The Jolt: Brian Kemp and his cheeseburger in a Trump paradise

FILE - This Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, shows the exterior of the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington. Experts on government ethics are warning President-elect Donald Trump that he’ll never shake suspicions of a clash between his private interests and the public good if he doesn’t sell off his vast holdings, which include roughly 500 companies in more than a dozen countries. They say just the appearance of conflicts is likely to tie up the new administration in investigations, lawsuits and squabbles. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)
FILE - This Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, shows the exterior of the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington. Experts on government ethics are warning President-elect Donald Trump that he’ll never shake suspicions of a clash between his private interests and the public good if he doesn’t sell off his vast holdings, which include roughly 500 companies in more than a dozen countries. They say just the appearance of conflicts is likely to tie up the new administration in investigations, lawsuits and squabbles. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Sometimes, a cheeseburger is more than a cheeseburger.

Last month, in a post on Instagram, Gov. Brian Kemp mentioned a splendiferous burger he had just enjoyed at Trump International Hotel in Washington, a $26 item that featured dry-aged beef, mayo and fries.

This week, the watchdog blog 1100 Pennsylvania picked up on that culinary review and noted that Kemp is the fourth incumbent governor spotted at the hotel since Donald Trump became president. Then the blog posited another question:

If Georgia taxpayers covered the governor's bill, this burger could end up working its way through the courts (in addition to Kemp's innards).

In March 2018, a district court judge cited repeated stays at the hotel by then-Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) when ruling that the Maryland and D.C. attorneys general had standing to sue the president for allegedly violating the Constitution by receiving "emoluments" from a state. 

So we asked Kemp’s office: Where’s the beef? Was state money involved in his dining experience?

A spokesman told us the only taxpayer funds used for the trip involved footing the bill for the rental car for the security detail that traveled with the governor, who was in Washington for Trump’s Christmas party.

The spokesman added: “The governor bought the damn burger himself.”

With that settled, a more important question arises: Why would anyone put mayonnaise on a cheeseburger?

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Catching you up after a one-week hiatus:

-- Kelly Loeffler, who will be sworn in as Georgia's next senator on Monday, trekked across the state for small group meetings in Augusta, Homerville, and Carrollton to introduce herself to prominent Republicans. A staple at each event was a pledge to back President Donald Trump's agenda: A wall on the U.S. border with Mexico, opposition to Trump's removal at his upcoming Senate trial, and opposition to restrictions on gun rights.

-- Speaker David Ralston on Tuesday named state Rep. Richard Smith as chairman of the House Rules Committee, replacing the late Jay Powell. Smith is a Republican from Columbus – and so will bring a good deal of clout to that community.

-- Former U.S. senator Max Cleland endorsed the Seventh District congressional bid of Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in 2018. But Cleland said that in 2020, he'll back state Sen. Zahra Karinshak of Duluth in the Democratic primary. Karinshak entered the race in August.

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On New Year's Day, we told you that the looming budget battle when the 2020 session of the Legislature convenes on Jan. 13 could threaten the state's generous tax credit program for the film and TV industry.

Our AJC colleague James Salzer takes that thought a step further this morning:

Two years ago, the state was expecting a financial windfall because of a massive tax bill Congress approved that experts predicted would increase state tax collections by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Back then, Gov. Nathan Deal told lawmakers they should wait to see whether the new money actually rolled in before moving to reduce the possible windfall.

But such caution fell on deaf ears in early 2018, an election year in which lawmakers were jockeying to replace the term-limited governor and move into other top posts. The Legislature instead spent the predicted windfall on a two-part cut in the top state income tax rate, a decision that may have helped bring about the worst fiscal crisis the state has seen since the Great Recession.

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Let the Bloomberg blitz begin: White House hopeful Mike Bloomberg hopes to make a stand in a sweep of places that cast Democratic ballots after the early-voting states -- including Georgia and its March 24 primary.

We’ve already told you that the former New York mayor has hired Howard Franklin, an influential Georgia mover-and-shaker, to seed the ground for him in the state.

And over the holiday break, Bloomberg dipped into his wallet to snap up a round of local TV ads in Georgia. One source told us he saw his first Bloomberg spot on New Year's Day on Fox's affiliate: "The expensive stuff, not a cable buy."

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More catch-up from the holidays: Two days after Christmas, former Vice President Joe Biden released a list of fundraising "bundlers" who have brought in at least $25,000 in donations.

Among the 233 bundlers on the list are three prominent Georgia names. Kevin Abel, a former 6th District candidate now on the GDOT board; Michele Taylor, a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council and a Democratic National Committee fundraiser; and Mack Wilbourn, an airport concessionaire who hosted an Atlanta event for Biden this campaign.

Abel, by the way, is putting his mouth where his money is. He sent out a fundraising appeal on New Year’s Eve announcing he’s about to head on the campaign trail for the candidate.

"No offense Iowa, but why would anyone from Georgia, where it's a balmy 50 degrees on New Year's Eve, voluntarily buy a plane ticket to Des Moines in mid-January?

"Because it's so darn critical that we elect the right Democratic candidate to take on the nationalist, nativist, climate-denying, deficit-spending, morally challenged shell of a Republican Party in November."

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Alexis Scott/Georgia Gang/WAGA-TV
Alexis Scott/Georgia Gang/WAGA-TV

In 1976, when the oldest of your Insiders stepped foot in the newsroom of the Atlanta Constitution as an intern, someone had pegged him as a troublemaker in need of motherly supervision.

He was given a desk between Alice Murray, the staff religion writer, and Alexis Scott – one of the few African-Americans on staff at the time.

Even so, Scott was a third-generation journalist. Her grandfather W.A. Scott II, was the founder of the Atlanta Daily World, one of the nation’s few black-owned daily newspapers.

Her father, William Scott III, was a military photographer during World War II. He documented the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Over 22 years, Alexis Scott worked her way up to vice president of community affairs for Cox Enterprises, which at the time was this newspaper’s parent company. When she left, Scott returned to the family business and became publisher of the Atlanta World.

She also became a featured member of WAGA-TV's Georgia Gang, the week-in-review program that airs each Sunday morning. This past Sunday was her last show. You can watch it here.

Wind at your back, Alexis.

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One's in, and another's out. Paulding County school boardmember Jason Anavitarte has let it be known that he won't run for Georgia's open 14th Congressional District seat.

The Republican said in a statement late Wednesday he will “continue to fight against the status quo and the establishment and fight for Paulding County” on the school board.

He’s the latest Republican to opt against seeking the seat held by retiring Rep. Tom Graves. Others who have said they won’t run include House Majority Whip Trey Kelley and state Sen. Jeff Mullis, chair of one of the chamber’s most powerful committees.

On the other hand, Clayton Fuller, an Air Force veteran and former assistant district attorney for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, has declared his candidacy for the spot. He served as a White House Fellow in 2018.

Another name to keep an eye on: Dallas Mayor Boyd Austin, the former president of the Georgia Municipal Association.

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Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has been named Georgian of the Year by Georgia Trend magazine. She compares her year in office to -- well, you decide what kind of picture she draws. From the piece:

"I don't even recognize the person I was in January 2018," she says. "It hasn't been that long ago, but I joke that serving in government is like dog years. You mature very quickly.

'There's a scene with Angela Bassett in "Waiting To Exhale" where she sets her cheating husband's car on fire. She walks out through the flames with this stroll. That's how I felt coming out of 2018. I felt like I'd been through the fire, but came out on the other side still standing, still strutting."

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