Happy New Year! Here are the top stories we found week and a final pitch for our NewsMatch fundraising drive. We’ll be back Tuesday morning, Jan. 3
The unexpected and truly awful news this week was the meltdown of Southwest Airlines at BWI and across the country. It stranded thousands of passengers at BWI, an airport that the airline had made the busiest in the region with low fares on hundreds of flights a day.
OUTDATED SYSTEMS COULDN’T COPE WITH A NATIONWIDE STORM: One of the most comprehensive stories about the meltdown and why it happened was on the front page of the Washington Post Thursday headlined: Southwest didn’t heed calls to upgrade tech before meltdown, unions say. Southwest Airlines’ pilot and flight attendant unions warned for years that the company’s rickety computer systems left the airline vulnerable. The carrier stuck with outdated technology and never heeded those warnings, they say. Ian Duncan and Justin George/The Washington Post (Both reporters had formerly worked at the Baltimore Sun.)
COMBINATION OF FACTORS: The Dallas airline was undone by a combination of factors including an antiquated crew-scheduling system and a network design that allows cancellations in one region to cascade throughout the country rapidly. Unlike other airlines which used hub and spoke operations, Southwest uses a point-to-point system. Those weaknesses are not new — they helped cause a similar failure by Southwest in October 2021. David Koenig and Heather Hollingsworth/Associated Press
ALMOST BACK TO NORMAL FRIDAY: Southwest Airlines said it plans to operate close to a normal schedule beginning Friday, a sign that its long recovery from a punishing winter storm and breakdown of internal technology is coming to a close. While about 2,500 flights were canceled Thursday, only a handful — fewer than 1 percent of the carrier’s flights — were scrubbed for Friday.
- Thousands of people struggle to find their luggage. Jenye Donaldson/WBAL-TV
- Travelers talk about their woes. Cristina Mendez/WJZ
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As the governor, comptroller and attorney general all leave office in a few weeks, there are exit interviews and analyses for all them, particularly Gov. Larry Hogan. Unlike most of the legacy news outlets in Maryland, there are no paywalls blocking content on Maryland Matters and Maryland Reporter, both nonprofit news sites. All original content on Maryland Reporter is available under a Creative Commons License and can be republished with attribution without asking permission.
BLUE-STATE REPUBLICAN: KROMER BOOK DETAILS HOW HOGAN SUCCEEDED: How did relatively conservative Republican Larry Hogan manage to become only the second Republican in Maryland history to win two terms as governor in an increasingly progressive state? Mileah Kromer, a Goucher College political science professor and pollster, does a great job answering that question in her new book, Blue-State Republican: How Larry Hogan Won Where Republicans Lose and Lessons for a Future GOP. Len Lazarick/Maryland Reporter
DID HOGAN CHANGE MARYLAND FOR THE BETTER?: Here is Len Lazarick’s monthly column in The Business Monthly that seeks to answer that question. A new glossy 68-page magazine produced by the Hogan-Rutherford administration answers the question with a definite yes. Len Lazarick/The Business Monthly
EXIT INTERVIEWS: Bruce DePuyt of Maryland Matters, the other nonprofit news website covering state government and politics without a paywall, had a sit down interview with Gov. Larry Hogan last week. In Part 1, Hogan reflects on his two terms “with a sense of accomplishment.” In part 2, Hogan discusses his regrets over legislation that he couldn’t get passed, the stalled toll-lane projects in Montgomery County, and the Capitol insurrection.
EXIT INTERVIEW: COMPTROLLER PETER FRANCHOT: Franchot will leave behind 16 years as comptroller that includes his service on one of the state’s most influential bodies, the Board of Public Works. He sat alongside two governors and two state treasurers approving billions of dollars in school construction projects, government contracts and other spending measures. The Montgomery County resident said he plans to take a two-month vacation, relaxing with his wife of 42 years, Anne Maher, and their three grandchildren. They have two children. After his time off, Franchot said he’ll announce a venture to teach children about financial literacy. William Ford/Maryland Matters
EXIT INTERVIEW: AG BRIAN FROSH: Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has taken on the gun lobby, the drug industry, President Trump and even Gov. Larry Hogan. Now he is ending a storied career with 36 years in public service, eight as Maryland’s attorney general. Ovetta Wiggins/The Washington Post
- “People say, ‘So, are you winding down?’ And the answer is, ‘No,’” Frosh said in a recent interview. “We have a pipeline. And the pipeline is full, and it keeps coming at me.” Dylan Segelbaum/Baltimore Banner
NOT QUITE AN EXIT INTERVIEW: STENY HOYER: Rep. Steny Hoyer is not leaving Congress after 40 years, but he is stepping down as the #2 Democrat in the House. Meagan Flynn of The Washington Post profiles his long career.
RASKIN HAS CANCER: Just days after winning a key leadership post in the House of Representatives, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) disclosed Wednesday that he has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma, which he called “serious but curable.” This would be Raskin’s second bout with cancer: He underwent treatment for colon cancer in 2010, when he was a member of the state Senate. Josh Kurtz/Maryland Matters
SOME OF OMNIBUS MONEY HEADED TO BALTIMORE: The Baltimore area could see an influx of tens of millions of federal dollars for a variety of projects thanks to a massive spending bill passed by Congress just ahead of Christmas. Baltimore’s congressional delegation said they got some major ornaments for the city and the surrounding area on that tree — including $47 million to dredge and maintain the Baltimore Harbor. Giacomo Bologna/Baltimore Sun
POLICE RECORDS STILL HARD TO GET: Just over a year after new laws took effect in Maryland to increase access to police misconduct and internal affairs records, a host of public interest groups and news organizations are now asking the courts for help forcing government agencies to comply. The implementation has been inconsistent statewide, groups suing for more open access to records have asserted. They say agencies are charging exorbitant fees for public records, missing mandated deadlines or denying requests altogether. Katie Mettler/The Washington Post
FOOD BANK GRANT ENDING: On Dec. 31, the Maryland Food Bank’s pandemic grant that provided $40 million worth of free food to about 330 local Maryland organizations is ending. Cassidy Jensen/Baltimore Sun
CURING MAIL-IN BALLOTS BY TEXT: A quarter of all voters this year used mail-in ballots. In the future, any errors in these ballots might be able to be corrected by text messaging. Emily Opilo/Baltimore Sun
POLICE PENSIONS: Should law enforcement officers convicted of felonies receive pensions? Two state lawmakers say no. State Sen. Jill P. Carter and Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins plan to introduce legislation that would prevent convicted officers from collecting the benefit. Julie Scharper/Baltimore Banner
OPINION: EXEMPT MILITARY PENSION FROM INCOME TAX: Fully exempting military retired pay from Maryland income tax would help stem migration of skilled and experienced personnel to other states, says retired Navy Rear Admiral Tom Jurkowsky. Baltimore Banner
OPINION: MORE FAST CARS FOR BALTIMORE?: Conservative commentator Chris Anderson takes a look at Gov.-elect Wes Moore’s baby bonds proposal. Maryland Reporter
NONPROFITS ASK FOR $100 MILLION: The advocacy group Maryland Nonprofits is asking policymakers for $100 million of the state government’s budget surplus to help community organizations across the state serve needy residents. In a wish list released last week, the membership organization for nonprofits argued that they play a critical role in improving equity and quality of life in local communities but are often neglected by the government. Merdie Nzanga/Maryland Matters
TAX ASSESSMENTS UP: Property tax assessments in Maryland are catching up to the state’s tight real estate market, which saw soaring prices during the coronavirus pandemic. That means many Marylanders will see a sizable bump in their property tax bills in the coming years. The total assessed value on residential and commercial property around the state rose 20.6%, according to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation, or SDAT. Giacomo Bologna/Baltimore Sun
- The assessments were based on an evaluation of close to 90,000 sales that took place within assessment Group 2 since January 2020. More than 96% of residential property values increased during this time, according to a news release from the state agency. Hallie Miller/Baltimore Banner
- The Maryland Association of Counties has a full run down, with charts and county breakdowns. Kevin Kinnally/Conduit Street (No paywall)
SUN MOVING BACK TO DOWNTOWN BALTIMORE: Baltimore Sun Media will move its headquarters back to downtown Baltimore in the new year. The company has signed a lease for office space at 200 St. Paul Place, publisher Trif Alatzas announced in a memo sent to staff Thursday afternoon. The building also houses the office of the Maryland Attorney General and the Maryland Insurance Administration. Amanda Yeager/Baltimore Sun
NEW CONTROLS ON COST OF INSULIN: Hundreds of thousands of Maryland residents with diabetes will have one less thing to stress about in the New Year: the volatile cost of insulin, a lifesaving medication that enables chronically ill people with diabetes to keep their blood sugar in a safe range. That’s because new laws at the state and federal level cap the price of insulin for patients who are covered by Medicare and those with commercial insurance policies. Scott Maucione/WYPR