Jeb Bush often mentions his wife’s family, how he fell in love with her in nearby León, and her immigrant challenges coming to the United States.
Only rarely — and critically — do the likely front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination or his aides mention his wife’s father, José Maria Garnica Rodríguez.
Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell reiterated Tuesday that Columba Bush’s father abandoned his family. “Mrs. Bush did not have a relationship with her father after he left her mother and their family when Mrs. Bush was just a young teenager,” she said. And published accounts, including one in The New York Times recently, largely have taken that line, calling him a migrant worker and nonpresence in his daughter’s life.
But relatives here say it’s not true. “He never abandoned her. She was the one who left with Jeb,” Antonia Morales Mendez, 65, Garnica Rodríguez’s second wife, told POLITICO this week in her small blue house 220 miles northwest of Mexico City. She told a similar story to London’s Daily Mail in January. “Once she left with this guy, she had no relationship at all with her father.”
Why didn’t Columba Bush speak to her father for the last 40 years of his life?
“Maybe the fame? The money?” she said, sitting on an old couch under a figurine of a bloodied, crucified Christ.
Antonio Garnica Rodríguez, 77, Columba Bush’s uncle, her father’s last living sibling, said it hurt his brother “a lot, in a big way, because they never allowed him to see his grandchildren.”
“He knew them only out of magazines, newspapers and TV,” Mendez said through tears. “He died really wanting to meet his grandchildren.”
On Wednesday, after speaking with Jeb Bush and his wife, Campbell added to what she had said the day before: “Much of the story [the relatives have] offered is either inaccurate or incomplete. It’s not surprising Mrs. Bush wouldn’t want to maintain a relationship with the man who abandoned her mother and family.”
Family disputes are difficult to untangle, and this one dates back more than half a century and crosses a border. What’s certain, though, is that it is part of a transformational event in the personal and political life of Jeb Bush. His wife’s experience is the root of his views on immigration, which put him at odds with many conservatives — and the city of León, 20 minutes up Mexico’s Route 45, is the site of what he has said many times was the most important single moment of his life.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/03/columba-bush-family-story-116169.html#ixzz3UwRIw2Hi