One of Dallas County’s most historically competitive Texas House races is heating up with warring ads that put both candidates in opponents’ crosshairs.
District 107 incumbent Republican Rep. Kenneth Sheets is airing a television commercial that paints Democratic challenger Victoria Neave as an attorney who defends violent criminals and used her income to buy a “million-dollar” house outside of the eastern Dallas County district in which she’s running.
Meanwhile, Neave and a Democratic group called the Lone Star Project accuse Sheets in a campaign mailers and an online ad of not protecting abused and neglected children and standing by “while Texas kids died” during an ongoing Child Protective Services crisis.
The race, in which the two attorneys are vying to represent what's been a toss-up district for at least a decade, is the most expensive Texas House campaign this year. Sheets, a three-term incumbent, entered the final leg of the contest with a $232,000 campaign war chest. That’s twice the roughly $84,000 Neave had earlier this month. Early voting in the Nov. 8 elections starts Monday.
Sheets ousted a Democrat to win the seat in 2010, garnering 51.4 percent of the vote in a three-way race in that midterm election. He then narrowly held onto the district with 50.8 percent in the 2012 presidential election cycle and fended off another Democratic challenger with 55 percent of the vote in the 2014 midterms.
Sheets, 39, said it's "disingenuous" for Neave to portray herself as viable representative when she moved to her current apartment shortly before announcing her candidacy and still owns a house that's nearby but outside the district.
"And she wants the the people of this district to believe that she's living in a tiny apartment rather than that huge house that's outside the district?" Sheets said Saturday.
Neave, 35, called the ad a "below-the-belt" personal smear. She said she and her former fiance co-own the house mentioned in her opponent’s ad but that she moved out after the couple split. Neave said she has lived in the district more than a year. She also said she grew up in Pleasant Grove but has long had family and friends in District 107, where her father once owned a television repair shop.
“I have much longer and deeper ties to our district than Ken Sheets,” she said.
County land records show Neave and her former fiance bought the house in 2011. The Democrat’s driver’s license lists an apartment inside the district as her current address, according to publicdata.com. Her former fiance’s driver’s license still lists the house outside the district. Neave said he is still living there and that they are trying to sell the home.
In the competing ad, Neave and the Lone Star Project are attempting to tie Sheets to the deaths of hundreds of abused and neglected Texas children as Child Protective Services finds itself embroiled in scandals and criticism involving child fatalities, caseload levels and high turnover.
A federal judge last year ruled that Texas violates foster children's constitutional rights to be free from an unreasonable risk of harm. The state’s child welfare agency this month released data showing that investigators routinely fail to check up on high-priority children.
The state’s top officials then ordered an overhaul of the agency, whose chief this week said he needs $53.3 million to hire 550 additional staffers.
The Lone Star Project's online ad and mailer from Neave's campaign point to a 2015 House budget vote to connect Sheets to the crisis. He was among 98 lawmakers last year who voted against a budget amendment with which the state would have developed maximum-caseload recommendations for CPS workers.
"We as legislators should be fighting to protect [children], that's what really makes me upset," Neave said. "His votes are really inconsistent with the values of our community."
Sheets said that as the adoptive father of two children who had been in foster care, he understands the issue better than most lawmakers. He said the budget amendment would have taken money away from CPS operations and spent it on a study about acceptable caseloads while a Senate Bill he backed actually cut bureaucratic red tape that freed caseworkers up to focus on endangered children.
Sheets said Neave either doesn't know how to read the legislative record or is intentionally deceiving voters.
"Either way, it disqualifies her," Sheets said.
The Texas Tribune provided this story.