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. single mom

    Yeah, I know – yesterday I said I was going to watch the baseball game. But what's going on is more important (I mean, who is really going to catch the Yanks?)
    When I heard the shout, I nearly dropped my glass. I couldn't believe anyone could be so publically disrespectful to the President. There are certain things that are JUST NOT DONE. Period.

    September 10, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  2. southerncousin

    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.

    This comment explains everything about this idiot's outrageous behavior. If South Carolina is dumb enough to vote him in again they deserve what they get. I like the idea of boycotting all SC businesses and tourism in the state to get the point across.

    September 10, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  3. Tristan

    He was merely having flashbacks to some of the whoppers that Bush told. Poor guy, get him treatment.

    September 10, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  4. Deb (long island)

    We need to use Mr. Wilson as an example. We need to let all know it is not okay to disrespect the President. No matter your feelings he is our President. I am sick and tired of tuning into Fox News where Hannity, Beck and others rarely if ever, address the President as President Obama. He is usally called "Annointed One", Obama or "The Racist". The time has come to give him his respect. For eight years we dealt with President Bush. Now you all have to deal with President Obama who is doing a great job.

    September 10, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  5. VP

    As disrepctful as it was, somebody needs to call Obama Out. Being the biggest politician, does make him the biggest liar. He is a dope, to whom we need to say NOPE.

    September 10, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  6. Dennis

    This probably helped he re-election chances.

    September 10, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  7. dan acosta

    When will these people be held accountable? Noa a days you insult the president and all you need to do is apologize and everything is good. This guy needs to be sanctioned and made an example of. Bush had more reasons to upset folks but never was he insulted in this manner. Republicans are really creating a very negative atmosphere and it has to STOP!!!!

    September 10, 2009 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  8. PA Voter

    Usually polite or not, he made a buffoon of himself last night and embarassed the R party. Hisses have been heard before - but the booing was over the top. And, NEVER has a president been heckled on a national stage while speaking before the joint congress. There is a certain dignity expected of those in attendance whether you agree or not. He would have had ample time to rebut the President's comments. But now, he's just tossing out apology after apology. Idiot - he brought it on himself.

    September 10, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  9. rude and irrelevent - not me, the GOP

    It looks like the GOP is trying to bring their health care town hall tactics right into the oval office.

    It is obvious that the lack if bipartisanship is mainly the doing of the GOP.

    September 10, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  10. rta

    joe wilson and john boehner should be censure and voted out of office,

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

    Joe Wilson is a boring buffoon from a district where the federal pork barrel has been flowing for years but, that could stop in a hurry with such an idiot representing the district.

    Spontaneous my butt, Joe knows exactly what he is saying and by playing that Old South racism, Joe must think he's going somewhere.

    The Worlds changing Joe, get your head out of your butt and grow up now that we all know that your not a "Real English Lord".

    September 10, 2009 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  12. PaulC

    It was definitely not spontaneous in spite of Mr. Wilson's claim.
    I am absolutely amazed at the extreme hostility the right shows and I can only attribute it to racism. A large quantity of them just cannot wrap their mind around a black man as President and the Republican extremist are determined to bring Obama down even if it means damaging the country in the process. Talk about obsessed.

    September 10, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  13. Wise Latina

    Dems booed and heckled Bush when he spoke to Congress. Obama said that President Clinton lied. These loony lib hypocrites and their state-controlled media cohorts always want it both ways, as usual. Of course, Wilson did NOT lie, but was perhaps indiscreet.

    That is absolutely no reason, then, to adopt Obama's seriously flawed program. The decision should be based on the merits of the program, or in this case, the lack thereof...

    September 10, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  14. KK

    Is there something in the water in South Carolina?

    September 10, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  15. Brian

    Smooth move, Bubba. You can kiss your political career goodbye. There's a time & a place for vigorous debate, but not during a presidential address to the joint members of Congress. Helllooooo.

    September 10, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  16. Robin

    Desperate Republican Right Wing losers have been encouraging the stupid and the gullible to go to their town meetings and disrespect the speakers there. Now they disrespect the President during his speech in front of the whole world on TV. These idiots are being seen for whom we always knew they were, rejects from the Jerry Springer Show.

    September 10, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  17. robert

    Decent guy? Looks more like some jerk screaming at the TV. Is that Archie Bunker? He better have something to say next year, because something tells me Miller will be the best funded democrat in that district ever.

    September 10, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  18. joyfuljoy

    As an ex-South Carolinian, I occasionally go back to visit some relatives and they are just as racist and ignorant of the world around them as they were when I was a child. I remember when I would be asked to work at the 'colored' hospital and there would be no linen etc. for these patients. I was even told to use one washcloth for all of the 7 patients I was caring for. We were not allowed to call them Mr., Mrs. or Miss....we had to call 80 year old ladies by their first name which I refused to do. In S.C., white folks still refuse to admit that black folks have any dignity.

    September 10, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  19. annie s

    He was disrespectful and showed he has no interest in engaging in the civil discourse that might actually get something done on behalf of the American people. Sorry to say, Joe Wilson solidified my opinion of Republican politicians – ill informed, sensationalist, angry and out of touch with reality.

    September 10, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  20. Vince

    He sounded just like all of the paid people at the Townhall meetings.

    September 10, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  21. Time for Healthcare Reform

    I guess we know how he (Mr. Wilson)really feels now. How dare that uppity you know what (Obama) tell him how we will reform healthcare.

    Mr. Wilson showed his true colors just like most of the Republicans.

    The people of this country want change..... That's what we voted for.

    September 10, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  22. Esteban Dabdoub

    I'm saddened by the lies the Republicans have been promoting as facts regarding Mr. Obama's speeches to students and his health care reform, I voted for John McCain because I felt he had more experience to be able to clean-up the mess left behind by W and Cheney, McCain lost and Obama has been elected and as an American Citizen I support my President. It's embarrassing for the USA to have a Republican elected official be disrespectful to the man who holds the highest office in the USA. We need to show unity before the world because we are very much hated thanks to Bush and the rest of the Republicans who have as a group put us in peril worldwide.

    September 10, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  23. Liliana, FL

    Finally, a politician that tells the truth!

    September 10, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  24. I used to be a Democrat

    This is not a big deal at all. Have y'all ever seen Great Britain's government?

    September 10, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  25. Lisa P

    Sorry but "decent guys" don't lie about their opponent's positions or question their integrity and intentions. Republicans, on the other hand, seem to be making a lies, insults and misrepresentations a specialty. So call Joe Wilson a Republican, but never a "decent guy."

    September 10, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
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