Jeb Bush Cites Religious 'Bigotry'

Associated Press/August 23, 2002

Miami -- Gov. Jeb Bush defended his choice to lead Florida's beleaguered child welfare agency after an article surfaced in which he condoned "manly'' discipline of children and asserted that men have authority over their wives.

Bush told reporters Friday that he questioned whether Jerry Regier was being pilloried because of his conservative religious views, and condemned a "soft bigotry that is emerging against people of faith.''

"It really doesn't matter if Jerry has a deep and abiding faith and it certainly doesn't disqualify him for public service,'' Bush said as Regier stood nearby. "I think there's bigotry here and it troubles me.''

The latest revelation came just a week after the new Department of Children & Families head tried to distance himself from a similar 1989 article, saying he had no control over its contents and was merely the co-chairman of a committee that sponsored the report.

Those authors went further, condoning spanking even when it produces bruises or welts.

In the article the year before, of which Regier was sole author, the former Oklahoma cabinet secretary argued for the restoration of family values based on "biblical norms.''

"Most men have been so intimidated by theories on child rearing that they discipline tentatively and often only as a last resort,'' Regier wrote. "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 wrote that women should be helpmates to their husbands and "our aim, within the church and outside it, should be to encourage and facilitate mothers working at home.''

The article, which appeared in the Pastoral Renewal, a no-longer published religious journal, was first reported Friday by The Miami Herald.

Regier defended himself on Friday, noting that his wife works full-time as a nurse and saying they properly disciplined their children.

"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.

"Moms and dads ought to have the ability to discipline their children. If moms and dads don't want to do it, that's fine too. But to suggest somehow that ... corporal punishment is inappropriate, you're not going to get my support for that.''

The articles have been strongly criticized by Democrats and some child advocates, who say such stances are inappropriate from the man brought in to improve Florida's troubled child welfare system.

"Kids don't count, women don't count with Jeb Bush,'' said Barbara DeVane, a Tallahassee activist heading up an organization called We All Count. "The true radical, right wing Jeb Bush ... has taken over the body of the Jeb Bush he sold us in 1998.''

Bush picked Regier last week to replace Kathleen Kearney, who resigned amid a series of troubling cases, including the disappearance of 5-year-old Rilya Wilson, who was missing from her foster home for 15 months before the agency noticed.

On Friday, Bush unveiled details of his plan to locate children under the supervision of the department who have been reported missing. The plan would create seven regional task forces consisting of state and local law enforcement and the DCF.

Progress or not, Democrats continued to urge Bush to withdraw Regier's nomination. Even some Republicans were beginning to question the appointment.

Republican state Rep. Nancy Detert said she had "deep concerns about his core philosophies'' and hoped the governor would "rethink his choice if they are true.''

"What we need now is a calming influence as an agency head, not a further bumpy road,'' she said.

Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political scientist, said Regier's views on women could cost Bush as he seeks re-election this fall in a closely divided state.

Regier, who takes over the department Sept. 3, served as the Oklahoma cabinet secretary for social services for five years and also worked for Bush's father as head of the National Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. He still faces a confirmation hearing, which isn't expected before March.

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