She Wants the House
03/01/2004 at 01:00 AM EST
How's this for a campaign platform? Becky Whetstone favors bolstering health care and education programs, and she's against the war in Iraq. And if she can stick it to her former husband by robbing him of his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, well, that's good too. Says Whetstone, 45, who plans to run against her ex, incumbent congressman Charlie Gonzalez, in this November's elections: "I totally concede that anger is the root of what started this train rolling."
It's been a pretty wild ride already. Gonzalez, a three-term congressman from Texas, and Whetstone, a journalist turned relationship counselor who once wrote a first-person account of having liposuction, ended their five-year marriage last October. The split, to say the least, was bitter. Whetstone created a Web site (now on hiatus) that claimed Gonzalez, 58, bullied her during Jekyll-and-Hydelike mood swings. Although she wrote an article praising Charlie for doing "thankless chores" while she recuperated from a hysterectomy, she now claims he came to her bedside one day and called her a "lazy fat ass." Days later, she says, Gonzalez packed his bags and left for good.
But simply venting her anger wasn't enough. While lunching with friends last summer, Whetstone realized Gonzalez would be running unopposed this fall and began considering taking him on. By December she had filed to run and come up with a campaign slogan: "Don't get mad, get Becky," a riff on Ivana Trump's postdivorce motto, "Don't get mad, get everything."
The congressman's reaction? "Becky's announcement [has] a certain entertainment value," says Gonzalez, whose father, Henry, held the same House seat for 37 years. "[But] seeking public office [should] be about serving the public." Even Whetstone's mother was taken aback by her daughter's decision. "I'm still in shock," says Carolyn Whetstone, 84. Earlier this year, a third candidate joined the race.
Whetstone and Gonzalez met through a mutual friend in 1995. Whetstone, who at the time was divorced with two children, thought Gonzalez, then a district judge and also divorced with a child, was too old for her. But his charm soon won her over. They married in 1998 during Gonzalez's first successful run for Congress.
Three months later the couple bought a house in San Antonio and moved in with their kids—and the first signs of what Whetstone claims is her husband's temper started to show. "Kids leaving their coats on the back of the couch or a towel on the floor started causing problems right away," she recalls. "Charlie just started exploding." Financial problems and the pressures of Gonzalez's political career added to the stress, she says.
Whetstone claims she filed for divorce in 1999, then reconsidered after the couple began counseling. But the reconciliation didn't last: Gonzalez moved out in January 2002 and filed for divorce two months later. Last October the couple finally reached a settlement—if not a peace. And although many in the Lone Star State consider their very public dispute amusing, not everyone is smiling. "When a marriage falls apart, everybody has their side," says Gonzalez's niece Rebecca Ramos Young, 36, a Playboy Playmate in 2003. "But to destroy his political career? That seems a bit reaching."
As far as Whetstone is concerned, she hasn't even started to reach. "If he's opposed by a strong candidate, he'll have to answer questions, he'll have to be accountable," she says. "There's no crime in being mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore."
Bob Meadows. Shermakaye Bass in San Antonio and Alicia Dennis in Austin