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. JB - NYC

    Joe 'Galt' Wilson will be raking in Millions.. Thanks Joe

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

    I didn't get to watch the speech last night. I went to to get facts and what do I find but blaring headlines about some idiot shouting out at Obama from the floor. LIke this is news? Shame on you, CNN, for promoting non-news events. How about some facts from the speech? You made this idiot a sensation with your headline-grabbing coverage. is getting like conservative talk radio with its gossip-style approach. I want the facts.

    September 10, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  3. Peoples Voice

    Wilson reported raising $284,000 in the current election cycle. His top individual contributor is the American Hospital Association's political action committee.

    Another southern christian hypocrite who has prostituted himself to his big business masters. How can these people from the South ever claim to know anything about being a Christian? You all are nothing but big mouthed phonies.

    September 10, 2009 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  4. Patience

    I have no doubts he has a lock on his District. If the Govenor of this state is the quality of the rest of the trailer trash in that state. I am sure he will be re elected in a land slide. Why not throw a ticker tape parade for him when he come home for one of those southern tea parties.

    September 10, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  5. on the sc coast

    Geez louise! Another great South Carolinian.....Wilson may have had a solid lock on his district in the past, but I know I'm not the only one who is sick and tired of his arrogance and neo-con politics. We deserve better in this state. Let's get going and get of Wilson....I won't even dignify Sanford with a comment....

    September 10, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  6. Diego Aguirre

    How many times have we heard that so and so is a decent guy who made a mistake after the person in question has just shown himself to be crass and ill-behaved jerk? He embarrassed himself and the Republican party needed little help in further embarrassing itself. Millions of Americans can't afford to go to the doctor and the politicians cannot find a compromise? Shameful. I encourage everyone to get down to work finding solutions instead of trying to gain political advantage.

    September 10, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  7. Burns NH

    He did'nt throw a shoe did he,he merely stated a fact. He was
    threatend with words that he would pay dearly for his words. We have
    a first amendment for freedom of speech. Even the President should
    honor that.

    September 10, 2009 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  8. Emma

    Who is the liar here? It is time for Wilson to come up with some evidence about insurance for illegal immigrants before he falsely accuses. Some of the legislators and conservative media are acting like children. Imagine the crassness of Limbaugh to celebrate his prediction of Ted Kennedy's death instead of honoring the man. Actually, the comment was driven by his narcissism.

    September 10, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  9. Operation Crush Rush

    The faces of the repugs.Look at the two sniveling wimps on either side of him.hahaha

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

    He won't have a lock on his district for long, I will personally contribut to the Democrat that runs against him. Where was Wilson and the Tea folks when the 5 trillion dollar surplus was usurped? I didn't hear a peep out of any of the now very conscientious Republicans. I suspect that there is another reason these folks 'can't stand' and disrespect him as they do, and it has nothing to do about politics. Something that CNN would not dare touch-Um!

    September 10, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  11. have you heard

    his opponent for the 2010 election received over $274k just in the last few hours since his outburst –
    and that money is NOT from the health industry

    September 10, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  12. Gary

    Another shining example of why South Carolina ranks " worst " in all measurments of a state, Especially education.
    Sanford, DeMint, Graham and now this fool. Pure stupidity.

    September 10, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  13. charles pettway

    what are we teaching our kids,i watch the speech last night and certain individuals just sat there and sulk like this what we want our children to pattern their lives after?the conduct displayed by some in attendance last night was inexcusable,this man president obama holds the highest office in the country and was treated very rudely,none that displayed that displeasing attitude would there do so before a judge in a court of law.come on people if you dont like the man or his policies,then show respect for him and his office in public,in private do and say what you want.asn

    September 10, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  14. Tom

    This is a steep reminder of how far we have "not" come as a country. As a young lad growing up in the deep south in the 60's, the bitterness of today reminds me of the deep tension and dissent of the jim crow era. There is an ugliness in the air that you just can't put your finger on the pulse of it. I really feel that jim crow is alive and well.

    September 10, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  15. Farrell in Houston

    Joe Wilson is a "decent guy" with a mental problem, happens all the time.

    September 10, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  16. Andrew

    I don't care if someone thinks he is a decent guy.

    He boldly stood up and called the president out based on his own lies. In front of millions of Americans he misrepresented THE FACTS. To ignore the facts to pursue your own petty interests shows without a doubt that he is NOT a decent man at all.

    September 10, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  17. Tammy Decker

    Rep. Wilson was out of line with his outburst during Obama's speech, but in this volatile political climate he said what we are all thinking across America. Americans are becoming frustrated because the liberals in Washington just aren't listening!!!

    September 10, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  18. Jeff

    Representative Joe Wilson was within his rights to express his opinion, but his timing showed absolutely no class. This outburst broke all previous protocol. This grandstanding will only embolden those who (like me) are insisting health care reform be passed. I'm glad the insurance industry is finally concerned. They will learn that the health of U.S. citizens is OUR PRIORITY over their excessive profits for decades. And none of their scare propaganda, no matter how much they spend/ waste will change this.

    September 10, 2009 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  19. kevin

    what mistake? the president is a liar. A big liar at that, he lies about almost everything. And the reason this is being blown up so much??? you want to know why? because everyone knows its true and are trying to put Wilson down. thats the only reason. come out and tell the truth Barack, tell them that we will be covering illegals

    September 10, 2009 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  20. Republicans is smart in the head area

    Given that South Carolina elected Mark Sanford Governor, I can safely say that between him and Joe 'Liar' Wilson, they have the leadership they deserve and that is reflective of the constituency – poor, white and trashy. South Carolina – the first state to secede from the Union, the last state where anyone wants to be from.

    September 10, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  21. Rob

    Censure this guy now. Reform health care... WITH the public option!

    September 10, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  22. One Mad American

    Well let's judge him with the same stick he judges the president with Mr.Dave Woodard. ... because his actions speak louder than your words.

    September 10, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  23. Party Purity will never bring Political Power!

    Between this knuckle dragging redneck and Sanford, a travel alert needs to be issued for the safety of folks headed to visit

    Apparently, there is an epidemic of stupid and it is highly contagious!

    September 10, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  24. Rick W

    One word, IDIOT

    September 10, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  25. xcusme

    Say all you want about Joe Wison, he is rude, arrogant and stupid to yell out. This socalled "mistake" should cost him in the next election. If he really wanted to say he was sorry he go back on TV and say it to the nation. He's a good guy my butt. Save the crap for all who want to justify dispecting the Office of the President. This does not go away with oh im sorry i made a mistake. This will be remember... long down the road. He's toast.

    September 10, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
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