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12 former Southern senators join letter calling on current Senate to defend democracy

Southerners are part of a group of 44 former senators who penned an open letter in the Washington Post

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Twelve former Southern senators have joined an open letter calling on current senators “to be steadfast and zealous” in guarding democracy amid “serious challenges to the rule of law” flowing from investigations of President Trump and his administration.

“It is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period, and we feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security,” wrote a bipartisan group of 44 former senators in the letter, which was published December 10 in the Washington Post.

The former senators cited a “convergence” between special counsel Robert Muller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and additional investigations likely to be launched by the incoming Democrat-led House.

“We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake, and the rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld,” they wrote.

“At other critical moments in our history, when constitutional crises have threatened our foundations, it has been the Senate that has stood in defense of our democracy. Today is once again such a time.”

The letter was signed by 32 Democrats, 10 Republicans and two independents who served in the Senate between the 1970s and 2015. Among the signatories were 12 Southerners, including 11 Democrats and a lone Republican, John Warner of Virginia. The list includes:

The seats of all of the Southern Democrats who signed the letter, except for Robb, are now in Republican hands. Warner’s seat is now held by a Democrat.

Tennessee Primary: GOP battle for governor, open U.S. House seats top ballot

U.S. Rep Diane Black tries to fend off two Republican rivals in governor’s race, without Donald Trump’s endorsement

By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com

NASHVILLE (CNN) — Voters in Tennessee are heading to the polls for a unique Thursday primary in which the Republican race for the open governor’s seat is getting the lion’s share of attention.

U.S. Rep. Diane Black, who had been considered the front-runner earlier in the race, is now facing a battle with Randy Boyd, an adviser to outgoing Governor Bill Haslam, and Bill Lee, a businessman and rancher from Williamson County.

Despite her ardent support for President Donald Trump and her work getting his tax cuts through Congress, Black has not received a coveted presidential tweet of endorsement, which has buoyed GOP candidates for governor in primaries in Georgia and Florida.

Because Tennessee doesn’t have primary runoffs, the candidate who finishes first in the six-way primary will become the nominee.

Phil Bredesen

Marsha Blackburn

In the U.S. Senate race, Republicans are expected to nominate U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn to face Democratic former Governor Phil Bredensen in what’s likely to become one of the fall’s hottest Senate contests.

Parties are also picking nominees for U.S. House seats given up by Black and Blackburn and the 2nd District seat that opened with the retirement of U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan.

In West Tennessee’s 8th District, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff is facing a strong primary challenge from George Flinn, a self-funding former Shelby County commissioner making his fifth try for federal office.

Tennessee is one of only two states that do not hold their primary elections on a Tuesday, a schedule dating back to its admission as a state in 1796; Louisiana holds its primaries for state and local offices on Saturdays.

Polls open in most of Tennessee at 7 a.m., although times may vary by county. Polls close at 8 p.m. in the Eastern time zone and 7 p.m. in the Central time zone.

Bill Lee

Randy Boyd

Diane Black

The governor’s race features six Republican candidates, including Black, 67, from Gallatin, who has spent the last eight years in Congress representing the 6th District, which includes the northern Nashville suburbs and north-central Tennessee; Boyd, 58, from Knoxville, who made his fortune with a company that makes electronic fences for dogs and was an adviser to Haslam on education policy and economic development; and Lee, 58, owner of a heating and air company making his first run for political office.

Also running on the Republican side is State House Speaker Beth Harwell, 60, from Nashville, although polls showed her slightly behind the three candidates at the front of the pack. She has been in the legislature for 20 years, culminating in her selection as the first woman speaker in state history.

While President Donald Trump has waded into Republican governor primaries in Georgia and Tennessee, he did not offer an endorsement in Tennessee, something of a blow to Black, who, as chairwoman of the House Budget Committee, helped shepherd the Republicans’ tax cut bill through the House.

However, Black has been using video of Trump praising her in one of her TV ads, and she did get the endorsement of Vice President Mike Pence.

Haslam is term-limited and hasn’t endorsed anyone in the race. However, Boyd — who, like Haslam, is from Knoxville — has served in his administration, and the New York Times has reported that the Republican Governors Association, which Haslam chairs, has been lobbying Trump not to endorse Black. (The governor’s office has refused to confirm that report.)

Karl Dean

The winner of the Republican primary is expected to face former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who is the favorite the three-way Democratic primary.

The fall race for governor will be a crowded affair, as 26 independents have qualified for the ballot, including 13 Libertarians. Because the Libertarian Party does not have official ballot access, the party has no primary, and all 13 candidates will appear on the ballot as independents.

In U.S. House races, Republicans will be settling contested primaries in four GOP-held districts in which the Republican winner will be favored in the fall.

In Duncan’s 2nd District seat, which includes metro Knoxville and surrounding portions of East Tennessee, the GOP race features Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett; State Rep. Jimmy Matlock from Lenior City; Jason Emert, a Bount County lawyer and former chairman of the Young Republicans National Federation; and Ashley Nickloes from Rockford, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Tennessee Air National Guard.

On the Democratic side, Renee Hoyos from Knoxville, former director of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, is facing Joshua Williams, a Knoxville psychologist.

In the open race for Black’s 6th District seat, the Republican race includes John Rose from Cookeville, who served as state agriculture commissioner; Bob Corlew, a retired judge from Mount Juliet; and State Rep. Judd Matheny from Tullahoma.

Democrats running include Merrilie Winegar, a Methodist minister from Hendersonville; Pete Heffernan, a management consultant from Gallatin; and Dawn Barlow, a physician from Livingston.

In the open race for Blackburn’s 7th District seat, which includes Nashville’s southern suburbs and west-central Tennessee, State Senator Mark Green from Ashland City was the only Republican to file.

In 2017, Trump nominated Green, a physician and West Point graduate, to be Secretary of the Army, but Green withdrew the nomination amid controversy of some of his previous public statements, including an assertion in 2016 that most psychiatrists believe being transgendered is a “disease.” (The American Psychiatric Association does not classify gender non-conformity as a mental illness).

Democrats in the 7th District race include Justin Canew from College Grove, a digital media producer and two-time contestant on The Amazing Race, and Matt Reel from Primm Springs, a congressional aide who serves in the Tennessee National Guard.

In the 8th District, which includes part of Memphis city, its eastern suburbs and the Mississippi Delta, Kustoff, a former federal prosecutor from Germantown, who was elected in 2016, is facing a challenge from Flinn, a physician who also owns a string of 40 radio and television stations.

Flinn, who lost to Kustoff in the GOP primary in 2016, is making his fifth run for Congress, having run twice in the U.S. House in the 8th District, once in the Memphis-based 9th District and for the U.S. Senate in 2014. He has poured more than $3 million of his own money into the campaign, giving him a signficant fundraising advantage over Kustoff.

However, Kustoff is likely to benefit from a last-minute endorsement by Trump, whom he called “a champion for the Trump Agenda.”

The Democratic race in the 8th District is between John Boatner, a social worker from Shelby County, and Erika Stotts Pearson, the former assistant general manager of the WNBA’s Memphis Blues.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul’s neighbor faces federal assault charge in November attack

Rene Boucher faces possible prison time for injuring Kentucky lawmaker

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPoiltics.com editor

BOWLING GREEN, Kentucky (CFP) — A neighbor of U.S. Senator Rand Paul is facing a federal felony charge for tackling and injuring the Kentucky senator after a dispute over yard trimmings in November, according to the federal prosecutor handling the case.

Mug shot of Rene Boucher (Warren Co. Sheriff’s Office)

Rene Boucher, 58, of Bowling Green, has been charged with assaulting a member of Congress resulting in personal injury, according to an announcement from John Minkler, the U.S attorney for the Southern District of Indiana.

Boucher has signed a plea agreement in the case, but no date has been set for taking his guilty plea and imposing a sentence, the statement said.

The charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Boucher’s attorney, Matt Baker, told the Bowling Green Daily News that Boucher is remorseful for the attack will ask for probation at sentencing.

Boucher has also been charged with fourth-degree assault in a state court.

The case was transferred to Minkler’ office in Indianapolis after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Louisville-based Western District of Kentucky recused itself from the case.

U.S. Senator Rand Paul

The statement from Minkler’s office shed new light on what happened on the afternoon of November 3 in a tony subdivision near Bowling Green, where Boucher and Paul–both medical doctors–were neighbors.

Boucher saw Paul “stack brush onto a pile near the victim’s property” and “had enough,” according to the statement. He then ran onto Paul’s property and tackled him.

The senator suffered multiple fractured ribs and later contracted pneumonia, the statement said.

At the time of the assault, speculation arose that Boucher’s assault on Paul might have been politically motivated. But according to Minkler’s statement, Boucher denied any political motivation, although he did admit to tackling the senator.

Alabama Democratic U.S. Senator Doug Jones sworn in

Jones is first Alabama Democrat to sit in the Senate since 1997

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Democrat Doug Jones has been officially sworn in as a U.S. senator, capping the remarkable and improbable political feat of capturing a Senate seat in one of the nation’s most Republican states.

U.S. Senator Doug Jones is sworn in. (Courtesy C-SPAN)

Jones, flanked by former Vice President Joe Biden, was sworn in on January 3 by Vice President Mike Pence, alongside Democrat Tina Smith, who assumed the Senate seat from Minnesota vacated by Al Franken. The ceremony was then re-enacted in the Old Senate Chamber, where Jones was accompanied by his family.

Jones assumed the seat once held by his mentor and former boss, the late U.S. Senator Howell Heflin, who was the last Democrat to represent the Yellowhammer State when he retired in 1997.

With Jones in the Senate, Republicans will hold a scant 51-49 advantage. With Pence available to break ties, Democrats need just two Republican votes to stop the majority from passing legislation.

Jones, 63, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, was given little chance to win the seat when a special election was called in April to pick a permanent replacement for Republican Jeff Sessions, who resigned to become U.S. attorney general.

But interest in Jones began picking up after the man picked to fill Session’s seat on a temporary basis, Luther Strange, was defeated in a Republican primary runoff by Roy Moore, the controversial former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. And then, a month before the December 12 election, the race was rocked by allegations that Moore had sexually pursued teenage girls when he was in his 30s.

Moore vehemently denied the charges. But GOP Senate leaders quickly disavowed him and tried to push him out of the race, to no avail. Alabama Republican U.S. Senator Richard Shelby was among Moore’s detractors, saying publicly that he would not vote for Moore.

Almost alone among Republicans, President Donald Trump stood by Moore, telling his supporters that letting a “liberal” like Jones into the Senate would harm his agenda. But Republican defections, coupled with a strong turnout by African American voters, put Jones over the top by 22,000 votes.

Jones is one of only five Democrats representing Southern states in the Senate, joining U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Bill Nelson of Florida. The other 23 Southern senators are Republicans.

Jones will now serve the remainder of Sessions term, which comes up for election again in 2020.

Roy Moore ousts Luther Strange in Alabama U.S. Senate GOP runoff

Victory by insurgent Moore a blow to President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

BIRMINGHAM (CNN) — In a rebuke to Senate Republican leaders and President Donald Trump, Alabama Republicans have chosen former Roy Moore, a man twice removed as chief justice of the state’s highest court, for a U.S. Senate seat over incumbent Luther Strange, who failed to secure by election the post he gained by appointment just seven months ago.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Moore, 70, who became a darling of Christian conservatives by defying federal court orders on displaying the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage, took 55 percent of the vote in the September 26 runoff to 45 percent for Strange, who had the backing of both Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I never prayed to win this campaign. I only prayed that God’s will be done,” Moore told his cheering supporters in Montgomery. “We have to return the knowledge of God and the knowledge of the Constitution of the United States to the United States Congress.”

And despite Trump’s conspicuous support for Strange, Moore said, “Don’t let anybody in the press think that because he supported my opponent that I don’t support him and support his agenda … as long as its constitutional.”

After Strange’s defeat became clear, Trump tweeted, “Congratulations to Roy Moore on his Republican Primary win in Alabama. Luther Strange started way back & ran a good race. Roy, WIN in Dec!”

Strange, who gave up being state attorney general to take the Senate appointment, could not hold his seat despite solid establishment support and a huge financial advantage over Moore. Speaking to supporters in Birmingham, he acknowledged that his campaign failed to navigate the anti-establishment waves now coursing through American politics.

“We’re dealing with a political environment that I’ve never had any experience with,” Strange said. “The political winds in the country right now … are very hard to understand.”

Strange also thanked Trump and said the responsibility for his loss lies with him, not the president.

“If this causes him any trouble, it’s not his fault,” Strange said. “The fault always lies in the candidate or the head coach or the guy holding the ball.”

Moore will now face Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, in a general election on December 12. And although Democrats haven’t won a Senate election in Alabama in 25 years, the nomination of the controversial Moore provides at least a glimmer of hope for an upset.

Jones, speaking to supporters in Birmingham as the results of the GOP race were coming in, predicted that he would win in December once voters began focusing on issues.

“We have the wind at our back,” Jones said. “We believe we have the issues people care about which you have not heard any discussions about. People are concerned about health care and the economy. People want to see this state moving forward. I believe that we can do that.”

Moore’s nomination also means that McConnell faces the unpleasant prospect of having a new member in his caucus who has castigated McConnell on the campaign trail and called for his ouster — no small consideration given that Republicans have a thin majority of just 52 seats in the 100-member Senate.

McConnell went all in for Strange during the primary. The Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC affiliated with the majority leader, poured more than $5 million into the race, the bulk of it for attack ads against Moore.

Both Strange and Moore cast themselves as champions of Trump’s agenda, in a state where he remains popular. But the president put his personal power and prestige on the line for Strange, formally endorsing him just a week before the first round of voting in August and coming to Alabama to campaign with him four days before the runoff.

During Trump’s pre-election appearance in Huntsville, he conceded that his endorsement of Strange might turn out to be a mistake should the senator lose — but that he would campaign “like hell” for Moore if he won.

The battle in Alabama became a proxy war between the Senate GOP leaders and their intra-party critics, who have embraced the Moore candidacy as a way of giving McConnell a black eye. Breitbart News, the website run by Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, banged its drum for Moore, and former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin campaigned by his side.

The twist in the Alabama race was that Trump was on the side of the GOP establishment, rather than Moore, the insurgent outsider who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Strange, 64, was appointed to the Senate in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general.

At the time, Strange was Alabama’s attorney general, and his office had been involved in investigating the governor’s conduct. Bentley also handed Strange another gift, delaying a special election to permanently fill the Senate seat until November 2018, which would have given Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election.

The circumstances of Strange’s appointment, and the perception that it might have been the result of a political deal with the disgraced Bentley, dogged the senator throughout the campaign, even though he has strongly denied any impropriety and no evidence of a corrupt bargain has surfaced.

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Moore first gained national notoriety as a local judge in 1995 after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after urging local officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

After losing an appeal of his suspension, Moore resigned from the Supreme Court to run for the Senate.

Trump stumps for U.S. Senator Luther Strange ahead of Alabama runoff

President tells Huntsville crowd that his endorsement of Strange might turn out to be a “mistake” if he loses

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (CFP) — President Donald Trump put his power and prestige directly on the line by traveling to Alabama to campaign for U.S. Senator Luther Strange, who is locked in bruising GOP primary runoff against former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Trump and Strange onstage in Huntsville (Photo: Twitter)

But addressing Strange’s supporters in Huntsville just four days before Alabama Republicans make their decision, Trump conceded that his endorsement of Strange might turn out to be a mistake should the senator lose — and that he would campaign “like hell” for Moore if the challenger wins the September 26 vote.

“I’m taking a big risk, because if he doesn’t make it, they’re going to go after me,” Trump said, a reference to the likely media reaction if Moore wins.

“If Luther doesn’t win, they’re not going to say we picked up 25 points in a very short period of time. They’re going to say, ‘Donald Trump, the president of the United States, was unable to pull his candidate across the line. It is a terrible, terrible moment for Trump,'” he said.

However, Trump also said that he thought a Moore victory in the primary could put the seat Alabama seat in play in November, in a state where Democrats haven’t won a Senate race in 25 years.

“Roy has a very good chance of not winning in the general election,” Trump said. “Moore is going to have a hard time winning.”

The Democratic nominee is Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor from Birmingham, whose uphill task in deep red Alabama might be less uphill against someone with Moore’s controversial past, which includes being ousted twice from his chief justice post for defying federal court rulings.

Both Strange and Moore have cast themselves as champions of the president’s agenda, in a state where Trump remains popular. But it was Strange who earned a formal endorsement from Trump just a week before the first round of voting in August, which Moore won.

Since then, Moore has been endorsed by the third place finisher, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, and received support from Breitbart News, the website run by Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon. Former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin also traveled to Alabama to campaign with Moore.

In addition to Trump, Strange has received support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies, who have dumped millions into the race on his behalf.

The battle in Alabama has become a proxy war between the Senate GOP leaders and their intra-party critics, who have embraced the Moore candidacy as a way of giving McConnell a black eye — and possibly saddling him with a Republican caucus member who has publicly and repeatedly called for his ouster.

The twist in the Alabama race is that Trump is on the side of the GOP establishment, rather than Moore, the insurgent outsider who has said he believes God put Trump in the White House.

Five statewide polls taken since the first round of primary voting in August have shown Moore with a lead beyond the statistical margin of error; in three others, the margin between the candidates was not large enough to draw inferences about the state of the race.

The latest poll, a September 18 survey from JMC Analytics, showed an inconclusive margin between the candidates. However, that was a marked shift from the same poll in August, which had Moore with a 19-point lead over Strange.

About 13 percent of voters polled in the survey said they were still undecided.

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Strange, 64, was appointed to the Senate in February by former Governor Robert Bentley after Jeff Sessions was named as Trump’s attorney general.

At the time, Strange was Alabama’s attorney general, and his office had been involved in investigating the governor’s conduct. Bentley also handed Strange another gift, delaying a special election to permanently fill the Senate seat until November 2018, which would have given Strange nearly two years of incumbency before he had to face voters.

But after a sex scandal forced Bentley from office, new Alabama Governor Kay Ivey reversed course and ordered a special election.

The circumstances of Strange’s appointment, and the perception that it might have been the result of a political deal with the disgraced Bentley, have dogged the senator throughout the campaign, even though he has strongly denied any impropriety and no evidence of a corrupt bargain has surfaced.

Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore

Moore, 70, first gained national notoriety as a local judge in 1995 after battling the ACLU over his practice of opening court sessions with a prayer and hanging the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.

He parlayed that prominence into election as chief justice in 2000 but was forced out in 2003 after he had a display of the Ten Commandments installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building and then defied a federal judge’s order to remove it.

Moore was once again elected chief justice in 2012, but in 2016, he was suspended by a judicial disciplinary panel for the rest of his term for ethics violations after urging local officials to defy the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

After losing an appeal of his suspension, Moore resigned from the Supreme Court to run for the Senate.

Will Robert Bentley brouhaha rub off on U.S. Senator Luther Strange?

Strange’s candor about Bentley investigation, timing of special election being questioned

♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor

MONTGOMERY (CFP) — Now that the sex and cover-up scandal that has transfixed Alabama for nearly a year has claimed the political scalp of ex-Governor Robert Bentley, state political circles are fixating on another question: Will the Bentley imbroglio also ensnare U.S. Senator Luther Strange?

U.S. Senator Luther Strange

Bentley punched Strange’s ticket to Washington in February, tapping him to fill the seat vacated when Jeff Sessions was confirmed as U.S. attorney general. The governor also handed Strange another generous gift — he delayed a special election for the Senate vacancy until 2018, even though state law mandates that the governor call an election “forthwith.” That meant that Strange’s supposedly temporary appointment would last nearly two years.

At the time, Strange was Alabama’s attorney general, and the resolution of the case against Bentley–in which he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and resigned–has raised questions about not only the timing of the special election, but also Strange’s push first to delay Bentley’s impeachment and then downplay an investigation into his conduct. Both men are Republicans.

In November 2016, just before the presidential election, Strange asked leaders of the House Judiciary Committee to suspend their work on possible impeachment charges against Bentley because it might impact “related work” by the attorney general’s office.

But after being appointed by Bentley to the Senate, Strange tried to tamp down speculation that the governor was under investigation, telling reporters, “We have never said in our office that we are investigating the governor. I think it’s actually somewhat unfair to him and unfair to the process.”

But just days later, Strange’s successor as attorney general, Steve Marshall, confirmed that Bentley was indeed under investigation. And because he, too, had been appointed by Bentley, he recused himself and named a special prosecutor, who negotiated the plea deal that pried the former governor from office.

Strange has insisted that his actions as attorney general regarding the Bentley investigation were above board. However, Bessemer attorney Sam McClure has filed a complaint with the Alabama State Bar Association, asking for Strange to be disbarred for accepting the Senate appointment after delaying the impeachment proceedings, which he said violated legal ethics.

McClure has indicated he will file a similar complaint with the Alabama Ethics Commission, which could also investigate Strange.

However, a strong argument against any quid quo pro between Bentley and Strange is the fact that at the time he asked the Judiciary Committee to suspend its process, Donald Trump had not been elected. So Strange had no way of knowing that Sessions would be appointed as attorney general and a Senate vacancy would open.

In another twist, a legislator who pushed for Bentley’s impeachment, State Rep. Ed Henry, R-Hartselle, now says he met with Bentley shortly after Strange’s appointment, and the then-governor told Henry that he sent Strange to the Senate not to impede the investigation into his own conduct but because Bentley thought Strange was corrupt and wanted to get him out of the state.

Henry has now told this story in both national and state media outlets, prompting strong denials from Bentley’s attorney. Two other state legislators have now gone on the record saying that Henry told them the details of what Bentley said in that meeting, although they were not privy to the conversation.

Also up in the air is the possibility that Strange might have to face a special election to hang on to his seat. Saying Bentley’s appointment of Strange “smells to high heaven,” Republican State Auditor Jim Zeigler, has gone to court to overturn Bentley’s decision to delay the special election until 2018.

New Governor Kay Ivey, also a Republican, might also reverse course and order an earlier vote, although she has so far given no indication that she’s considering doing so.

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