Ralph Nader is tired of being ignored.

No, it's not Maryland voters who are giving the independent presidential candidate the cold shoulder. It's Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Why, Nader asked at a news conference in Annapolis this week, has Ehrlich (R) failed to answer his July 14 letter about rising medical malpractice insurance rates?

In the letter, Nader takes issue with the governor's approach to solving a growing problem that could lead to a shortage of physicians in Maryland. Ehrlich has called it a crisis and proposed solving it with tort reform. He wants limits set on the multimillion-dollar jury awards that he says are driving insurance rates sky-high.

But Nader called that "tort deform" and said in his letter to Ehrlich that such a measure would be "misguided and cruel to Marylanders." Limiting jury awards, he wrote, merely punishes the victims of medical mistakes.

Nader said he believes that the real answer to the medical malpractice mess lies in a combination of improved insurance regulation and an intensified effort to weed out bad doctors.

"Five to 10 percent of physicians should not be practicing medicine," Nader said. "But the state licensing boards are extremely weak in policing bad doctors."

At the news conference, Nader claimed that Ehrlich has been spending "more time receiving money from insurance and doctor lobbyists and less time on the rampant epidemic of violence that is preventable but that is taking more lives here in Maryland than highway accidents," by which he meant medical mistakes.

During Nader's first visit to the state since submitting enough signatures to secure a spot on the Maryland ballot, he also took time to raise concerns about the state's new electronic voting machines. The touch-screen technology, which lacks a paper trail, is risky because hackers could tamper with the election results, he said.

None of this, it turns out, explains why Ehrlich has not responded to Nader's letter.

The reason, said Ehrlich's spokeswoman, Shareese N. DeLeaver, is because "a four- to six-week response time is typical for correspondence to the governor."

Master of Ceremony

Ehrlich, it was noted in an introduction last week, is Maryland's 60th governor. So how appropriate, the introduction went, that he chose to appear in Baltimore at the annual Ms. Maryland Senior America Pageant, an event which celebrates women who have reached "the age of elegance." That age, it turns out, starts at 60.

Ehrlich seemed to be in good cheer as he stood on an auditorium stage with a gold cardboard star dangling overhead. He handed out flowers and commemorative plates to the four runners-up and this year's pageant winner, 80-year-old Verna Day-Jones of Baltimore, who also got a peck on the cheek from the chief executive as the crowd howled.

Ehrlich arrived at the Ateaze Senior Center just in time to say a few words -- "I'm the proud son of two Maryland seniors . . . " -- and hand out prizes. Which is too bad, judging from the program.

The talent competition should not have been missed. Among the advertised performances: Belly dancing from Sam Kline, 63, of Monkton (who was named "Ms. Congeniality" by her peers); Hawaiian dancing from Cass Kernan, 82, of Lansdowne; and sewing and singing from Lois Boyd, 65, of Lutherville.

"This is a terrific event; this is a terrific contest," Ehrlich was able to assess upon his arrival, even without the benefit of having seen the belly dancing.

11 Aim for Prosecutor Job

The process to replace late Maryland state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli is lurching forward.

The Maryland Special Prosecutor Selection and Disabilities Commission has reported receiving 11 applications for the position and has started interviewing candidates.

The post has been open since May, when Montanarelli passed away at age 75. Over two decades, he handled hundreds of politically sensitive investigations into alleged criminal wrongdoing in a job created to pursue high-profile corruption cases among Maryland government officials.

Those who have applied: William G. Cristoforo, Emmet Christopher Davitt, James O'Conor Gentry Jr., Carolyn H. Henneman, Glen L. Klavens, Thomas M. McDonough, Hans B. Miller, Robert A. Rohrbaugh, Gerald C. Ruter, Peter D. Ward and Mitchell Craig Wolf.