Last week, as former Florida governor Jeb Bush continued his pointed reentry into political life (“I am my own man,” he declared), so did his wife Columba Bush, albeit with a far less enthusiastic return to the spotlight.
The famously private Columba didn’t speak at her husband’s national security event in Chicago last Wednesday, but she has piqued the interest of the national political media. This weekend, The New York Times and The Washington Post both ran profiles on the spotlight-shy wife of a man who could bring the Bush family name back into the White House for a third time in 2016.
Here’s what we learned about Columba.
- She’s got an elaborate jewelry collection. Mrs. Bush really, really likes jewelry and spent lavishly on it during her husband’s political career. In 1999, she was detained and fined by customs officials for lying about how much she’d spent during a Paris shopping trip; she’d actually spent $19,000 and ended up paying more than $4000 in fines. She was slammed in the media for weeks, but it did not stop her spending habits. A year later, she spent $42,311.70 in one day on a handful of pieces of diamond jewelry including a $25,000 pair of platinum diamond stud earrings and a $10,500 bracelet. Over 14 years, The Washington Post reports that Mrs. Bush spent more than $90,000 at one jewelry store in Florida.
- She’s not a political person. Columba doesn’t want to go to the galas, she doesn’t want to fundraise, and she really doesn’t want politics influencing her immediate family. Both profiles document Columba’s reluctance to be a public figure—she blamed politics for causing tension in her marriage and contributing to her daughter’s battle with drug addiction. When she did weigh into the political sphere, she focused on raising awareness on issues like domestic violence and the arts. The Times notes in particular how the Miami resident never really fit in with the state capital, Tallahassee. “If people in Tallahassee were looking for a Southern belle in that job of first lady,” one friend and political operative remarked, “they had the wrong woman.”
- She loves her telenovelas. Both profiles hint to Columba’s love of Mexican soaps. The Post quotes a line from a 1989 Miami Herald article: “She would trade 20 society galas for one juicy Spanish soap opera savored in the comfort of her South Dade County home,” while the Times cites a friend saying the same.
- Hers was the first vote Jeb needed. Last summer and fall, the Times reports, she grappled with whether or not to jump on board with her husband’s presidential ambitions. But on Thanksgiving, during a family vacation in Mexico, Columba said yes – with one caveat: her husband would spend some time every week with the family each week.
- If Jeb runs and wins, she’d be the second foreign-born first lady. Columba was born in Mexico; as an immigrant – one who still speaks with a Spanish accent – she could be a helpful surrogate for a party that has struggled to soften their reputation amongst Latinos. Louisa Johnson Adams – wife of John Quincy Adams – was the only other foreign-born First Lady in U.S. history. She was born in England in 1775.