September 10th, 2009
01:49 PM ET
5 years ago

Heckler Wilson 'a decent guy' with lock on district, observers say

Heckler Wilson 'a decent guy' with lock on district, observers say.
Heckler Wilson 'a decent guy' with lock on district, observers say.

(CNN) – Rep. Joe Wilson, who heckled President Obama's speech on health care reform Wednesday night, is a popular, deeply conservative, usually polite Republican with a solid lock on his district, observers say.

After the president told members of Congress that the plan would not pay for treating illegal immigrants, boos and hisses could be heard to Obama's left. Wilson's voice rose above the clatter, shouting, "You lie!"

Speaking near his Capitol Hill office on Thursday, Wilson called his outburst "spontaneous" and said he had apologized in a call to the White House.

"I taught Joe Wilson's kids. He is a good guy. I don't think this is in keeping with him," said Dave Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor who has known Wilson for years.

"He's a decent guy," Woodard added. "We all make mistakes, and I think he made a mistake."


Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson represents South Carolina's 2nd Congressional District, a California-shaped swath with population concentrated in Lexington County in the middle of the state but which stretches to Beaufort and Hilton Head Island in the southeast corner. The district has been represented by Republicans since 1965, according to OpenCongress.org.

Thirty-year congressman Floyd Spence designated Wilson, a former state senator, as his heir apparent. The former aide to the late conservative Sen. Strom Thurmond and lawyer in the Reagan administration succeeded Spence in 2001, and voters have retained him since.

"For eight years during the Bush administration, he was a pretty reliable supporter of the president and his policies, and he toes the Republican line pretty much right according to their platform," said John O'Connor, who covers politics for The State newspaper in the capital, Columbia.

Wilson was re-elected in 2008 with about 54 percent of the vote, matching Sen. John McCain's percentage in the presidential race in the 2nd District, according to Congressional Quarterly.

Wilson is a "far-right Republican," according to an analysis of bill sponsorships by the independent Web site Govtrack.us, which also calls him a leader based on other members' support for legislation he sponsors.

Wilson has sponsored 119 bills and seen one become law, according to Govtrack. He serves on three committees: Armed Services, Education and Labor, and Foreign Affairs.

"I think he feels the way a lot of people in South Carolina feel about [health reform]," O'Connor said. "They're suspicious. They're worried. There's some fear out there about what could happen."

In the hours after Wilson's catcall, $200,000 in campaign contributions poured in for Rob Miller, his Democratic opponent in the last and next
election, according to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

"Representative Wilson's behavior tonight exemplifies everything that is wrong in Washington," Miller said in a statement. "Instead of engaging in childish name-calling and disrespecting our commander-in-chief, Joe Wilson should be working towards a bipartisan solution that makes quality, affordable health care available to each and every South Carolinian."

Nevertheless, Wilson has little to worry about in South Carolina, Woodard said.

"That's going to be a real hard seat [for Miller] to win, even if he has"

raised a lot of money, Woodard said. "They may get rid of Joe, but it won't be over this."

Miller reported $96,000 in contributions, including about $24,000 from himself, in his most recent Federal Election Commission filing. Five
individuals, including three named Miller, had donated $2,400 each.

Wilson reported raising $284,000 in the current election cycle. His top individual contributor is the American Hospital Association's political action committee, which gave him $7,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The "health professionals" industry has contributed $19,000, the center reported.

The Center for Responsive Politics gives Wilson a strong 99.6 percent rating for personal financial disclosure.

He is a veteran of the South Carolina National Guard.

All four of Wilson's sons are Eagle Scouts and military veterans. The eldest, Alan, is running for South Carolina attorney general in 2010 and has a good chance to win, Woodard said.

The Clemson professor said he's troubled by the lack of decorum Wilson's outburst typifies.

"This town meeting atmosphere of extremism and lack of respect bothers me," he said. "Seems like we're living in uncivil times. The emotion of this issue has been pretty intense this summer, and this is an extension of that."

– CNN's Ed Hornick contributed to this report.


Filed under: Joe Wilson
soundoff (248 Responses)
  1. VGal

    This man is an ADULT. I expect that behavior from my 3 year old – but NOT EVEN my 5 year old yells at me like that. It's not appropriate and we are sending a bad message to our children to say it is OK.

    This country has free speech. It is a constitutional right. However, it is a moral and ethical obligation to show decency. If everyone behaved like this in Congress (Dems and Repubs) – nothing would ever be accomplished.

    He gets PAID to be a congressman and represent the American people with dignity. He should and WILL be fired.

    September 10, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  2. GA.

    Who care about what Joe Wilson did in his life or how much money he have gave or raised ,It's all about respect when some one is talking .
    There are rules you must follow ,Wake up its a new day...

    September 10, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  3. VGal

    Oh and BTW – the majority of Americans voted Obama in as President. So, to disrespect our democratically elected Commander in Chief is an affront to ALL Americans.

    September 10, 2009 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  4. mo

    What are childish behavior is this? We are in a civilized country with a respect to the head of the state.

    September 10, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  5. duffey

    Joe Wilson is not a decent guy who had a lapse of judgement in heckling the President of the United States. He is a Southern bigot who can't stand a black man leading this country. He is in "bad company" with the white GOP Congressmen and Senators who belong to the same club. Unforntunaly this group of elected bigots come from all over our nation.

    Pull out your white robe Joe, you just exposed yourself and your GOP colleges.

    September 10, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  6. Sharon

    Although I disagree with Representative Wilson, i don't think that this is the kind of man who would intentionally be disrespectful. Most of us have said and done things at inappropriate times and i think that this is just one of those moments.

    September 10, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  7. sarahinfla

    A lock? That what a whole lot of americans thought about white males that ran for the presidency.... White male always had a lock on it....... Piss the people off enough and watch that lock turn into the change you love to hate...

    September 10, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  8. bern

    There is nothing "decent" about a rude, lying "conservative" who will not respect the office of the president. Nothing at all.

    September 10, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  9. Fred the Moderate

    Ya, real decent? It's these decent guys that hung innocent people from trees. It's these good guys that have taken steps to push us back into the dark ages.

    There is nothing decent about him in any way shape or form. He acted just like the ignorant that show up at town hall meets. They have convenced themselves on lies fed to them and they will never change.

    We need to keep moving forward and if these decent guys want to remain in the dark ages, I believe we should leave them there.

    September 10, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  10. Clint

    If he was a decent guy, he would call a news conference and admit that he embarrassed the President and Congress and that his behavior was unacceptable and a bad example of how to participate in a democracy.

    September 10, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  11. jason

    good job wilson!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! about time someone stood up to the morons in washington

    September 10, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  12. Lois Joseph

    Is this the Joe Wilson that did not want the kids in the schools to see or listen to President Obama speech!
    Well the kids were watching last night !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ( JOE )
    what do you tell them. What away to go!

    LOIS
    FROM Thibodaux, LA

    September 10, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  13. Anonymous

    Yeah right :)

    September 10, 2009 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  14. Unlock this loser!

    It's lamebrains like this who have a "lock" on their district & don't have to behave with common decency who give Congress a bad name. Please SC vote this idiot out!

    September 10, 2009 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  15. Paul Dobro

    A lock? He won last time at something near 54% to 45%, a fall from being in the 60s previously. The worst part is he choose one ofthe most solidly proven falsehoods of the reform bills,

    NONE OF THE BILLS UNDER CONSIDERATION CHANGE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS CURRENT HEALTH CARE.

    The worst part is the way the GOP approached this is the way they looked. A bunch of older, white man laughing, hissing, booing, shouting out, and holding up hand made signs.

    Yea, thats a real solution to our troubles!!!!!

    September 10, 2009 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  16. Vincent Richie

    i am not surprised by his otburst I grew up in Seneca SC and Toccoa Ga and that is the general attitude a lot of the people in that area. Old habits die hard.

    September 10, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  17. kgeukes Michigan

    If he is so righteous maybe he needs to resign after the disgracefull display of temper he showed to the President of the US. I know you won't post this...CNN is getting as bad as Fox noise.

    September 10, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
  18. susie

    I remember when the Democrats booed Bush and Reid called Bush a liar. I guess the Democrats have a short memory

    September 10, 2009 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  19. M Patterson

    Once again the GOP uses a "planted heckler" to take the news away from a magnificent speech that served to dispel rumors and lies. If not , why has this been the lead story?

    September 10, 2009 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  20. Brain Dead in Ohio

    A lock on the district provided he acts as the district would so choose. Effectively his whole district, at once, stood up and yelled "You lie," during the President's address.

    As their representative, Wilson has represented his constituency as adults with a three-year-old's manners and candor.

    September 10, 2009 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  21. welches, oregon

    Well Republicans, congratulations – you have another Joe in your midst.

    JOE THE CLOWN

    Decent guy? Are you kidding me. ANYBODY that calls your sitting President a liar in front of the entire country and then sends a 'written' apology is no Statements.

    wilson is Joe the Clown now.

    September 10, 2009 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  22. Expat American

    That's it. Bring up this scumbag's kids to cover up the fact that he's a brash, belligerent, babbling, unread fool...sounds like someone else we know all too well.

    Did Wilson show off his stuff in a pageant bikini 25 years ago as well? Is he folksy and easy to understand for us 'Country Ferrrst Amuricans'?

    September 10, 2009 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  23. Flash in the Pan

    I just donated to Wilson's campaign fund...And it took me a while to get through on the phone. The operator said they've been quite busy with donations today!

    September 10, 2009 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
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