Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP
Florida Democrat Alan Grayson leaves the House of Representatives next month after a two-year term marked by verbal fireworks. But he says he won't leave bitter.
In just two years, Florida Democrat Alan Grayson went from being just another freshman Congressman to one of the most recognized faces in the House.
His colorful comments on health care reform and the Republican Party made him a favorite on cable news and talk radio shows.
But after a battle with Republican Daniel Webster this fall, Grayson lost his re-election bid. In the office he'll leave in a month or so, he tells NPR's Guy Raz he's leaving with no bitterness.
One of Grayson's most talked-about moments came in a floor speech he gave in the midst of the health care debate in September 2009. He presented what he called the "Republican Health Care Plan." That plan, he said, was "Don't get sick ... if you do get sick, die quickly."
Grayson says he was just telling the truth — something he feels doesn't happen enough in Congress.
"What I was exposing is something that is sort of a deep truth," he says. "The Republicans a.) don't have a way to help people and b.) aren't interested in doing it. And that's true whether you're talking about health care or virtually any important issue."
Some have called Grayson uncivil. He sees it as being blunt.
"I simply tell the truth, I'm not trying to be uncivil. What I do is I tell the truth and sometimes it's a hard truth. Sometimes the truth hurts," he says.
Grayson's comments have been a lightning rod for Republicans and conservative news commentators. He says he's received death threats — even his 5-year-old has been threatened — and has needed a constant police presence at his home for months.
Despite all that, he says, it's been worth it.
"We have saved countless lives. There are 100,000 people in my district alone who will get health coverage because we passed health care for all Americans," he says. "Those people will now live. How can anybody say it's not worth it?"
Before winning the House seat in 2008, Grayson had a long career as an attorney. He'd never been elected to office and says he learned a lot in two years. One of the biggest takeaways, he says, is that Congress is largely dysfunctional.
"There's not any doubt about it. The people's business is not being done. There's enormous influence by lobbyists and by special interests," he says. "And the other side has completely sold out to them."
Grayson says he always resisted the influence of those lobbyists.
"A good description of what happened in my case is that they couldn't buy me, so they decided to destroy me with negative ads [during the midterm campaign] that people in my district saw an average of 70 times," he says.
Grayson responded with a controversial ad of his own. It called his opponent "Taliban Dan" and repeated clips in which Webster appeared to say about his wife "she should submit to me." Although the spot was roundly criticized, Grayson says he was justified in running it.
"We had to do it because, in my case, he ducked every debate we were scheduled to have. And the result of that is that we had no way to communicate his record except for the fact that we could run ads that people called negative ads," he says. "And it's unfortunate that the system leaves no other possibility."
Grayson says the ad was a last resort.
"The average voter in Orlando saw that ad twice. The average voter in Orlando saw 70 ads calling me, an incumbent Congressman, a liar, a national embarrassment, a loudmouth, a dog and an evil clown," he says. "So I don't think that my opponents or anyone in the media for that matter — none of whom ever came to my defense — can lecture me on civility in politics."
Despite the criticism, he's determined to stay upbeat as he says goodbye to Washington:
"Life is beautiful. It is hard for me to believe that someone like me — who worked my way through college at Harvard by, among other things, cleaning toilets and by working as a night watchman on the midnight shift — somehow, someone like me could end up in Congress."