The latest attack ad from Houston-area congressional candidate Kathaleen Wall accuses her opponent in the GOP primary, former Fort Bend Sheriff Troy Nehls, of neglecting the issue of human trafficking during his seven-year tenure.
In the TV ad, which began running last weekend in the Houston market, sex trafficking survivor Courtney Litvak and her parents, who live in Katy, blast Nehls, saying he downplayed the problem.
Without giving specifics, Litvak’s father Alan blames Nehls for “revictimizing” her and his family with the way they handled her case, then addresses Nehls directly: “I’d love to have you look me in the eye and tell me how you could possibly sit there and not do your job and not protect my family because that’s what you’ve done for years.”
Nehls said neither he nor his staff ever spoke with Courtney Litvak and that Harris County law enforcement agencies investigated the case but did not make any arrests. Nehls said a lieutenant on his staff tried to interview her, “but the family was completely uncooperative in allowing him access to the daughter.”
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The ad was released as early voting started in the GOP runoff race for who will represent 22nd Congressional District, which includes most of Fort Bend County plus parts of Brazoria and Harris counties. The winner will face Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni, who last year came within 5 percentage points of taking the seat from the incumbent Rep. Pete Olson, who is retiring this year.
Flipping the 22nd District to Democratic control in November is a top-priority for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The new ad cites Houston Chronicle articles that note that Nehls has said there was little evidence of human trafficking in Fort Bend County and has in the past shied away from naming it a top issue.
This marks Wall’s second attack of this nature in recent weeks. Last week, she ran an ad featuring Fort Bend County Constable Wayne Thompson who called Nehls’ human trafficking record “disappointing” and said the problem got worse under his leadership. Thompson and Nehls have sparred politically in the past.
Wall did not respond to a request for comment.
Nehls responded to the new ad on Tuesday in a Facebook post, saying he took all reports of human trafficking seriously and pointing to examples of ways he tried to address the issue.
“To suggest we ignore cases or turn a blind eye is an ABSOLUTE LIE,” he wrote. “I am the only candidate in this race who has done something to combat human trafficking. As sheriff, I’ve jailed sex traffickers, I’ve established a local 24/7 human trafficking hotline, I’ve closed down numerous illicit massage parlors, which are known to be a hub for sex trafficking, and I’ve requested and received funding for two additional detectives who specialize in human trafficking investigations.”
Litvak, who earlier this year was appointed to the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, was a junior in a Katy high school when she met the people who groomed her for sex trafficking. Hearst Newspapers wrote about her story earlier this year.
She and her mother, Kelly Litvak, now run a nonprofit, ChildProof America, aimed at helping people like her, and Courtney has become a vocal anti-trafficking advocate. She’s worked with U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, a Houston-area Republican, on human trafficking legislation, and stood by the president’s side as he signed an executive order allocating more funding to anti-trafficking efforts in January.
Litvak’s mother says in the Wall campaign ad that the family had a two-hour meeting with him, but Nehls said in the Facebook post and in an interview Thursday that he has never met or spoken to Courtney Litvak. Litvak did not respond to a request for comment.
The Litvaks also say in the ad that Nehls “has publicly blamed and shamed our family” without offering further detail, so it’s unclear to what they are referring.
Wall is coming off a 2018 run for another Houston-area seat in Congressional District 2 that resulted in a loss even after she’d loaned herself more than $6 million. Self-funding has been her strategy again this time around, putting more than $7 million of her own money into the primary race.