Competitive battle for the District 53 Republican primary

by George Jared ( 307 views 

Voters in Arkansas State House District 53 will decide on May 22 if incumbent Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro, will return to the legislature for a third term, or if challenger Dr. Cole Peck, R-Jonesboro, will get the nod.

The district encompasses swaths of Jonesboro, Brookland and the cities of Caraway, Lake City and Monette. Both candidates spoke with Talk Business & Politics to discuss the legislative agendas they will pursue if elected.

Dr. Cole Peck
Healthcare in Arkansas is hampered by burdensome regulations, bureaucracy and Medicaid expansion commonly referred to as Obamacare, Peck said. If elected, Peck said he will work to reform the state’s healthcare system, and he has the experience to do it. He’s an emergency room doctor and is heavily involved in the business end of his practice.

“It’s not working for the patients. It’s not working for me,” he said.

A problem in the medical field is the number of frivolous lawsuits that are brought against doctors, Peck said. Tort reform is needed, and it’s one of the reasons he opted to challenge Sullivan for the seat, he said. Peck maintains doctors spend too much time practicing “defensive medicine” or ordering patients to undergo many expensive tests, even though in many cases that is a waste of time and money. Peck said he’s been sued twice, but both suits were thrown out in court. Texas passed tort reform several years ago, and it has reduced the number of lawsuits, he said.

Peck said he is “staunchly” pro-life. Life starts at conception, he said, and he thinks an abortion should be an option only if the mother’s life is at stake. Even in cases of rape and incest that lead to pregnancy, Peck thinks it should be brought to full term.

“Life is life,” he said.

Craighead County is one of the few counties in the state that has two courthouses. There has been debate in the county about closing the eastern district courthouse to save money, but many residents in that part of the county are leery about driving to Jonesboro and waiting in long lines for courthouse services. If elected, Peck said he will support a dual courthouse county.

(from left) Dr. Cole Peck, and Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Jonesboro

“It makes sense to me,” he said.

The campaign trail has been a thrilling experience, he said. Peck has always wanted to participate in the political process, and this is the first time he has sought an office. Talking to people in the district has been a rewarding experience, even when he was attacked by a pit bull while talking to a constituent, the physician said.

“Luckily, I was wearing baggy pants so he wasn’t able to bite me,” he said with a smile.

Rep. Dan Sullivan
Healthcare also is a top priority for Sullivan, and if he’s re-elected, he thinks there needs to be several changes to save patients and the government money. Audio and visual doctor visits, such as ones performed by Teladoc, are restricted in the state, and there are many ailments that require only a doctor to visually examine or talk to a patient, Sullivan said. A visit with Teladoc costs about $40 while a physical visit to a doctor’s office can cost $140 or more, he said.

“We need to give patients a choice,” he said.

Another change he’d like to see is an expanded role of advanced practice registered nurses, or APRNs. These nurses can provide primary and specialty care, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. APRNs are restricted as to what they can do in Arkansas, he said. Many states give APRNs a broad reach and the Veterans Affairs system uses the nurses, he said. In rural areas where it’s difficult to recruit doctors, APRNs might be a viable solution, he said.

“If I don’t want to use an advanced practice nurse, I don’t have to,” he said. “If I don’t want to use telehealth services, I don’t have to. This is about more choices, which equates to more freedom.”

Sullivan doesn’t think tort reform is needed. Restricting the earning power of any profession isn’t right, he said. Juries, not the legislature, should determine the merits of a lawsuit, he said.

“I believe in the jury system.”

Sullivan said he might be in favor of a school voucher system that would allow a student to take state funding and apply it toward a private or charter school. But it would depend on the legislation and the anticipated impact to the public school system, he said.

A former educator now retired, Sullivan said he thinks teachers should make more money, but the federal and state government pumping more money into the system isn’t the right approach. Each school district has the option of increasing its millage rates to pay employees more or pay for capital improvements. If patrons in the district want better paid teachers they have the best option — the ballot box.

“I’m certainly for public education. … I support our teachers,” he said. “I think those decisions should be made on the local level, not in Little Rock or in Washington, D.C.”