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Tuesday, 08 March 2016 08:55

N.C. House 53 Republican primary drawing attention from outside groups

In a feisty Republican primary in state House District 53, former Harnett County school board chairman Chuck Levorse is trying to unseat veteran state Rep. David Lewis, one of the top-ranked lawmakers in the state House.

Levorse portrays himself as a grass-roots candidate who was asked to run. He thinks Lewis has been in office too long and has lost touch with the people.

Lewis says Levorse is a pawn in an internal Republican Party squabble, that Republicans who have clashed with Lewis urged Levorse to run.

The election has drawn the attention of outside interest groups, like the N.C. Chamber, Mainstream Merchants for a Better North Carolina, the N.C. Hospital Association and the Liberty Torch PAC. They have filled residents' mailboxes with fliers, and at least one has aired radio advertising.

Most of the ads have supported Lewis. The Liberty Torch PAC, based about 75 miles outside of Harnett County, backs Levorse. It describes itself as "comprised of constitutional conservatives who stand athwart history shouting NO to those who would have us slide into socialism and tyranny."

The business and hospital PACs supporting Lewis are based in Raleigh and Cary.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat Jon Blum of Angier in the fall. The district, covering eastern and much of southern Harnett County, is classed as "lean Republican" by the analysts of the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation.

While they disagree on some things, Lewis and Levorse have similarities. The two Republicans grew up in Cumberland County and now are small businessmen in eastern Harnett County. Lewis is a farmer and farm equipment dealer from Dunn, while Levorse has a screen printing business in close-by Coats.

Both want to lower taxes to encourage economic growth. Both prefer paying for government with sales taxes instead of income taxes. Both would like to eliminate taxes on investments.

Both want reduced government regulation.

A key area they disagree: Regulation of the medical care business.

North Carolina strictly controls where many kinds of medical facilities can open, such as hospitals, some specialized clinics and places that operate certain types of expensive equipment.

If someone wants to open a clinic to do magnetic resonance imaging scanning, for example, he would need permission from the state first.

Critics say the policy hinders free-market competition.

"To me, competition is what has always sparked entrepreneurship in the United States," Levorse said. It's wrong to require people in the health care industry to have to ask permission to open facilities, he said.

Lewis said the state needs to keep Certificates of Need because the health care system is run by an oligarchy.

"I don't think there's anything remotely resembling free market in today's health care. I think everything is controlled by a handful of payers," Lewis said. The Certificate of Need regulation is key to keeping rural hospitals viable, he said.

Residents expect their hospitals to provide world-class service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Lewis said. At the same time, many patients can't cover the cost of their care.

The hospitals' profit centers subsidize the money-losing patients, Lewis said. Without Certificates of Need, he said, competing facilities would open that cherry-pick higher-profit services without providing needed, but lower-profit or money-losing services that the hospitals provide.

Levorse has an uphill battle against Lewis.

Lewis has been in office since 2003 and now is the chairman of the House Rules Committee, one of the most-powerful positions in the legislature. He has much say on whether a law will pass or fail.

Levorse had raised $6,600 as of Feb. 29 and had about $6,300 on hand, according to records at the N.C. State Board of Elections.

As of Dec. 31, Lewis had more than $87,000 in his campaign fund. The Board of Elections is updating its reports this week and a more-recent total was unavailable for Lewis as of Tuesday morning.

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