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

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

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="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

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, 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. Soaponarope

    I'm sure the president will accept his apology because he is more of a decent guy than Wilson.

    September 10, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  2. Mike

    Wilson simply stated what millions of Americans believe. While it was a bit disrespectful, Wilson was exercising his freedom of speech and taking an opportunity to challenge the false claims of this administration (bolstered by the extremely liberal and blind main stream media).

    On a separate but much more important note, "IT'S THE ECONOMY STUPID"! Isn't that what Obama platformed on? Under the false mantra of change? We have the highest unemployment rate in 26 years (and continuing to rise) and the government is wasting all of their time on an issue that isn't even at the top of the list of priorities for Americans.

    September 10, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  3. Clay

    Wilson, a colonel in the Army Reserve, should immediately be retired at the rank of second lieutenant for flagrant disrespect of his commander in chief. He should also be censured by Congress and removed from all committees and positions of responsibility. Finally, he should resign. Maybe take some time and go hiking the Appalachian Trail with Sanford and reflect upon the qualities of civility and fidelity that we expect from our so-called leaders...

    September 10, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  4. Richie

    Joe Wilson is just very afraid of a black man in the White House. That is all it is, just pure subconscious racism.

    September 10, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  5. Elizabeth in Texas

    CNN covering for shameless people again. What's next? What does Palin think of Wilson? WHO CARES! How you act shows who you are!

    September 10, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  6. Kevin in Ohio

    I hope the DNC pumps alot of money in wont do them any good.

    September 10, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  7. Typical Republican

    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.

    Yea, because South Carolina education is among the worst in the nation, we don't care if our elected officials are morons! So take that all you smart people (aka Democrats), us retards will continue to elect Retards! We like our leaders DUMB AS DIRT in the republican party!

    September 10, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  8. GI Joe

    OH – so all of SC and the USA are stuck with this piece of trash because he lives at Hilton Head with his wealthy executive friends? Don't be so sure.

    September 10, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  9. makesUwonder

    At least Rep. Joe Wilson had the guts to say what many in Congress feel and he certainly had the guts to say what millions of Americans feel.

    September 10, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  10. Ray

    I demand of the Republicans what the Republicans demanded for the last 8 years - RESPECT THE PRESIDENT. If you don't, then you're unamerican.

    September 10, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  11. Elizabeth in Texas

    CNN doing the dirty work of Republicans. I think that CNN underestimates that the American people can use Google and learn about this Wilson character on our own.

    September 10, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  12. J.S.

    REP. Wilson probably just misspoke like Biden has done so many times...Even the first lady has misspoken a time or too.
    If there is no requirement to show proof of citizenship, then how will illegals be exempt???

    September 10, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  13. geecee

    Mr. Wilson may have spoken out spontaneously and been overcome with emotion and just could not control himself– even before a joint session of Congress, but what about all the lies the Republicans constantly agree with from their constituents at these town hall meetings – the very lies that President Obama was attempting to refute? None of them even stood up to their brain dead constituents when they accuse Obama of not being an American citizen; they just let it slide and ignore the distortions of truth, they don't get all self-righteous and insist on correcting the stupid morons who continuously spout this garbage. Guess they are able to control themselves completely when the "lies" don't concern them and only destroy someone else's reputation and character! Then lies are okay.

    September 10, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  14. Bluebonnet

    The man is correct – Obama is a liar. As for all the faux disdain toward him and against Republicans, shaming him for his action. All of you idiots need to check out the video of Bush's 2005 speech to Congress – the democrats booed him! You big bunch of hypocritical idiots!

    September 10, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  15. blair

    Why do not we Not apologize any more for telling the truth. He obama needs to apologize to the people of the United States for "his lies".

    September 10, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  16. VB Lincoln Park NJ

    When you consider the source, you realize that HE is the liar, and his comments are unworthy of any response.

    September 10, 2009 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  17. Doug, New Jersey

    Multiple Democrats yelled Liar at Bush during his 2005 State of the Union Speech, they never apologized.

    One Republican said this correctly, unlike the Democrats, and he has already apologized.

    Just read the ticker, you see the truth clearly. Almost every Democrat in America is a hateful, partisan, dishonest, selfish being that is truly only concerned with itself and its blind hate-based support of Liberalism.

    Obama could call for the execution of every Conservative in America and no doubt that a majority of Democrats would fully support it. See, Conservatives and Independents see real terrorists like the ones on 9/11 as our enemies, while liberals see every person who doesn't swallow their kool-aid and blindy support Obama as theirs. It is no wonder that a guy who thinks Bush did 9/11 was hand picked by Obama to be one of his socialist czars.

    September 10, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  18. JP

    Probably another so called "family values" con as well.

    September 10, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  19. Joe in Austin

    he's done it before

    September 10, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  20. Chip

    CNN, a bit of decorum please. Even though you might find what Rep. Wilson did, to use the headline you have "Heckler Wilson" is tantamount to someone else using "Liar Obama". By doing so, you have not elevated the level of debate to a civil discourse. Do what your president asks.

    September 10, 2009 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  21. Nothing 'Stand Up' about Sen. John Ensign (R-NV)

    Pathetic. CNN is reporting that Wilson double swears that the outburst was spontaneous and not at all staged. I believe that like I believe David Vitter (R-LA), John Ensign (R-NV), Larry Craig (R-Idaho), and Mike Duvall (R-CA) when they proclaim to their voters that they are paragons of family values.

    Well, just like Republican politicians who wear phony "Family Values" badges to weasel up votes from so-called "values" voters, this outburst was most likely staged by the reckless Republican leadership to whip up their ignorant base and trick them into unwittingly fighting for the corporate profits of insurance companies, which have finally caused so much waste and abuse that they're breaking our health care system.

    Too bad the gambit backfired, for the insurance companies...

    September 10, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  22. franc

    God have eyes and ears Joe Wilson.

    September 10, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  23. J.S.

    The Rep. probably just misspoke like VP Biden has done so much and even the First Lady has misspoken.
    How will illegals not be covered if no proof of citizenship is required?

    September 10, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  24. AP in Illinois

    These are the same people that didn't think twice about Sarah Palin calling Obama a terrorist or Glenn Beck calling him a Nazi. Joe Wilson is not a 'decent' guy. Can you imagine if that was a Democrat who said that to a Republican President? The outrage and noise level would be off the charts.

    September 10, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  25. Kelby In Houston, Texas

    Joe Wilson is the liar.
    illegal immigrants will not be paid for with taxpayer money using this plan.
    His goal is to spread confusion with lies and end the healthcare debate.
    He is a member the GOP, a party that has clearly stated that they want Obama and subsequently America to fail.
    His decency and his patriotism is in question.

    September 10, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
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