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Congressman’s Former Wife Takes Him On

Times Staff Writer

After divorcing Texas Rep. Charles A. Gonzalez last year, Becky Whetstone said she felt outmaneuvered, out-financed and out of luck. Angry and frustrated, Whetstone -- a writer and family counselor -- considered her options and decided to go public.

First, she began writing a book about life as a congressional wife. Then she created a website, www.congressmanswife.com, where she aired her grievances and invited others to share their own stories of love and loss. Her latest move came just after New Year’s Day, when she announced her intent to run for her ex-husband’s congressional seat.

“This is not about revenge,” said Whetstone, 45. “I’m not doing this just because I got a bad deal. Instead of sitting around and saying, ‘Look what happened to me,’ I’m taking action. I really do believe I’d make a much better congressperson than Charlie Gonzalez.”

Gonzalez, 57, a Democrat, has represented San Antonio’s predominantly Latino 20th District since 1998, succeeding his father, the late Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez.

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The activities of the congressman’s ex-wife, who filed her intent papers as an independent, amount to little more than a publicity stunt, Gonzalez said. “To seek public office, that’s her right,” Gonzalez said. “I do question the motivation. Seeking publicity for her book, her website -- I truly believe that’s her endgame, and I believe it diminishes the valid interest people have in seeking office.”

So far, Whetstone has generally confined her website postings to descriptions of the contentious period before her divorce in October (“He knew he could stomp on me like a bug, and get away with it, so he did,” she wrote) and references to what she calls Gonzalez’s “Jekyll and Hyde” personality and Barrymore-like acting ability.

“I believe the district doesn’t know Charlie very well and once they learn who he really is, they will not want him to represent their interests in Washington, D.C.,” she wrote.

Other revelations will be made as necessary, said Whetstone in a phone interview. “I’m going to tell people the way it is and the way it was, no more and no less,” she said.

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In telling her side of the story, Whetstone joined other former political spouses who recognized the potential value of public curiosity. For instance, in 2000, the then-estranged wife of U.S. Rep. Al Wynn (D-Md.) recorded a phone message for Wynn’s opponent that went to thousands of suburban Maryland homes. “Hi. This is Jessie Wynn,” she said. “Albert Wynn does not respect black women. He left me for a white woman. Please help us defeat Albert Wynn.” Despite her efforts, Wynn easily won reelection.

For Whetstone, time is on her side, said Richard Gambitta, a political scientist at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “It’s early and I guess anything can happen, though I doubt voters will base their decisions on the allegations of an ex-spouse,” he said.

Gonzalez is in a tricky situation and will likely tread lightly, said Gambitta. “It’s difficult to respond when one was married to the person who’s attacking you. Becky is articulate and intelligent and knows how to titillate the public. The target of her assault is not a congressional seat but her former husband. Anything she says will make good reading whether it’s true or not.”

Tucker Gibson, chairman of the political science department at Trinity University, said that although Gonzalez doesn’t have the charisma of his father -- who served nearly four decades in Congress -- he’s not vulnerable in the primaries. “I don’t think at this point she has the money and resources to make a go of it,” Gibson said of Whetstone.

Whetstone said she’s just getting started. “I really want to win this race,” she said, but that’s not why she’s sharing details of her divorce. “Society often prefers you to keep your emotions inside,” she said. “As a person who has experienced pain and is a counselor, what I’m saying is it’s not only healthy to feel it but to express it.”

Readers of her website have jumped into the spirit of things, posting reactions to Whetstone ranging from “You are inspiring” to “What a colossal pity party.”

Gonzalez has his own opinion of his five-year marriage to Whetstone. “I would think that with a divorce and the disappointment that comes with it, you would like to move on,” he said. “The way you put it behind you is not to continue the discourse and the hostilities and animosities.... I just don’t think that this is a healthy exercise.”

Whetstone has until May 13 to decide to formally file for the race with the Texas secretary of state’s office. She would need 500 signatures to get on the ballot.

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Now, she’s looking for a book publisher and is teaching classes at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, where she’s also pursuing a doctorate in marriage and family therapy counseling.

“Sharing information gives power to the powerless,” said Whetstone, a former columnist for the San Antonio Express-News. “When all else fails, you have the right to come out swinging.”


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