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When he was in the California Legislature, Gray Davis, who later lost a recall election as governor in 2003, sponsored legislation to put the faces of missing children on milk cartons. When Consumer Watchdog wanted to force Davis, as governor, to sign a strong HMO patient protection law in 1998, our founder Harvey Rosenfield came up with the idea of putting the governor’s face on faux milk cartons. “Missing: California Governor. Last Seen at Fundraiser with HMO Executives.”

We printed up thousands of the cartons and delivered them to hotel rooms in the San Francisco Hilton the night before Davis was scheduled to give a big breakfast speech.

The flyer had all the details about how Davis met behind closed doors with HMO executives, raised big campaign contributions from them, and said he would not sign the tough patient protection law we wanted.

Davis received a chilly reception at the breakfast speech. He was upset by our tactics, especially a letter about the issue that we had Ralph Nader send to him, and went into a San Francisco Chronicle editorial meeting with a chip on his shoulder and angry that, as the governor, he was being taken to task. At that editorial board meeting he was asked about the patients’ rights legislation and made his big mistake. He said of the legislature, “Their job is to implement my vision.”

When those words appeared in the newspaper, he was forced to retreat. The legislature put a very tough piece of legislation on his desk and he signed it.


Excerpted from The Progressive's Guide to Raising Hell: How To Win Grassroots Campaigns, Pass Ballot Box Laws And Get The Change We Voted For (Chelsea Green).