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Hey Kossacks,

A few weeks ago, I won my first elected office – Union County, New Jersey Democratic Committeeman. Well, the "campaign bug" is apparently quite contagious in my family, as it’s now affected my cousin, Mike Engelhart Engelhart for Judge. Mike is running for Judge of the 151st Civil Judicial District Court of Harris County (Houston), Texas.  It’s a trial court judge position – they elect all of their judges in Texas.  He’s starting early; the election is in November 2008, but now that he’s officially going to be a candidate (the Harris County Democrats have apparently slotted him to run for the job) he’d like to chat with the Blogosphere (he also has an account on Daily Kos and has posted here over the past several years). So, on his behalf I’d like to introduce Mike to y’all, what his job entails and why you should care (other than he’s my cousin!).

(Please note, the following memories are tongue-in-cheek – but Mike’s campaign is not)

My earliest memories of Mike are from holidays at home such as Chanukah and Rosh Hashanah; he was always the big, tall stranger from the mysterious land called "College" who’d lift me into the air with ease so I could hug him. Then he’d put me down and go throw footballs with my brother. Mike has always loved football, as he graduated from the University of Michigan (Go Blue!) while playing in the marching band. In the land of "Friday Night Lights" and "Remember the Titans", this will be an important campaign message: "Vote Engelhart – he likes Football". And no, that’s not a "Hail Mary" campaign tactic either.  

Mike moved down to Texas to attend graduate school, where he’d meet and marry his wife Eva; they have two adorable little boys. I remember flying down to Texas to attend the wedding, only to be stuck in the hotel for three days afterwards due to a massive blizzard back home. This was completely to the contrary of what the weatherman had predicted on the news, which to a 7-year old is very upsetting. Accordingly, I intend to get my revenge by filing a lawsuit in Judge Engelhart’s court -- to sue the pants off the weatherman.  (I fear the statute of limitations may have expired, however).  Hopefully the judge will be fair and balanced, like Fox News.

Mike remained in Houston after law school, and started his own law firm in 1996.  His law partner, Kelly, joined him the next year and they formed Engelhart and Greenwood, L.L.P. He’s handled thousands of cases as a lawyer, including representing Enron shareholders who lost their shirts (and their money) when Ken Lay and his minions bailed.

In recent years, Mike has grown more and more concerned about the state of our country. As I became interested in politics, we would chat about the subject more and more. Mike even flew to Florida in 2004 at his own expense to act as a poll watcher. Unfortunately, Mike failed to press the "Kerry" button enough times in the voting booth, and so Bush won the state. This did not deter him from joining the Harris County Democrats, serving on the Board of Directors of Barbara Ann Radnofsky’s 2006 US Senate campaign and becoming active in community affairs.

Now Mike is willing to take the next step – to run for office himself. In Harris County, every Judge is a Republican (for now), with many having served for several 4 year terms without Democratic opponents. In 2008, the Harris County Democrats are planning on running an entire slate of judicial candidates, in order to provide some much needed balance to the Texas judiciary. Mike will be running the 151st Judicial District, which is a county-wide seat, currently (until January 2009) held by Republican Caroline Baker. If elected, Mike will have the opportunity to perform many important duties as required of judges in the Lone Star State. Among their responsibilities are:

• Determining whether or not the crazy old lady next door is a witch; if so, shall she be burnt at the stake or dunked in the nearest lake?
• Overseeing "Trials by Ordeal" for accused criminals; these include pulling a stone from a boiling cauldron without scalding yourself, carrying a red-hot poker ten feet without flinching or being lectured on the Theory of Evolution without crying out in pain.  
• Dragging robbers out of megachurches once they’ve used up their 40-day allotment (the "right of sanctuary").  

Just kidding. Bush didn’t go that Medieval in Texas.

Actually, Mike has some pretty serious reforms in mind for his would-be job. He has also been "on the stump" in a number of different places, including one recent event in Kingwood, Texas:

"The 2008 green hybrid coasted silently (in electric-only mode) into the Kingwood Branch of the Houston Public Library last night. We met with and spoke to the Kingwood Area Democrats. It was a terrific meeting. I spoke with them for about 45 minutes and it was a real give-and-take. The members asked questions throughout the presentation and they were well thought out, substantive questions that gave me a chance to stretch my speaking legs. We talked about bringing meaningful, fundamental change to the courthouse, and not just a change in parties. Rather, a change in attitude from a group that campaigns against juries and against lawsuits to one that focuses on good government and caring about the lives of the citizens that appear before the court and the jurors that make the decisions.

We talked about the importance of juries from 2 perspectives -- both accommodating juries and making their lives easier. We would do this by bringing them into court later in the morning so they were not fighting rush hour traffic, and by maybe leaving early one day and coming in extra early the next to make parking and commute easier. We talked about using e-mail, IM or other technology to signal them when to come downtown rather than making them sit and wait all day for attorneys and judges to get their acts together.

Further, we talked about respecting the sacred role of juries and their verdicts and how to best respect our juries' decisions at the trial court and appellate levels."

The event was covered by Stace Medellin of "Dos Centavos", a popular Texas blog.

Dos Cevantos Article

Mike’s own blog is at Engelhart for Judge, so you can track his campaign efforts there. I can personally vouch for him as an honest, passionate, hard-working guy who would do a great job as a judge. He’s already raised $15,000 in one week of fundraising, and estimates that he’ll need $300,000 to win in November 2008. So any help you can provide would be great; besides, it means helping out a fellow blogger! The website link above has a contribution button, so use that if you want to give mucho dinero. Mike, btw speaks Spanish fluently as well as English, and represents a large number of Spanish-speaking-only clients in his practice.

All kidding aside, I know Mike very well, and I know he would make a great public servant. His race will be fun to watch – not only for me, but for Houston and Texas progressives alike. Harris County (and Houston in particular) is part of the future Democratic majority in Texas; as the population grows and changes in the next few decades, it is believed that the state will increasingly be more and more competitive on all levels. With Senator John Cornyn (R- Box Turtle) facing a tough Democratic challenger in 2008 (whether it be Mikal Watts, Rick Noriega or someone else), the Lone Star State may be turning a bit bluer in 2008 – and Mike Engelhart is doing his part to make that happen.

Originally posted to stephenyellin on Wed Jun 20, 2007 at 07:48 AM PDT.

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