SAN ANTONIO – Becky Whetstone (search) has something to say to people who think they know why she's running for Congress: Enough already with the jilted-wife-hellbent-on-revenge theory.
It's true that her former husband holds the congressional seat she is seeking. It's also true that last year she announced she was writing a tell-much book titled "The Congressman's Wife." Yes, she says on her campaign Web site that she's angry about his "cruelty and selfishness within the marriage, and then the one-sided injustice of the divorce."
Despite all that, she insists, she's not running to get even with her ex, Democratic Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (search).
"I'm telling people that it's not the vengeful wife scenario," said Whetstone, "and if people choose not to believe what I'm saying, then I can't do anything about that."
Texans will nominate candidates in 32 congressional districts in Tuesday's primary — the first test of a redistricting plan drawn up by a Republican-controlled House over Democratic protests. The process that led to the redistricting was so contentious that 51 House Democrats fled to Ardmore, Okla., in May to bust a quorum, and 11 Senate Democrats went to Albuquerque, N.M., during the summer to block votes in their chamber.
Gonzalez, 58, has no opponents in the Democratic primary for the 20th District and Whetstone is running as an independent, so she does not compete in a primary. They'll face each other and Republican Roger Scott, who also is unopposed, in the November general election.
Whetstone, 45, a first-time candidate with only $250 in campaign funds and no staff, faces a powerful political legacy. Before Charlie Gonzalez took the seat in 1999, it was held for nearly four decades by his father, the late Henry B. Gonzalez.
Gonzalez won't talk about Whetstone's candidacy. When asked, his office issues a statement reading, in part:
"There is no doubt that Becky's announcement of her intent to run for Congress against me has a certain 'entertainment' value. Seeking public office, especially the position of U.S. Representative, should be about serving the public, not about entertaining the public."
However, their relationship has been entertaining gossip for years in San Antonio.
When they met in the mid-90s, he was a county judge and Whetstone was a features columnist at the San Antonio Express-News. Both were divorced.
Her journalistic turf included relationships — the singles scene, marriage, divorce and, as she said in her final column, "how life is too short to allow people to stomp on your soul." She was forced to give up that job after they eloped in May 1998 because of concerns about conflicts of interest.
Barely a year later, Whetstone filed for divorce because of marital discord and conflict of personalities, but the case was withdrawn.
In 2002, Gonzalez filed for divorce, citing the same reasons. She countered with a filing that accused him of a long list of wrongs, including physical assault by shoving her to the ground, mental and emotional abuse, infidelity and squandering their marital assets "to entice and impress paramours."
Their October 2003 divorce was granted solely on grounds of irreconcilable differences.
She got part of Gonzalez's $45,000 federal retirement account in the divorce, but she won't talk about other financial terms. "I came out of the marriage with a lot less than what I came in with," she said.
As a candidate, Whetstone says she and Gonzalez agree on many key issues, though she accuses him of spending too much time raising funds and too little time talking with constituents.
She says she campaigns by knocking on doors — when she has time. She is a marriage and family therapist, is enrolled in a doctorate program in counseling at St. Mary's University in San Antonio, teaches at the school, and is raising two teenagers from a previous marriage.
The San Antonio newspaper has called Whetstone's candidacy "a sad soap opera." And one of her nephews wrote a letter to the newspaper saying she was embarrassing herself and the rest of the family.
Whetstone says the criticism is hard to take, but shrugs it off as Gonzalez's manipulations and says it's lucky that she's a trained counselor.
"The education I've had helps me to understand the way people act, why they do what they do and the healthy way to process when you're being barraged with negativity," she said. "I don't let it get to me like I might have if I hadn't had the training I've had."