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. gmoney

    Yes we can change your position mr. Heckler keep on disrespecting our president and watch and see bye loser. Ha.ha.ha....

    September 10, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  2. Jeffrey Greenfield

    RESPECT! RESPECT! RESPECT! We try to teach our children to be respectful. How can they be when they here the Congressman from North Carolina Joe Wilson call our Commander-in- Chief President Barack Obama a "liar" This is not only disrespectful but is also despicable. I am a strong beleiver in the First Amendment (freedom of speech) but this goes against the grain . Sincerely, Jeff

    September 10, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  3. Reformed Republican

    Not buyin' the spin you're puttin' on this guy – he stinks like the puss from an open sore.
    Like all those racist SC rethuglicans and the discharge ports on the lower intestine that elected him they should just sit down, shut up and stop the lies about health care reform.

    PEOPLE OF SC UNITE – Clean your house! Eected dems and join the rest of America in the 21st century...

    September 10, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  4. Mike in MN

    He would sure get my vote if I was in his district.

    September 10, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  5. Julia - Native American from Idaho

    He is clearly not a "good" guy. He is racist, arrogant, and a hypocrit. I bettcha he goes to church on Sunday, waving his hands in the air, Praising the Lord, and Hallelujah,: then Monday morning talkin' his evil lies about health care reform that will help millions of people. What an idiot. Not a nice guy, no, no, no. Obama is defefinitely the Christian in this case, he is trying to teach us that "Your are your brother's keeper." Help those that are less fortunate, isn't that what we are morally obligated to do?

    September 10, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  6. Damage Control NOW!

    Wag the tail, you Repugnicans!

    Damage control...


    September 10, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  7. Howard

    Joe's a nice guy. Probably a nice guy that happens to be a bigot. What is down in the well will certainly come up in the bucket.

    September 10, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  8. Mike in MN

    Sometimes you just can't help shouting out the truth, you just can not hold it in. Joe Wilson was just shouting in public what so many like myself were also shouting in the privacy of our homes.

    September 10, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  9. Luke Brown

    Wilson hardly has a lock on the District.

    Miller was a nobody, had no money, and nearly defeated him. He has alienated a lot of Republicans and really hasn't delivered for his constituents. With Obama and the Democrats in office, he is even more likely to be an obscure benchwarmer.

    In the past few years, there apparently have been other outbursts (not quite as public) that have come out of no where.

    While the incident was unfortunate, it illustrates exactly the cynical attitude that the Republican party brings to Washington and how personally offended they are that Obama is President..

    September 10, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  10. ready

    H e is a good guy as long there is a white republican Potus.

    September 10, 2009 02:54 pm at 2:54 pm |
  11. Jeffrey Greenfield

    I made a mistake Congressman Joe Wilson is from South Carolina.

    September 10, 2009 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  12. Keith in Austin

    Time will tell if Wilson's and Obama's words are true during last nights ultimate campaign speech. Although not the best forum for Wilson to express his frustratin, my bet is that he will ultimately be proven right!

    September 10, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  13. jfs Memhis, Tn

    Apparently there is two sides to every coin. He needs to hide his other side.....NOT PRETTY. Sometimes in the heat of arguments folks true feelings are exposed. This gentleman has a face that does not belong in the public....sorry that's just the facts.

    September 10, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  14. Katharine Austin

    Rep. Joe Wilson's email service is "shut down" today, thereby allowing him to avoid hearing the voices of the citizen's who are outraged by his outburst, his rudeness, his astonishing immaturity and inability to control himself. Joe Wilson needs to go. He's a coward for not listening to what the citizen's feel about his disgraceful shouting at the president, he has no common decency or self-control.

    September 10, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  15. T.G.

    I hope South Caroline votes him out for the nonsense he pulled last night. Even if he don't agree with the president, that is no way for a Political leader to act.

    September 10, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  16. dee

    I try very hard to teach my children respect for adults and out of my 3 children I have one child that battles with speaking to out in class and being rude to her teacher. So last night before the Presidents address I sat her down told her “you watch politics with me all the time you see how the republicans do not like the Obama but watch this, no matter how much they may not like him they do respect the office” I made her sit down and watch the President only to see an elected official do exactly what I’m constantly tell her is not acceptable. I think it is a down right shame and a disgrace to American to have an elected official behave in this matter.

    September 10, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  17. Jerry

    Obama doesn't seem to hear or care about what the american people are saying. "Leave our health care alone!" is being said all over the country and he still doesn't hear it, so it is nice that a member of congress can speak for the nation and telling Obama, "You Lie" I'm sure Obama heard that.

    September 10, 2009 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  18. Regressive Party Refugee

    "We all make mistakes, and I think he made a mistake."
    Yeah, we had eight years of mistakes that got us into two wars, a financial meltdown, loss of global leadership, a total lack of domestic leadership, and saw the impoverishment of middle America. This bozo is a perfect example of the dubm-butt's who led us through that nighmare.

    "This town meeting atmosphere of extremism and lack of respect bothers me," he said. "Seems like we're living in uncivil times.... " Yeah, notice how its the right wing nut jobs doing the yelling, bringing the guns, killing people (Dr. Tiller, Stephen Jones the holocaust museum guard) and generally perpetrating hysterical paranoia?

    September 10, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  19. Pat

    If this man is a good man, he should have thought before he spoke. As for others in the hall from his party, if the Democrats acted so rudely , you would never hear the end of it. I am sick to death of what I have seen from the leadership of the party. God help me if I ever vote Republican again. It was disgusting and something you would punish a child for. Childish behavior from grown men is just inexcusable.

    September 10, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  20. davie.guns

    Hey Joe, who happens to be not so average,
    Thank You one million times over! So many things shoved either under the carpet or the bus and for once a voice rings out, "You Lie!"

    September 10, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  21. Virginia Lee

    Who does this man (WIlson) represent? "Nice guy" Limbaugh?

    September 10, 2009 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  22. aware

    Obama lies! Obama has not earned respect or trust! Obama spoke like a bully itching for a fight! Obama is no leader! 🙁

    September 10, 2009 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  23. Mamixztwo

    his biggest donators to Wilson's current campaign has been from the health care industry. Go figure. Too bad that voters in his district are ok with their rep embarrassing them so badly and being bought and paid for by the health care industry. Is civility and maturity not important traits for their representatives to have? What about ethics?

    September 10, 2009 03:04 pm at 3:04 pm |
  24. Lillie

    Wilson is pathetic!! Where's his patrotism? And folks kept their kids out of school to avoid hearing our President speak but I bet some of them are telling their kid(s) Wilson's behavior was's reall y sad some will never see Pres. Obama as President of the United States! But he WON and will make a great President no matter how some will pray he fails.....

    September 10, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
  25. jan hanzsche

    Although his behavior was rude and he may have been out of line, our tax dollars already do pay for illegal aliens' pregnancies, newborn care and care for the postpartum moms for three months after delivery, in addition to giving the infants automatic citizenship,,,,so,,,,although his forum was rather uncivilized, his message was not incorrect.

    September 10, 2009 03:05 pm at 3:05 pm |
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