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. Sheryl

    Who Mr Nasty!!!!!! I don't buy it he has done this before!!!!

    September 10, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  2. angie

    Wow South Carolina. How embarrassing for you:(

    September 10, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  3. Mike

    Yes he made a mistake, he opened his mouth.......but the previous president who we all knew told us the American people numerous lies........Wilson kept his mouth closed..........and that makes him a Hypocrite and a coward!!!!!!!!!

    September 10, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  4. Where is the truth???

    CNN where us the ACORN stories???

    1) Federal and state authorities in Miami are still searching for five of the 11 people suspected of falsifying information on hundreds of voter registration cards

    2) The Video of them helping an undercover person to set up a prostitution ring????

    This group is able to get BILLIONS in stimulus money!!

    Stop being so protective of these people!

    September 10, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  5. Dan

    Did anyone check to see how much Wilson raised in the hours following the speech?

    September 10, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  6. bess

    Way to go Joe!

    September 10, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  7. They call me "Tater Salad"

    "He's a decent guy"? Give me a break! He's a mentally challenged, narrow minded, right wing conservative hack, trying desperately to get his name in lights so he can become the next GOP "flavor of the week"! His retarded outburst is par for the course as far as what we've all come to expect from from the Christian conservative mafia that is the Republican party! So, you can choose to spray all of the "air freshener" you want on this turd, but, at the end of the day he still stinks like a turd!

    September 10, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  8. Amy

    I don't think Rep Wilson would have been so disrespectful had President Obama been white. Wilson used to work for Strom Thurmond, a known racist, so I would be shocked if race didn't factor in to this. His disrespect for the office is disgusting, his disrespect for the man, unforgivable.

    He apologized because he was told to do so by his party leaders, not because he sees anything wrong with his behavior.

    September 10, 2009 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  9. Carnell

    Congressman Joe Wilson (R)-South Carolina Is A Prime Example Of Politicians Who Get ReElected And Recycled Through The Rubber Stamp Society Of People Who Always Vote The Same Way All The Time. In Fairness, He's Not The Only Politician Like That.

    September 10, 2009 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  10. NH Independent

    He may have apologized but HE spoke the truth.........Obama's speech was uninspiring and full of half truths

    September 10, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  11. susanj

    He said it because he's a racist. plain and simple. Racist's don't respect black people. plain and simple. He should resign. He's a disgrace to the State of South Carolina and to this Country and to Congress. The fact that he had to sit there and listen to this man (who happens to be our first black American President), he just couldn't restrain himself any longer. The racists in this country and in the GOP are using the health care debate to rail against a black man being the President. By the way, I'm not black. I'm as white as white can be and it makes me sick the way that our President is being disrespected. Constantly disrespected because of the color of his skin.

    September 10, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  12. TJ WILLIAMS

    If he's such a "decent" guy then you should have no problem finding him a job at Clemson. He'll need it because I will join millions of others helping to defeat him in the upcoming campaign. As far as I'm concerned his "apology" was fake and he is an embarrassment the the U.S. Congress.

    September 10, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  13. David Newport, OR

    mistake? No...he is simply an idiot showing his true colors. A perfect example of the problem in this country.

    September 10, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  14. jay from jersey

    Keep your mouth shut until after the President is finished. THEN, heckle him all you want and not on national TV Mr. "What I Didn't Find in Africa"

    September 10, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    funny how all these people are defending a person, a Republican for acting like a juvenile because he is not getting his way....he should have been removed from hearing the rest of the speech. If this had been a Democrat acting like that....they would have removed him...he thinks an apology is all he needs to do and than people will forget all about it....I could not stand Pres. Bush...but even I would have thought it disrespectful if someone had called him a liar in an address...even though his 8 years in the White house was a big lie...

    September 10, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  16. Stacy from Leesburg, VA

    I am sure Mr. Wilson is 'a descent guy’; He just made one of the biggest political decorum blunders in the history of the United States. The American South is supposed to be a bastion of manners and grace and I would have expected more from a son of South Carolina. Mr. Wilson’s outburst just shows how far civility has sunk into the Potomac River since the start of the Bush-Clinton regimes.

    September 10, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  17. rjd

    I'm sure I'm correct that all of them were given written copies of Obama's speech prior to his speaking. Therefore, I cannot believe this was a spontaneous outburst, but a calculated disruption knowing when Obama would make the statement regarding not covering illegals. Shame on you, Wilson, your behavior shall not be forgotten.

    September 10, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  18. Laura

    His actions were deplorable – his apology sounded less than sincere, more like it was ordered by Republican Leadership. What I want to know is what is behind elected politicians believing it is ok to treat this President with such utter disrespect...is it because he refuses to accept him as President and if that's the case he should be voted out of office.

    September 10, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  19. Frank

    did you Dems realize your party booed and jeered Bush??

    Im sure your not being hypocritical

    September 10, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  20. T'SAH from Virginia

    Woodard – YOU LIE!!!

    September 10, 2009 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  21. lyn

    Woodard, stop making excuses for this man Wilson, last night he has demonstrated what the Republicans has been preaching to the seniors and the people at the town hall meetings with lies faults rumors to stop the health care reform. This childish name calling, and disrespecting our Commander-in-chief is disgusting, and shameful. " SHAME ON YOU REPUBLICANS" we want health care now, and Republicans you can't stop us it will happen this year with or without your help.

    September 10, 2009 02:37 pm at 2:37 pm |
  22. Gypsy Moth

    What was decent about his display? Obviously he is not really what people thought he was, he's a pretty crass fellow.

    America is decaying from the inside out, we need a better CLASS of Americans.

    September 10, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  23. victim of republican greed

    Joe Wilson, a man with a lock on his district, and is accountable to no one. Kind of like Sanford.

    This does not say much for the state that started the civil war, and is apparently, still fighting it.

    September 10, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  24. vette gal

    Are all our politicians children? This is the way children act when they're unhappy, not adults!

    September 10, 2009 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  25. Chris in SC

    Solid lock?

    In the 2008 general election, Wilson won 54% of the vote to Rob Miller's 46%, the closest race in the district in 20 years.

    Surely, Joe helped Rob's 2010 challenge with yesterday's childish outburst!

    Rob Miller raised close to $200,000 after Obama's speach!!

    September 10, 2009 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
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