September 10th, 2009
01:49 PM ET
11 years ago

Heckler Wilson 'a decent guy' with lock on district, observers say

Heckler Wilson 'a decent guy' with lock on district, observers say.

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. Angie in Pa

    So its clear that Illegals are not covered in this bill its been fact checked to death the Republicans have lied and this nut calls our President a liar in the Chambers THANK GOD I DONT BELONG TO THE LOONEY REPUBLICAN PARTY! How low can this party really go?

    September 10, 2009 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  2. Jason

    He's a disgrace to America.

    September 10, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |

    So let me get this straight. One person makes a remark in an unknown context, perhaps flippant or hyperbolic, and says he's a "communist." He is then crucified by the right wing media and resigns. The second person calls the President of the United States a liar to his face in a public forum and it is ok because he apologized and everyone makes mistakes.

    I think we need to pick a standard here people. Either off the cuff remarks are deeply telling of a person's character or they are excusable whims of passion. Which is it?

    September 10, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  4. eolufemi

    I grew up in Orangeburg, SC and I think this reflects how deeply segregated the South remains. Because, his opinions only reflect the views of people who look like him. I don't see why that group of people is being passed off as the baseline group of South Carolinians. What he did only reinforced stereotypes about the south being comprised of ignorant rednecks that are extremely bigoted against anyone that looks different than they do.

    September 10, 2009 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  5. annonymous

    South Carolina will not get rid of Wilson over this? Really? After insulting a duly elected President of the United States in Congress, behaving like some third rate politician in some infantile democracy? Wilson dragged down the great history of the US to his level. SC is now well known for the philandering governor Sanford and this ignorant and disrespectful Wilson. We will not have too much respect for SC unless they can send more decent people to Congress.

    September 10, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  6. mjm

    In addition, a widely circulated e-mail critical of the bill states that a non-discrimination clause in Section 152 would require illegal immigrants to be covered by a public health insurance plan. But the first line of that provision forbids discrimination "except as otherwise explicitly permitted by this act."

    I can see where Wilson was coming from. Why write the bill this way? Just say they are not covered, period.

    If illegals show up to the ER, treat them, detail them and then ship 'em back to their home counrty.

    September 10, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  7. Shari, NY

    If this man is a decent guy I guess President Obama must be omnipotent. This President has taken a lot of heat, insults, name calling, etc., even before he actually became president, yet he never flinched. I guess his mother/grandmother raised him right.

    September 10, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  8. Jann in Denver

    This is not a decent guy. He is a disrespectful red neck pig who is not good enough to lick the bottom of Obamas shoes.

    September 10, 2009 03:09 pm at 3:09 pm |
  9. PJ

    White, old balding man, lots of prejudice and bigotry towards blacks. Yep, he's a republican all right. The GOP is in worse trouble than they even admit. Pathetic.

    September 10, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  10. John in WV

    Our President has more decentcy in his little finger than Joe Wilson has in his whole body.

    September 10, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  11. CG

    The hate machine is still alive and well in the GOP

    September 10, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  12. Mississippi Mike

    Good, I'm glad his job is safe. Why is Obama the only one allowed to speak on this topic? He wants to end the games, the partisanship, and the misinformation so why doesn't he tell his own party to let the Republicans give their input? Why can't Republicans work on the bill? Why is socialized medicine the only solution? Why can't we loosen the market so that insurance companies can find solutions within their own organizations? Obama is twice the dictator Bush ever dreamed of being, he needs to step back or step down.

    September 10, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  13. Frisky

    He is a total jerk that accidentally showed his true colors. I grew up in the South and I know a racist jerk when I hear one yelling.

    September 10, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  14. Kim

    Makes my head spin to think of the pontificating and calls for heads-on-platters, had a Democrat shouted "You lie!!" while Dubya was trying to justify going to war in Iraq.

    September 10, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  15. Carlos

    He said exactley what the rest of us were thinking, thank you Joe Wilson.

    September 10, 2009 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  16. Misty

    JOe Wilson is toast- because he is ignorant and ill mannered. I am sure we will not hear from him after the next election. He did cut his nose to spite his face– Great for the GOP! please let them coming.

    September 10, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  17. Chris

    So, a professor at his kids' college thinks he's decent. Well then I guess that settles it.

    September 10, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  18. Ivan

    What a shame...that was a very negative behavior...if it'd been B.... talking and one of the Democrats had said'd have still be despicable, it's a shame...I'm so glad we have a real Democartic president and he will be reelected...because of people like this the Health Reform has difficulties, it's time to put perty interests and special interests aside....the insurance companies ARE PAYING THESE GUYS the people deserve respect. Thank you Obama for your plan....

    September 10, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  19. B. Churchill

    No such thing as a "decent guy" who takes money from the Health Care titans to ensure that profits and suffering are both maximized...

    September 10, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  20. Michele Westminster, CO

    WOW...does SC have issues with their politicians or what???

    He showed his true colors last night and I hope the SC folks are smart enought to get rid of this idiot!!

    September 10, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  21. Keith Osterberg

    Anyone who has four sons who are Eagle Scouts (something I have in common with Wilson) should know better than to engage in that sort of behavior. The fifth Scout Law says a Scout is Courteous. I can't recall another time when members of Congress were so rude and disrespectul to the President, regardless of his politics or policies.

    September 10, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  22. Jeff in Jersey

    Don't count on that "Lock" being there much longer!!!!!

    September 10, 2009 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  23. One Nation

    Why hasn't Joe Wilson conducted a press conference to give a public apology to President Obama? We know Joe doesn't have a problem speaking aloud what he truly feels; so why is Joe Wilson being a coward and hiding now?

    September 10, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  24. Bit

    Yes, we all make mistakes; but this disrespect for the United States of America President is not a mistake.... but some built up hatred from those uncilivized town hall meetings from the far-right. I have never seen such right out disrespect for a sitting President than this.

    Wilson breached military protocol and should be thrown out! There has to be some kind of example set for bad behavior. It's a shame that the far-right rallies behind this kind of disrespect. If nothing is done about this behavior, I fear the worst for President Obama.

    September 10, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
  25. trisher

    This guy had a copy of the President's speech beforehand!!! This was planned. Bought and paid for by the Health Care and Pharmaceutical Industries. What vile and disgusting behavior.

    September 10, 2009 03:15 pm at 3:15 pm |
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