Former U.S. Rep. Pete Stark, an outspoken progressive California Democrat who was an anti-war activist, died at his home in Maryland on Friday at age 88, his family said.

During his 40-year career, Stark left a lasting impact on health care, helping to create COBRA, which allows people to keep getting health insurance for a period of time after leaving a job and he helped draft the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“Today, America has lost a champion of the people and a leader of great integrity, moral courage and compassion,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “Congressman Pete Stark was a master legislator who used his gavel to give a voice to the voiceless, and he will be deeply missed by Congress, Californians and all Americans.”


Stark drew criticism from Republicans over the years -- not only for his political stands but also for some of his comments. He once called former U.S. Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., "a whore for the insurance industry" who acquired information through "pillow talk," and once claimed GOP lawmakers approved sending U.S. troops to Iraq so they could "get their heads blown off for the president's amusement," Politico reported.

Stark started his career as a banker where he gave free child care to his employees before running for Congress in the San Francisco area's East Bay in 1972.

“Pete Stark gave the East Bay decades of public service as a voice in Congress for working people,” U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., who won Stark’s seat in 2012, tweeted. “His knowledge of policy, particularly health care, & his opposition to unnecessary wars demonstrated his deep care and spirit. Our community mourns his loss.”

"Pete Stark was a giant," Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents California's nearby 17th Congressional District, tweeted. "He opposed the Vietnam and Iraq wars. He was for single payer before it was popular. He was a friend and mentor and helped build the progressive movement, even when it was lonely."

Stark is also remembered for his "persistent" work for LGBTQ rights, foster children and paid family leave.


He leaves behind his wife Deborah Roderick Stark, seven children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, The Chronicle reported.