While husband campaigns, Columba Bush meets with domestic violence prevention advocates

Last modified: 7/10/2015 12:18:03 AM
While her husband’s schedule took him to a bakery in Dover and a country store in Hooksett ahead of a town hall in Hudson, Columba Bush – the former first lady of Florida, wife of presidential candidate Jeb Bush – spent part of Wednesday in Manchester, meeting with domestic violence prevention advocates and touring a local crisis center.

It’s not the only such stop Columba Bush has made while on the campaign trail with Jeb. Earlier this year, she visited with advocates in Iowa; on Thursday, she met with others working to end domestic violence in Maine.

As explained in a May opinion piece for the Des Moines Register , her interest in these issues stretches back years – she acted as a major advocate for the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence while serving as first lady, working to bring more resources and attention to domestic violence in the state.

In the Granite State this week, Columba Bush met with representatives from YWCA New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. (The New Hampshire and Florida coalitions are sister organizations, one of a network of such groups operating across the country.) The group also toured a nearby crisis center in Manchester, the state’s largest such facility.

Annette Escalante, YWCA New Hampshire’s president and CEO, said she immediately bonded with Bush after the two realized they both spoke Spanish. The former Florida first lady is from Mexico, and Escalante is Puerto Rican.

“She was a very nice, pleasant woman,” Escalante said. “You can tell she has a very big heart.”

At the YWCA headquarters in Manchester, the advocates spoke with Bush about the challenges facing New Hampshire’s domestic violence support system – working with high demand for services and limited state funding. In turn, those present for the meeting said they learned a lot by hearing what Florida has done to grow its coalition working on this issue.

It became clear to those in attendance that Florida and New Hampshire are two very different landscapes when it comes to putting resources behind programs to address sexual and domestic violence.

Escalante and Amanda Grady Sexton, the public policy director for the New Hampshire coalition, said Bush noted the significant role that private endowments and fundraising have played in growing Florida’s efforts. As noted on the Florida coalition’s website, Bush helped launch a foundation to support the state’s domestic violence programs, with a goal of creating “a statewide private revenue stream to ensure life saving services for domestic violence victims and their children are less dependent on government resources.”

In contrast, the New Hampshire programs often find themselves at the mercy of available state funding, which often falls short of meeting its crisis centers’ full needs.

“She clearly saw a stark difference between our largest program in the state and the programs throughout the state of Florida,” Grady Sexton said.

Additionally, Escalante and Grady Sexton said Bush underscored the importance of having a prominent public figure advocating publicly and persistently to shine a spotlight on these issues.

“We need to look for someone in the state of New Hampshire who could be instrumental in advocating for funding for domestic violence and sexual assault,” Escalante said. “In other words, if we had a Columba here in the state of New Hampshire, we could do in the state of New Hampshire what they have managed to do in the state of Florida.”

The advocates said they welcomed the attention paid by Bush during her recent visit – but they hope it doesn’t stop with her. The organizations are open to meeting with candidates of all political backgrounds.

New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary makes it an ideal place to have important, meaningful conversations with presidential candidates about sexual assault and domestic violence, Grady Sexton said, and the coalition is developing ideas on how to bring those conversations to the forefront leading up to next year’s elections.

“These are issues that are extremely important to people in this state and nationwide,” Grady Sexton said. “It’s not an issue that only women care about. It’s an issue that’s important to all families, and all families have been touched by this in one way or another – it’s a very important that this issue gets discussed.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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