Nader urges malpractice, voting reforms

Presidential hopeful makes low-key visit to Annapolis

Election 2004

On The Campaign Trail

August 10, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader called on Maryland's government yesterday to require a paper trail for its new electronic voting machines and to find a way other than capping jury awards to prevent ballooning medical malpractice insurance costs.

Nader's trip to Annapolis lacked the hoopla of the average presidential campaign visit -- no cheering supporters, no Secret Service detachment, no focus group-tested stump speech. Instead, while meeting with reporters, the veteran consumer advocate lived up to his reputation as a policy wonk, diving into the details of issues he thinks are most important for Marylanders.

Nader said he will muster his supporters to work as observers at polling places nationwide to record any glitches with the new voting machines, though he said a verifiable paper record is the only way to make sure the results of an election aren't tampered with.

"Why are we spending billions for machines that can be hacked from the outside, crashed from the inside and make all kinds of errors, without a paper trail?" Nader said. "Why take the chance?"

On medical malpractice, Nader criticized Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. for seeking to reduce insurance rate increases by limiting jury awards, a practice known as "tort reform."

The Medical Mutual Liability Society of Maryland increased rates by 28 percent last year, and Ehrlich has warned that next year's rate increase will be even larger. He has called medical malpractice insurance costs the most pressing issue facing the state.

Yesterday, Nader released copies of a letter he sent to Ehrlich on July 14, in which he repeatedly called the governor's approach to the problem "tort deform." Nader said Ehrlich has not responded.

In his speech yesterday, Nader proposed tackling the problem of rising insurance rates through stricter policing of bad doctors. He also suggested requiring insurance companies to open their books to justify rate increases and providing consumers with information detailing which doctors and hospitals have committed malpractice.

"It's death and injury on a massive scale that can be prevented and needs to be prevented," Nader said. "That's where the focus should be."

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said it usually takes the governor four to six weeks to respond to constituent letters and that Nader will receive a response soon.

She said the governor has appointed a task force to study the issue and to formulate a "realistic approach" for addressing it.

Presidential candidates don't often go toe-to-toe with governors over state issues, but yesterday, Nader didn't act much like a candidate.

His staff tacked a blue-and-white "votenader.org" banner to the wall in Annapolis' Maryland Inn for the news conference, but until prodded by reporters, he didn't suggest anyone should vote for him and didn't discuss the election, other than to mention that he has submitted the signatures he needs to get on Maryland's ballot. He is awaiting confirmation from the Maryland Board of Elections.

"When I go into one state after another, I take very concrete stands. I relate to local issues, like the medical malpractice issue," he said.

When Nader was on the Green Party ticket in 2000, he said that it was important to run because there was no difference between the candidates.

This time, he said, that's not so.

"John Kerry got something out of Yale," Nader said of the Democratic nominee. "George Bush just barely got out of Yale."

This is not to say Nader is enamored of Kerry either. He said Democrats this year have fought to keep him off the ballot in Maryland and other states, sometimes using tactics he said amount to a "mini-Watergate." Nader said Kerry promised to look into the problems, but they have continued.

Nader also said he was disappointed with what he saw as an increasingly conservative tilt in the Kerry campaign.

"John Kerry had it right at the beginning when he said he wanted to take away my votes by taking away my issues. That's healthy competition," Nader said. "Well, that's not what he's doing now."

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