal life to myself.
“I’m not perfect. I have made mistakes. My wife and I have had separations in the past that—over 38 years, we’ve had a few problems. Once, we almost got divorced. And—and what they’re trying to do is find something on me that will discredit me and—and hamper my investigation.”