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. Iqbaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal

    WELCOME to Pakistan!!!!

    behaviors like these and in fact more than this the ones displayed in the townhalls by :vested interests" remind me that US is no longer the most advanced and "literate" country in the world!!!!

    Thanks again to Tea Party Party Expresses , Freedom "works", Sarah Palin – I feel very gooooooooooooooooooooooood that you LOST the right to look downwards to countrres like Iran and Pakistan etc...

    September 10, 2009 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  2. BLM

    The truth hurts...and Mr. Wilson was just saying what alot of people already know.

    September 10, 2009 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  3. Mel Bailey

    Joe Wilson is low. His behavior is all about him and the Republican spin machine in which his soul dwells. What bothers me most is that so many good people cannot see through their self-obsorbed and special interest ways. Are we that short sighted and lacking in ability to comprehend what is going on that so many are on the side of greedy insurance companies against our best interest. Wake up America. President Obama is really sincere about what is best for all of us.

    September 10, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  4. stormerF

    Joe Wilson is right,,, Obama lies,He lied about,no federal funds for Abortion, The Hyde Amendment will allow some funds for Abortion,He lied about Illegals not getting health care under the bill,Because there is no verification required for Resident Aliens to prove if they are legal or not.

    September 10, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  5. Casual Observer

    The speach was beautiful, composure maintained, unlike others in attendance that are thinking with feelings and not thier brains. I bet the so called middle of the road talk show host s will state "I stll don't know what president Obama's health care plane is, its not been laid out in a five bullet, highlighted, section or less that is easy for even me to understand!!!

    September 10, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  6. mjm

    I though wilson was talking about the whole seech....not just about illegals.

    I yelled "LIAR!" a lot more than Wilson. The whole speech was B.S.

    The Democrats are the ones who should be apologizing for that stupid bill and wasting our time.

    September 10, 2009 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  7. Leonard

    Decent guy Come on. Sen Wilson display last night was so disrespectful . There is a time and place to voice your opinion. Last night was not the time. Republican always say that this is America and were are not like other countries but last night all of them acted like they were in the British Parliment. This is America we act civilized.

    No mater what President Bush did and who diagreed with him he was not disrespected that like that. Sen Wilson should be fine and reprimanded by the Congress.

    We are Americans act like it people.

    September 10, 2009 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  8. Steve in Kentucky

    From: Assignment Desk

    To: CNN's Jim Kavanagh

    Assignment: Take a sympathetic look at the idiot who heckled President Obama last night. Find friends and admirers who will describe him as a "decent guy" or something like that. Get quotes that say he has a "lock" on his seat or something. Make it look hopeless that he'll ever be defeated.

    Bottom Line: We at CNN need to burnish this guy's image and fast! Fox News is way out ahead of us on this one.

    September 10, 2009 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  9. Bev

    One's behavior is something you choose, not something forced upon you, even in the heat of times. If grown men cannot conduct themselves in a resepctful manner in extreme disagreements, how can we expect the children to grow up and show civility when they face challenges. Kudos to senator John Mcain, a real class act, one of the few still around..

    September 10, 2009 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  10. Mari Lyn

    Whatever his reason, Jim Wilson should be thrown out of Congress. He is an embarrassment to all American citizens. He squandered any good will he may have had with his comments last night. Throw the bum out!

    September 10, 2009 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  11. Chuck

    This pompous ass congressman is most definitely a closet racist from South Carolina. You can see it in his eyes.

    Boy, South Carolina is really getting a bad name these days with the likes of their leaders, namely, (1) Senator Demint the racist and liar, (2) Governor Sanford, the adulterer and, (3) Congressman Wilson, the racist and heckler of US Presidents during a joint session of Congress.


    September 10, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  12. grace

    Good for Wilson!!

    September 10, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  13. Frank

    I feel sorry for the GOP. They have become irrelevant children. I don't believe there is one sane moderate or progressive GOP person in Congress. religeous nuts and anti-government cooks are driving the bus. I miss Nixon.

    September 10, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  14. Democratic VICTIM

    He is right. Sometimes the truth hurts!

    September 10, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  15. I am American

    Prof Woodard, you taught Wilson's children, and of course Wilson is your long-time friend – you are just trying to defend him for doing the wrong thing,. Americans yesterday saw a different ignorant, childish, irresponsible wilson

    September 10, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  16. Alfred E. Neumann

    Not surprised to find someone with a lock on their district making an ass of themselves on national television.

    It says more about the voters in
    S.C. than anything else.

    September 10, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  17. inofritzn

    Funny how all the stories today are about a single rep. from SC and not about the substance of Obama's speech.

    September 10, 2009 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  18. Jeff in Virginia

    Intentionally lying about healthcare reform is not the kind of thing that happens in the flash of the moment.

    This was calculated, and Wilson has achieved the exact effect that he was after... Today, more people are talking about this outburst than they are about the actual merits of Obama's speech.

    September 10, 2009 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  19. Darrell

    Decent people know about responsibility, respect and think before they act. The republican members of the legislative acted like a bunch of rude adolesents, with Wilson being the worst but, certainly not the only member of this mob.

    September 10, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  20. ken

    what a moron!

    September 10, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  21. Beverly - NYC

    The apology was rendered because of the outcry, I'm sure when the nut bags on Fox annoint him their new hero he will take it back. Poor white southerns their world view of running the world was really rocked on November 4th, when a "decent" guy can act like a boorish moron. There is a $500 check going to his opponent today.

    September 10, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  22. Teresa-Charlotte

    This congressman is a example of what is wrong with America. He is sorry now because the unveiling of hatred and malice that is within him is unveiled. It is a shame and disgrace that we live in a coutry so rich that our politicians can't put aside their differences and work to ensure that all Americans have health care. The president is not the enemy but the health care giants like CIGNA, Blue Cross, Blue Shield and so on. I fought for this country for freedome of speech, but downright disrespect is appalling. How does one American who is suppose to have so much passion for people lose it. This congressman should not be allowed to enter our halls where legislation is made. If we the people would enter the sessions of Congress and be disruptive, we would be arrested. Stand up South Carolinans and send this idiot home.

    September 10, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  23. Sharon

    Excuse me!!! I do not accept this analysis made by a friend that would most definitely be considered biased. Wilson is not a new lawmaker. Representative Wilson has just shown his underlying deep seeded true colors. No excuse can be made! I do hope South Carolina voters can objectively see who they have elected to represent them.

    September 10, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  24. Iqbaaaaaaaal

    sorry... don't believe it ( I wish I did)...

    most of the current top leadership in GOP is like that (would not say ALL since there truly are great leaders in there such as McCain , Orrin and the like) but the top guys (who drive vision, have the levers) such as Limbaugh, Boehner, Cantor, Lamas, Palin and the like all seem spontaneous 🙂

    skrew ya all – who cannot work together to make things happen for your own citizens!!

    September 10, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  25. LacrosseMom

    "Lock on district"? IF South Carolinians in Wilson's district are smart they will vote-out this schmuck!

    September 10, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
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