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. Party Purity will never bring Political Power!

    "Exuberance"?

    If a Democratic representative had called the shrub a "liar", the secret CIA Cheney "death panel" would have taken care of the offender and the conservatives would still be harping about the "disrespect shown to the highest office in this great country"!

    Censure would seem mild treatment for the redneck, compared to the Cheney option.

    September 10, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  2. Paul Lennon

    Do it like the Brits do it.

    "Bad form old boy"

    More of this to come from an angry nation

    September 10, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  3. Truth

    Sanford is a decent man too. What church do these people belong to?

    September 10, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  4. Rob in Detroit Mi.

    descent no this guy is scum!

    September 10, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  5. windrider

    I'm sure it was spontaneous. I don't think he rehearsed it. But his "lock" on his district may have come unlocked. I contributed to his opponent as have many others. Even for spontaneous conduct, there are consequences.

    September 10, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  6. Mike R

    You mean the President said something this Senator didn't want to hear? What better way to react than having a tantrum in public and denying the obvious?

    September 10, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  7. Hislastyear

    CNN every time you expect plenty of flack you close the blog or remove the real truth

    September 10, 2009 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  8. T

    I'm only 40 years old but NEVER in my life have I saw so much disrespect fo the "office" of the President of the United States and it has ALLOT to do with his race, not his politics. President Obama has been expected to undo almost 20 years of bad politics in less than a year. Our former Commander-In-Chief ran amuck for 8 years seemingly unquestioned/un-checked but they can't even give President Obama a year. They've been out to destroy him from day one and it makes our country look VERY BAD internationally. We try to tell other countries how to make their countries better and ours is getting worse. No unity, just division.

    September 10, 2009 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  9. wood

    "Mistake"? is that what we call it now??

    September 10, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  10. John, Brooklyn, New York

    When will South Carolina get its political act together? They've been embarrassing us in the eyes of the world since the Civil War!

    September 10, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  11. Wanda J. Brown

    This fool did not make a mistake. and further more he has done this before according to factcheck.com. SO, it is obvious that the respect he would expect does not apply to the President of the United States.
    I guess the "trailer park mentality" of south carolina is alive and well.
    No wonder sanford doesn't see a need to leave. Wilson should have
    just put on a white hood, he could at least say he thought Halloween
    was early this year. What a hillbilly!

    September 10, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  12. Paul

    Joe Wilson from South Carolina, is just another good old boy where in the morning these married men preach to you that there should be prayer in our schools and in the evening they are on their cell phones setting up a date with their other women on the side, hypocrisy has been bred in. I am not surprised that he felt compel to yell like he was at some Friday night game. He is a hater not a debater like most of his side of the isle.

    September 10, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  13. Buffalo

    Joe Wilson to President Obama: "You lie!"

    Me to Joe Wilson: "You ass!"

    Three letter words are the best.

    September 10, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  14. sir magneto

    Quite clearly he should resign.

    September 10, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  15. Ken in NC

    Rep. Wilson, you claimed that your outbreak last night was spontaneous. Mr. Wilson, "You Lie". You said what you meant and you meant what you said. How do we know this? We know this because you made the statement that you were called and told to apologize. Had your outburst not been intentional, you would have apologized with out being prompted to do so.

    I am glad you had your out burst as it sheds the light of day on you and shows the people of SC what they have representing them. Some will support you but others that feel you were disrespectful will no longer support you.

    September 10, 2009 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  16. mjm

    "Biggest disappointment of evening, the total lack of respect show by one member for the president," wrote Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.

    The biggest disappointment of the evening was that the bill hadn't changed. It was the same bill we didn't like in August. Only this time it sounded worse.

    It's disappointing that the president didn't listen to the people.

    didn't the President say he was backing off the public option? He sounded like a liar to me.

    Anybody ever call Bush a liar? Didn't think so.

    When the democrats, like Van Jones, claim that the government was behind 911...That's not a lie...Huh?

    September 10, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  17. Shari, NY

    It seems to me that the red states are ironically proving to be the demise of the Republican party. My goodness, not only does South Carolina have the Sanford saga hanging over their heads, but now comes this "foot in the mouth" drama which will undboutedly have Wilson's cronies coming to the fore to do damage control. Again, I ask (for the 5th time), how are you doing South Carolina?

    September 10, 2009 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  18. Nat Turner

    "Spontaneous?" I think not. This clown had planned to be singled out with his remark. There were two distinct outbursts, and you could barely him in the first one. Since he was not heard over his fellow repubs, he repeated his phrase, "you lie" even louder. In his quest for attention and accolades from his South Carolina constituents, he exposed his ignorance, immaturity, lack of decorum and disrespect for the President. If you do not respect President Obama, at least have the decency to respect the office of the president.

    September 10, 2009 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  19. LYNETTE IN CA

    He shouted it with complete and utter passion! He meant every word of it! What is this thing with the repugs when they say one thing, act like no one heard them say it, then try to beg forgiveness? However, I guess there's a lobbyist who paid for that comment so someone had to yell it.

    BTW, so what you taught his kids! What does that have to do with the idiot they call dad.

    September 10, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  20. Deuce

    True Feelings run deep. You should embrace these people, who speak out from the heart. May be they see the dangers other dont.

    I know I do.

    September 10, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  21. MARKPAIN

    If this long serving congressman cannot exhibit proper behaviour when the tv cameras are on I wonder how he acts when they are off. I did not vote for Obama but this was about as obscene as it can get. (I hope)

    September 10, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  22. Billy Ray Valentine -- Capricorn

    What's funny is how the truth squad is out today? Why isn't there a truth squad to debunk ALL the misinformation the GOP distortions?

    September 10, 2009 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  23. Angela in Denver

    Good person.....he could use a little home training.

    September 10, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  24. kd

    If Wilson has a lock on the district then I feel sorry for the people in that district. How can anybody be so absolutely ignorant of the plain facts regarding the health care proposals related to illegal immigrants. Wilson is the one who is lying. That's bad enough. If he still doesn't think he's lying then he's incredibly stupid. Either way, he has no business in Congress.

    September 10, 2009 03:27 pm at 3:27 pm |
  25. Ken in NC

    WOW Mr. Wilson. I just posted a comment and then found that your antics last night not only raised $200,000.00 for Mr. Miller but later found this afternoon that he has now raised a total of $400,000.00 because of your spontaneous outburst. You, Mr. Wilson are now classified along with former Gov. Sarah Palin and one of the top two fund raisers for the DNC and the Democratic Party. Thank You Mr. Wilson for your work on our behalf.

    September 10, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10