Protesters pick at past of DCF chief
By JULIE HAUSERMAN and LUCY MORGAN
TALLAHASSEE -- Florida Democrats and women's groups lashed out Friday at Gov. Jeb Bush's choice to head the state's social services agency.
They even carried a Middle Eastern burqa as a political gimmick to suggest that women and children will be worse off under the conservative Jerry Regier.
The groups called for Regier, Bush's appointment to head the Department of Children and Families, to resign after a 1988 article surfaced by Regier in a now-defunct magazine called Pastoral Renewal.
In the article, Regier said husbands must have authority over their wives, that the Bible condones spanking and that wives shouldn't work outside the home unless it is a financial emergency. His article encouraged "manly" love and discipline and quoted from the Bible: "Smite him with the rod."
In an interview Friday with the St. Petersburg Times, Regier said he would not impose his personal religious views on the Department of Children and Families, which Bush tapped him to head on Aug. 15. He replaces Kathleen Kearney, who resigned amid scandal when children turned up missing from the state's foster care program.
Friday, Democratic leaders and advocates for women's rights said that Regier should go, and Bush should be held accountable.
"You can't say you support women and children and appoint a right-wing extremist as head of Children and Families," said Barbara DeVane, a Democratic Party activist. "We're seeing the real Jeb Bush."
Republicans sniped back. Lt. Gov Frank Brogan pointedly questioned the religious faith of Regier's critics. He said they have distorted Regier's interpretation of the Scriptures.
"Several of these people probably couldn't find their own Bible," Brogan said.
Regier, who already has his hands full trying to lead a troubled agency, said the political attacks have become unreasonable. He said the Democrats' use of a burqa -- the cloak that covers women in some Islamic countries -- for a publicity stunt was "absolutely abhorrent" and "takes this into a political realm. Talk to anyone who knows me or women who have worked with me in top positions and they will tell you that is ridiculous."
The newest high-profile member of the Bush administration, who made a brief run for the Republican nomination for governor of Oklahoma this year, calls himself a strong pro-family conservative.
An adviser to former presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Regier founded the Family Research Council in 1984 and headed an Oklahoma program to reduce the state's high divorce rate.
"He is a conservative who believes in families," Brogan said. "That's something we stand by and support."
In the 1988 article, Regier wrote: "Most men have been so intimidated by theories on child rearing that they discipline tentatively and often only as a last resort. The Bible is not at all uncertain about the value of discipline: 'Although you smite him with the rod, he will not die. Smite him with the rod . . . save the soul.' "
Regier was also among a large group of religious leaders who signed a 1986 Coalition on Revival "Manifesto for the Christian Church." It says, "We believe America can be turned around and once again function as a Christian nation as it did in its earlier years."
The manifesto also says, "We sold our children's minds and souls to the godless influence of secularized education and the media" and identifies the teaching of evolution in public schools as one of the "social evils to oppose."
"It is, therefore, to the great benefit of all mankind, Christian and non-Christian alike, to bring every society's judicial and legal systems into as close an approximation of the laws and commandments of the Bible as its citizens will allow," the manifesto said.
Regier said Friday that he supports women in the work force. He said his wife works as a nurse, taking care of AIDS patients.
"My wife is much more intellectual than I am. . . . She is independent and also a partner," Regier said. "We don't back away at all from the Scripture that talks about a wife and husband's role. . . . If people were willing to read it, it talks about serving one another. That is the key to a strong relationship."
He said he does not expect women to be subservient.
"The documents I wrote were written 15 years ago," he said. "I am a student of the Scriptures. . . . It's in the context of the man giving his life for the woman. . . . It's not in the context of slavery or subservience."
Regier also defended himself Friday at a Miami news conference with Bush.
"I spanked my kids, yes. And I think that probably parents who give a swat to a 2-year-old would agree with that. I think disciplining children is fine," he said.
Bush discounted criticism over views on spanking.
"If the mom or dad, out of love or discipline, want to use corporal punishment as a tool to bring a sense of order in a child's life -- which is commonplace -- do they think the DCF should be called and kids should be yanked out of the home?" Bush asked.
Bush said that Regier should not be attacked for having strong religious beliefs.
"The implication is that people of faith . . . somehow they're a little strange and I just reject that," Bush said. "It really doesn't matter if Jerry has a deep and unabiding faith, and it certainly doesn't disqualify him for public service. I think there's bigotry here, and it troubles me."
Regier, who is credited with rooting out fraud at the Oklahoma Department of Health, takes office on Sept. 3. He said he met with Ron Silver, a Democratic state senator from North Miami, and asked Silver if he would join an informal group of advisers he wants to rely upon.
"We need as much input as we can get," Regier said.
-- Times staff writer Steve Bousquet and staff researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report, which also used information from the Associated Press.
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From the Times state desk
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