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. Kelly

    Joe Wilson is nothing but a thug exemplifying the ugly and ignorant mob mentality.

    When I visited Congress in high school there were two well-stated rules. Be quiet and be respectful. If high schoolers can understand these simple rules of conduct, why can't an adult who is member of Congress.

    Enjoy your fifteen minutes of fame, Joe. It's all you deserve.

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

    What is the big deal he was just calling it the way he sees it. It was a speech full of half truths and false deception without any solid foundation, once again the liberals rise to their master, the Usurper in Chief.

    September 10, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  3. Librarian

    That decent guy is a cretin.

    September 10, 2009 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  4. Tired

    His rude comment is part of the tenor of the talk against this President and the administration. The Republicans have been in an "anything goes" mode and this is just another example. As long as you criticize, belittle or try to denigrate this President you are OK with the GOP. Rush may have started it but it has spread among the hatemongers. Previous Republican presidents would be appalled by the actions of current party members.

    September 10, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |

    A decent guy? WHO has government "health insurance"? The
    very best insurance plan Taxpayers can buy!!!!!!!

    Folks, we pay for this guy's healrh insurance.

    And, Cantor, on his blackberry? Wait til the rest of the photos
    come out in the media!!!!!

    Were these guys sitting at attention when Pres. Bush talked of
    TWO WARS!!!!!!! I think so!!! And what is the cost of these wars,
    killing our soldiers??????????????????

    This whold Republican "fiasco" this summer is continuing
    over during the NATIONALED speech of our sitting Pres?

    People are sick of the Republicans and their nasty comments!

    September 10, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  6. Video Guy

    He sounds like a real nice guy who will be looking for work next year. Maybe he can work for a former Gov.

    September 10, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  7. Cesar

    It is no surprise to me a republican white congressman would be disrespectful to the President. Didn't they all pass around a CD with racial innuendo against the President?

    I believe the Republicans are still in shock a black man is the President of The United States, and this can make them "spontaneous" or volatile...

    September 10, 2009 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  8. Cynthia

    Not only was this idiot out of line, but looking at the other republicians
    during the speech was down right terrible. The GOP has a real problem with the President and it showed last night all you had to do is look as the the cameraman pan around the room and the repubs were making all kind of faces, not to mention some were twittering, no respect. Thats why i wish President Obama would tell them to kick rocks and do this health reform just how he wants to.

    September 10, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  9. Donna from Colorado Springs

    Joe Wilson is just another example of Republican disregard for anyone who doesn't share his views on immigration or anything else. Not only did he embarrass himself, but he was an embarrassment to the entire room of people! I wish that his apology wasn't so quickly accepted, though. They should have let him twist in the wind for disrespecting the president as well as the speech! This, to me, shows that there is NO WAY that any Republican will go along with ANYTHING that President Obama wants. The bunch of them sat in chambers all sour faced and with a defiant look on their faces. What a bunch of spoiled children!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 10, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  10. Just sayin'

    Sure it was disrespectful for Wilson to call out "liar" ... but at least he apologized. That was good. I think he really believed Obama was lying though ... maybe we should be asking him why he believed that.

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

    Wilson's outburst was a perfect example of the paranoia and fear that grips the fanatical factions of the Republican party. And what is that fear. It is the fear that the rest of America is starting to see them for who they really are. A bunch of people who are more concerned that their beliefs be considered the model for all behavior, when they should be concerned with what is right for the American people. I think the more level headed Republicans will realize that they can get their good ideas into this legislation, and thus create a plan that will work. I expect the fanatics to keep up their campaign of fear-mongering and lying. Did you see the Republican response to the speech. If you didn't know better, you would have thought that the speaker had not even listened to the President's speech (he probably didn't). He made the same tired charges about the plan that the President had dispelled moments before. We have to come to grips with the fact that there will be a faction of Republicans that will not agree to any reform to healthcare under any circumstances.

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

    Yeah, with republicans it is always a "mistake" just like the moron from Florida who formented about indoctrinating America's youth by encouraging to take their education seriously. Wilson has taken tens of thousands of dollars from the various industries involved in health insurance and as a career politician should have control over his emotions in this setting. He is an arrogant bore who has a deep feeling of animosity and displayed a total disrespect for the office of the President of the United States.

    I wonder how many of these clowns have a deep jealousy of not only how much President Obama has achieved in his life and how well he can speak from his head and his heart. Incredible what a great orator one can be when you truly beieve in the words yoy speak. No Republican "leader" can come close because the intentions are not patriotic or based on ideals and values but totally on the thirst for power.

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

    Way to toe the party line, Mr. Woodard. If Rep. Wilson is considered "decent" after the disgraceful dishonesty in such a disrespectful manner, many Americans would not want to see the interpretation of "immorally rude."

    Rep. Wilson does not belong in public office any longer with that kind of disruptive lack of civility. My home-state of SC deserves better than the nonsense from Wilson and Sanford.

    September 10, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  14. Sam

    No one on CNN remembers how the Demos booed President
    Bush a number of times while he gave a speech like this....
    wonderful where your memory is......duh!!!!????

    September 10, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  15. Concerned Alaskan

    Just goes to show how far we have to go in this country. For the President of the United States to be heckled during a speech by a Representative is not only bad manners, but shows that this person does not think he needs to show respect for the highest office in the nation. Pathetic! Is this really what we want our children to learn? I think Wilson needs lessons in manners, respect and tolerance.

    September 10, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  16. matt


    John Boener just read the part of the bill that SPECIFIED coverage of illegal immigrants. Obama is a liar.

    September 10, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  17. Liberal4Obama

    He might very well be a "good guy" but he certainly has NO respect for the office of the presidency and NO respect for the institution he represents, to sum it up he just doesnt belong in the US Congress.

    September 10, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  18. Georgian

    Calling the president a liar...

    Who's un-American now???

    September 10, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  19. Sammy

    AFTER reading the President's speech, I could NOT find a single thing that is wrong with what is being attempted...

    This could make GOP too crappy IF they JUST keep shouting like a party of Joes and Boehners with a NO but do not ensure that nothing wrong gets in here ..... I am losing most of my faith now in this party and leadership – by all means, if nothing improves and they still come up with leaders like Palin, it would be extinct in another 4 years (sorry)!!

    September 10, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  20. Lilarose

    Wilson's "lock-ee-poo" isn't going to be so solid!

    I am contributing $10 his opposition's campaign!

    September 10, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  21. Judy and Ron

    Baa Hum Bug! Let's analyze this a little bit. Mr. Wilson disrepected our president by this 2 word outburst, we can agree on that. BUT where is the outrage and disgust for our president lying or total ignorant on the statements he made to millions last night. How any intelligent person would think we need to COMPLETELY overhaul our healthcare system to supposedly help 30 million uninsured (was 48 millions, but he has already backtracked on that), and spend 1 trillion dollars to do it, WAKE UP you sad sheep to slaughter. We haven't heard a word of that outrage and disgust or calling for his resignation.

    September 10, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  22. VON BISMARK -Vienna

    If he is so decent then race and not anything else was the cause of the outburst.

    September 10, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  23. RDS

    It's amazing how none of these Republicans can present one stinking fact to back up their claim that this bill will cover illegal aliens, not one. They keep saying read the bill (or proposal) b/c it's not a bill yet, but obviously they haven't read it in the 2 months its been available. Here's a news flash for ya...Illegals are already covered every time they go to the emergency room and can't be turned around. Let's work on finding solutions and stop acting like little kids at the playground.

    September 10, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  24. Ken

    Again, I want to personally thank the wilson's of SC, the kevin's of OH, and the doug's of NJ for the double digit jump in Obama's ratings and the 6 figure additions to [D] campaign coffers. You neo-morons, with your juvinile witless behavior and lack of intellectual integrity, are simply the BEST! Keep up the good work…..we on the outside love getting a glimpse inside the pathetic fantasy world of the rightwing…..and having gained a glimpse of it, most people with brains will indeed contribute to politicians that will help us all avoid it.

    September 10, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  25. Chris - Seattle

    This is what this dipstick claims Obama lied about!

    At present, federal law allows funding for abortions in cases of rape, incest and protecting the life of the mothers. And, that won't change under health reform.

    President Obama has made clear before that "nobody is talking about changing" the Hyde Amendment, which allows funding for abortions in those specific instances. A health care amendment passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in July specified that federal funding of these three procedures would be permitted in the proposed health insurance exchange.

    Maybe Joe "dipstick" Wilson wants the Hyde Amendment changed with healthcare reform. He's going to his constituents to preach that it's going to cover abortions and not explain the facts and details. This is the type of poop that leads certain dimwitted Americans by the nose!

    September 10, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
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