Kathaleen Wall has gone all out to try for the District 22 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, self-funding much of a campaign that has raised nearly $7.5 million, according to data from the Federal Election Commission. Her campaign still had nearly $1.03 million remaining in cash on hand as of the last reporting date, June 24.
That is far more than Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls, who is Wall’s opponent in the runoff from the Republican primary in March. Nehls has spent about $457,000 of more than $490,000 in contributions, leaving him with a little more than $33,000 left to spend.
“I have accomplishments. Her accomplishments are trying to buy their votes. But it’s not working in District 22,” Nehls said.
Nehls’ claim adds another layer to the runoff election, which concludes Tuesday, July 14. Early voting started June 29 and continues through Friday.
In the crowded Republican primary race that contained 15 candidates, Nehls received the most votes with 41 percent of the overall ballots cast during the March 3 primary. Wall wound up with 19 percent of the vote.
Whoever emerges victorious will then face a battle in November with Sri Preston Kulkarni, who garnered the Democratic nomination with 53.1 percent of the overall vote in defeating Derrick Reed, Nyanza Moore and Carmine Petrillo on March 3. Kulkarni is making his second bid for the District 22 seat after losing to Olson, a six-term congressman who is retiring, by five percentage points in 2018.
Wall is making her second run at a congressional seat, having lost out on the District 2 bid to Dan Crenshaw last year. She has previously served as the committee woman representing Senate District 17 on the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) and chairwoman for both the Election Integrity Working Group and the Voter Registration Working Group.
“(She) is a rare breed grassroots activist whose servant heart has helped her meet the needs of Texans while preserving our conservative values,” her campaign website reads.
Nehls has served as the Fort Bend County Sheriff since 2012. With more than two decades of service in the military, Nehls said he has made mental health a priority for veterans and others in Fort Bend County during his tenure as sheriff and would continue to do so if elected to the District 22 seat.
“We have way too many suicides in our county. It doesn’t discriminate,” he said. “We need to have a conversation about the mental health of the American people.”
One of the main contention points between the two appears to be the handling of human trafficking and its acknowledgement in Fort Bend County. Wall said in an email Monday night that she believes Nehls has not taken the problem seriously enough as sheriff, and alleged that he called one victim a liar. There have been two recent television ads in the Houston market with a similar message according to a report from the Texas Tribune.
“Troy Nehls sides with the Democrats…denying the problem of sex-trafficking right here in Fort Bend County,” she said. “I will work with Congress to pass legislation that strengthens legal punishments for criminals, helps victims, and increases public awareness of this pervasive problem in (District) 22, in Texas, and in our country.”
Nehls, however, refuted the claim, saying he has implemented a number of measures aimed at curbing the problem.
“I trust voters know my record of over 28 years in law enforcement keeping Fort Bend County safe. I’ve done more to address trafficking than anyone in this race,” he said. “I’ve set up a local 24/7 hotline for reports, I’ve jailed numerous sex traffickers, I’ve closed down numerous illicit massage parlors – which are known to be hubs for sex trafficking – and I requested and received funding for two additional detectives who specialize in investigating human trafficking.”
Wall and Nehls have both previously said they support stricter border security and illegal immigration policies, while Nehls said the topic has been one of the main tent poles of his campaign and an issue brought to his attention by residents of District 22 along with government spending and term limits.
In other notable races, District 26 in the Texas House of Representatives is also up for grabs, with candidates in both parties heading to a runoff to replace Rick Miller after he dropped his reelection bid earlier this year. Jacey Jetton and Matt Morgan will vie for the Republican nomination, while Suleman Lalani and Sarah DeMerchant – the wife of Fort Bend County Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken DeMerchant – are squaring off for the Democratic nod.
It appears the county’s voters have taken a high interest, turning out in record numbers despite the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Sunday night, Fort Bend County Elections Administrator John Oldham said in an email that 5.66 percent of the county’s registered voters have submitted ballots during early voting. He also said the county expects to surpass its previous record turnout of 9.75 percent in the 2012 primary runoffs.
For more information on each candidate, visit their respective campaign websites. To find the closest voting center and additional election information, residents can visit fortbendcountytx.gov/government/departments-e-n/elections-voter-registration/primary-runoff-election-day.