TALLAHASSEE - The man named Thursday by Gov. Jeb Bush to head Florida's notoriously inept child welfare agency is an evangelical Christian who views spanking that causes ''bruises or welts'' as acceptable punishment.
The revelation did not come to Bush's attention until hours after the governor introduced Jerry Regier, a former Oklahoma Cabinet secretary and aide to Bush's father, as the new chief of the state's Department of Children and Families.
Regier, 57, was named less than 48 hours after the resignation of DCF Secretary Kathleen A. Kearney. He takes over an agency that has been embroiled in scandal since 5-year-old Rilya Wilson disappeared.
In a 1989 essay entitled The Christian World View of the Family, Regier and co-author George Rekers railed against abortion and gay couples forming families, and emphasized that husbands have ``final say in any family dispute.''
And the essay declares that ''biblical spanking'' that leads to ``temporary and superficial bruises or welts do not constitute child abuse.''
The essay also said Christians should not marry non-Christians, that divorce is acceptable only when there is adultery or desertion and that wives should view working outside the home as ''bondage.'' The ''radical feminist movement,'' the essay adds, ``has damaged the morale of many women and convinced men to relinquish their biblical authority in the home.''
Asked if the governor was aware of Regier's writings before they were raised by The Herald, Bush spokeswoman Katie Muniz said: ``I have a simple answer. No.''
But, she added, ``Mr. Regier has been an outstanding public servant for over a decade serving two presidents and a sitting governor. His record speaks for itself. Many of our nation's finest public servants past and present have been men and women of faith.''
''However, Mr. Regier understands there is a clear distinction between fulfilling the duties and responsibilities of your office and promoting religious views,'' Muniz added.
But Regier's essay raises questions about the suggestion that he would keep beliefs and government duties separate.
He and Rekers at one point urge Christians to take ``whatever actions we can, within our biblical and constitutional limits, to realign county, state, and federal legislation regarding family issues in order to make it conform to the Bible's view of reality and morality.''
Though praised by many as a strong administrator in Oklahoma, Regier also has a long line of detractors. Critics say his devotion to conservative Christian principles could run afoul of long-standing Florida child welfare practice -- and perhaps law.
''He'll turn that agency basically into a theocracy,'' said Oklahoma state Rep. M.C. Leist, who serves on that social services appropriations subcommittee. ``You need to watch out with Jerry.''
Deborah Schroth, an attorney with Florida Legal Services, a statewide public interest law firm in Jacksonville, said state law specifically forbids corporal punishment that results in bruises and welts.
The new DCF chief's ''view of what is not child abuse is contrary to Florida law,'' Schroth said.
Regier, who was in Tallahassee on Thursday morning for the announcement of his appointment, was on his way back to Oklahoma City on Thursday night and could not be reached for comment.
Regier, who called the DCF job ''a daunting task,'' was recommended by Bush's fellow Republican governor, Frank Keating of Oklahoma, who suggested to Bush in a letter that Regier ''could be of immense help to you.'' Keating noted he called in Regier during a ''similar crisis'' in Oklahoma, asking him to root out phantom employees on the health department payroll.
Regier, who will be paid $150,000 a year, will take over a staff of more than 25,000 employees statewide who oversee more than 45,000 children, most of whom have been abused or neglected by their parents. He said his first task will be to meet with agency employees.
He will work with a budget of $844 million, a significant reduction from the $1.2 billion at his disposal in Oklahoma.
Regier steps into the shoes of former Broward judge Kearney, who resigned Tuesday after more than three months of turmoil, beginning with the April announcement that 5-year-old Rilya had disappeared from Florida's foster care system.
In subsequent days, the agency faced down serious allegations that several children -- from Miramar, Lakeland, Fort Myers, Riviera Beach and Crestview -- already known to be at risk, died from abuse or neglect.
Regier said he's confident the agency can be turned around. The father of four said he met with DCF staff several weeks ago to offer advice, but ''was not looking for a job,'' until Bush called him Wednesday to offer him the position.
''We're going to open the windows of this department,'' he said. ``We want to restore confidence in the department and I believe that's possible.''
Steven Novick, a Tulsa attorney who has fought with Oklahoma over children's issues, said Regier won kudos for his cleaning up the corruption in the Department of Health and Human Services.
''That was generally regarded as good work,'' Novick said.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride was surprised to hear about Regier's stances on child abuse and working women.
''That just sounds crazy to me,'' McBride said. ``The worst thing we can have is some philosophical thing that suggests we need to put kids more at risk of abuse.
``If the governor wasn't deliberate enough to have found the best, then he should be held accountable for this.''
Janet Reno, the leading Democratic candidate for governor, said she was not familiar with Regier's record and declined to comment on it.
Some Oklahoma lawmakers said they wished Florida well but said there was a darker side to Regier's reputation as a hard-nosed administrator.
''The best way I've heard him described is that he considers himself a self-made man -- and he worships his maker,'' said Democratic Sen. Gene Stipe, dean of the Oklahoma Senate with 54 years of service. ``He'll be extremely partisan, you can expect that. He will really champion all the right-wing causes.''
Though Regier boasted he had saved taxpayers more than $1 million by rooting out patronage and corruption in Oklahoma's health department, Stipe said Regier ''busted'' his budget at the state's Office of Juvenile Affairs, a position he held before taking over at the department of health.
Leist, a Democratic state House member, said Regier's $10-million effort to curb divorce -- which used unspent welfare dollars primarily intended for poor people -- did little to improve the welfare of troubled families.
''It stunk,'' Leist said of Regier's Marriage Initiative, which was warmly embraced by Keating, and much of conservative Washington. Contrary to Regier and Keating's proclamations, Leist said, Oklahoma's divorce rate was lower than surrounding states.
''He's good at fighting problems that don't exist,'' Stipe said.
In 1999, while Regier was secretary for health and human services, Oklahoma ranked 40th among the 50 states for several key indicators of child well-being (Florida ranked 36th). The rankings, the most recent available, are compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization for needy children.
Regier is a founder and former president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group that bills itself as championing ``marriage and family as the foundation of civilization . . .''
Regier called himself a ''preacher's kid'' and said he would promote the involvement of faith-based organizations in social services.
''My faith certainly plays a role,'' he said. ``We're not going to solve this problem by ourselves.''
Herald staff writers Steve Rothaus, Jay Weaver, Oscar Corral and Tyler Bridges contributed to this report.