Columba Bush, the wife of 2016 Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, is expected to play a key role in her husband’s campaign.
The 61-year-old, 5-foot tall native of Mexico has in the past been “uncomfortable with the limelight,” her husband has said, but she has taken a much more public role as Jeb enters the 2016 race. She has entered the world of social media on Twitter and Instagram, has been hosting fundraisers and joined her husband at speaking engagements, according to CNN.
“Just because she’s reticent to engage publicly doesn’t mean she’s not ready for it,” Brett Doster, a political adviser to Jeb’s first campaign for governor in 1993, told The Hill. “She’s strong as iron. If [Jeb] decides to run, she’ll be a great partner on the trail. I think that anybody who would presume she’s not ready for some of these tough tasks is severely underestimating her.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. She Met Jeb in Her Mexican Hometown When They Were Teenagers
Columba Garnica Gallo was 16 when she met Jeb Bush in Leon, Mexico, her hometown, where the 17-year-old Bush was teaching English as a second language, according to a Washington Post profile.
They married four years later, in February 1974, in Texas.
2. She & Her Husband Have 3 Children & 4 Grandchildren
Columba and Jeb Bush have three children, George P., Jeb Jr. and Noelle. They have four grandchildren, two by George P and two by Jeb Jr.
George P. Bush, 39, was elected as the Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office, following his father into politics. He is an attorney and U.S. Navy Reserve officer. Jeb Bush Jr., 31, works for a commercial real estate firm in Miami. Noelle Bush, 37, works for a software firm in Orlando.
Both Jeb Jr. and Noelle have had run-ins with the law in the past. In 2005, Jeb Jr., then 21, was arrested in Austin, Texas, for public intoxication and resisting arrest, according to Politico.
Noelle Bush was arrested in 2002 on charges of fraudulently purchasing prescription drugs, the Washington Post reports. She then spent 10 days in jail after she was found hiding crack cocaine while in a court-ordered rehabilitation program.
3. She Has Focused Her Political Efforts on the Arts, Fighting Drug Abuse & Domestic Violence Awareness
Columba Bush mainly stayed out of the spotlight during her time as Florida’s First Lady, but when she did use her political power to bring focus to causes, she often focused on the arts, fighting drug abuse and raising awareness about domestic violence. This May, she wrote an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, asking for support for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“I figured this would just be one of those obligatory first lady things that lasted about 15 minutes,” Tiffany Carr, the President and CEO of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told The Hill, about Columba’s meeting with her in 2000. “But we took her to a couple of shelters and she had this immediate connection with people.”
4. She Has Spent Thousands of Dollars on Her Jewelry Collection
Documents uncovered earlier this year showed that Columba Bush has an expensive taste for jewelry. In 2000, she took out a loan to spend $42,311.70 on jewelry in a single day, the Washington Post reported. The documents also show she spent more than $90,000 at the South Florida store over a 14-year period.
“Mrs. Bush bought jewelry from time to time from Mayors Jewelers over the years. Though not required to be reported, these purchases in 2000 were included as accounts payable on Governor Bush’s financial disclosure that year, and paid off the next,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told the Post, adding that Jeb Bush was aware of the purchases at the time.
The documents show she spent $25,000 on platinum diamond studs and $10,500 on a Bulgari gold and diamond bracelet.
5. She Was Fined in 1999 for Lying to Customs About How Much She Spent on a Paris Shopping Trip
In 1999, not long after Jeb Bush became Florida’s governor, his wife was caught lying to the U.S. Customs about how much money she spent during a trip to Paris. The St. Petersburg Times reported at the time that Columba Bush failed to declare the value of her purchases twice.
According to the Times report, Bush misled the Customs agents about her $19,000 in purchases because she didn’t want her husband to know much she spent on the five-day shopping trip. She said she spent $500.
“My wife is not a public person. She is uncomfortable with the limelight, which is why I love her,” Bush said in a public statement disclosing the incident. “I don’t want a political wife — I want someone who when I get home I can have a normal life with.”
Bush was briefly detained and she paid a $4,100 fine. Her husband said she “felt horrible” about it, and “it was a difficult weekend at our house.”
“It is a lot of money. But look, that’s between her and me,” said Bush told the Sun-Sentinel in 1999. “The mistake was not filling out the form at Customs properly — that was the mistake.”