As the spotlight intensifies on the 2016 U.S. presidential candidates, their respective spouses are coming out of the shadows to join them. Among those potential First Ladies and Gentlemen is Columba Bush, wife of Republican candidate Jeb Bush, who met with UCF students Tuesday morning to answer their questions about her husband’s campaign.
Mrs. Bush, who served as the First Lady of Florida for eight years while her husband was the state governor, joined about fifteen attendees around a large conference table in a Downtown Orlando office. More than half of the guests were current UCF students, while the rest were UCF graduates and students of other Florida institutions.
UCF student and College Republicans member Rebecca McLaughlin, a self-proclaimed “die-hard Jeb supporter,” opened the discussion by sharing her personal reasons for backing the GOP candidate.
“We need a strong leader with real experience,” McLaughlin said. “For example, a lot of candidates say they’re pro-life, but how many have actually been in the unique situation where they have to show strength in that area? Just one candidate.”
In response, Mrs. Bush noted her conservative upbringing as a Catholic school student in Mexico. She met her future husband in her home country when the two were teenagers. At the time, he was doing community volunteer work near the city of León. They dated for three summers, she said, before marrying.
“My life has been like a soap opera,” Mrs. Bush joked.
The most recurring topic was immigration reform, which the Bush campaign has emphasized throughout his run. Bush’s approach to immigration is more traditionally liberal than those of his competitors; a member of his team at Tuesday’s meeting said the plan is to “make legal immigration easier and illegal immigration harder.”
Mrs. Bush was a unique addition to the family when she married Jeb in the 1970s. At the time, she spoke no English and was not a U.S. citizen. This is perhaps one reason why Jeb 2016 — or the more enthusiastic “Jeb! 2016,” as his official campaign merchandise reads — is relatively immigration-friendly.
Lissete Duran, also a UCF College Republicans member, is a first-generation American. Although she has not yet decided which GOP candidate will get her vote, she expressed appreciation for Bush’s immigration reform plans.
“We need to be willing to welcome people who want to come here. We all come from somewhere,” Duran said. “If my family wasn’t welcomed here when they first came, I don’t even know where I’d be now.”
Other subjects on the table were student-loan debt, defense spending, and job creation. Mrs. Bush also talked about drug abuse and domestic violence, two issues she said would be at the forefront of her platform as First Lady.
But one name not mentioned at the gathering was George — the name of both her brother- and father-in-law, both of whom previously served as President of the United States. There was also minimal talk of the current administration, save for a brief mention of Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity platform.
Jennifer Kline is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.