Video: A house divided

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NBC News
updated 1/27/2004 11:32:13 PM ET 2004-01-28T04:32:13

You've seen it in the movies and in real life, headline-grabbing, mud-slinging doozy divorces, with couples getting mad and getting even. There was Donald and Ivana, Liza and David, Alec and Kim. And the divorces can get nasty, as couples wrestle over the money, the kids, and the house.

But deep in the heart of Texas, there's something kind of new in the world of divorce. One couple isn't fighting over money, or the kids, or the house. They're fighting over something else: a congressional district that belongs to the taxpayers.

They say politics makes strange bedfellows, but sometimes it just makes bedfellows do things that may seem strange.

Becky Whetstone, 45, is embarking on the fight of her life. The San Antonio therapist is on a one-woman mission to get her ex thrown out of Congress. So, she is running against three-term Democratic U.S. Representative Charles Gonzales.

Kotb: “Charlie Gonzalez won his 1998 election handily, beating his opponent two to one, okay?”

Whetstone: “Right.”

Kotb: “The next two elections, he runs unopposed.”

Whetstone: “Right.”

Kotb: “And now he's facing you.”

Whetstone: “Mm-Hmm.”

Kotb: “What are your odds?”

Whetstone: “I honestly don't know.”

So what did make Becky Whetstone so angry, angry enough to run against her wildly popular ex-husband? Their marriage started out in 1998 the way so many do, with so much promise. Becky met Charlie when he was a judge, with no apparent aspirations to succeed his father, legendary Congressman Henry Gonzales, who held the same seat for 37 years. But when his father became ill, Charlie decided he'd run for office.

Whetstone: “I saw him in public for the first time, shaking hands with people, laughing. The charm just oozing out of him, and I was like, ‘Whoa.’”

Kotb: “So is that what you loved about him?”

Whetstone: “Yeah, the charming Charlie is the most passionate, thoughtful, romantic, loving person I've ever met.”

The early days as a congressman's wife were fantastic, almost unbelievable.

Kotb: “Did you get to meet--

Whetstone: “--go to the Vice President's house for a cocktail dinner and standing by the pork loins talking to Al Gore and stuff like that, you know? It was just exciting.”

But the happy couple that seemed to have it all was hiding something -- at least according to Becky. She says charming Charlie could be down right cruel at times, yelling at her, making her feel terrible. The last straw came in 2001, she says, when she was bedridden and recovering from major abdominal surgery.

Whetstone: “He came over to the side of the bed and just his voice, his eyes, just in gravel, he just goes, ‘You are a lazy, fat ass.’”

The very next day, he packed his bags and left. soon after, Charlie filed for divorce. He wouldn't talk about why. With that the honeymoon was over, and her campaign to get him out of office was on. Becky didn't think a man of her ex's character should be in office.

Whetstone: “So, I'm looking around and I'm having lunch with my friends. And I'm going, ‘Who's going to run against Charlie? Someone must! He's got to answer questions.’ So, I said, you know what, it's going to take hurricane force winds to get people to hold this man accountable.”

Kotb: “So, what, Hurricane Becky blew in?”

Whetstone: “I guess so.”

No one else wanted to run against the powerful Charlie Gonzalez, so last week Becky decided to jump into the race. Politically, they do have a lot in common.  Although she is running as an independent, they're both Democrats. Becky says if you like Charlie's stand on the issues, you'll like hers. They are the same, she says, with one exception.

Whetstone: “To me, the main issue and the difference between the two of us is character and integrity.”

But in the days since announcing her candidacy, some people, including her ex-husband, have called her integrity into question, claiming her run for congress is merely for personal gain. Becky has plans to write a book about her years as a congressman's wife. Charlie Gonzales declined our request for an interview but, spoke to our affiliate in San Antonio.

Charlie Gonzales: “You don't seek public office simply to seek publicity. And I do believe that that is her motive.”

Kotb: “Would you be running for this Congressional seat, Becky, if your ex-husband were not in the race?”

Whetstone: “Oh, no, I would not. I would not.”

Kotb: “It sounds like revenge.”

Whetstone: “I know—“

Kotb: “I'm going after him.”

Whetstone: “I know it sounds…”

Kotb: “Is that what it is?

Whetstone: “No! It's not revenge. Let me ask you this, why would I subject myself to such intense scrutiny if it was not for a higher purpose?”

If it's not for revenge, it kind of makes you wonder why her bumper stickers say, “Don't get mad, get Becky.”

But she is right, she has been under a lot of scrutiny. The San Antonio Express news called her candidacy, "A soap opera, and pathetic." And she doesn’t have any political experience, other than being a congressman's wife.

Charlie Gonzalez wouldn’t talk to us for this story, but he did issue this statement:

“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.”

Kotb: “You know what he's doing? He's doing this to you. Get lost.”

Whetstone: “Just like in the marriage. Just discounting, poo-pooing, acting as if I was insignificant. You know?  He's so charming and people love him. And he has an energy about him, and I was wildly attracted to that at that moment.”

Becky has a long road ahead. She has to get 500 signatures to even get on the ballot before the November election.

So what do Texans think? We went to the woman who has her finger on the political pulse of the Lone Star State, political columnist Molly Ivins. Does she really have a chance?

Molly Ivins: “Well I hate to jump to a premature conclusion, but I don't think she has a chance of a snowball in hell.”

But, she says, all might be fair in love and war, especially in Texas.

Ivins: “At least she's only running for congress. At least she didn't try to run him over in her vehicle. We had a case like that not too long ago.”

So Becky Whetstone is still out there. it is an uphill battle.

Kotb: “So how much money have you raised?”

Whetstone: “Five dollars.”

Kotb: “Five dollars?”

Whetstone: “Mm-Hmm.”

Kotb: “What are you going to do with all that money?”

Whetstone: “I appreciate every one of those dollars. [laughter] I don't know what my chances are. But you know what? If I lose the election, I will still win, because I have fought for something that I believe is right.”

And if that doesn't work she can always go back to her old job -- as a marriage counselor.

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