ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) — Two candidates with law enforcement experience face off in the race for Washington County, Virginia sheriff.

Incumbent Blake Andis began his term in 2020 and said he has served the community for 35 years.

Hi opponent, Rex Carter, currently works as a security operations specialist at Universal Fibers. He has 27 years of law enforcement experience in the Virginia State Police and sheriff’s offices in Scott and Washington counties.

Carter ran against Andis in 2019 and lost. He wants to take his service to law enforcement to the next level.

Rex Carter, independent candidate for Washington County sheriff. (Photo: Rex Carter).

“Look, law enforcement should be about setting that standard that you hire the most qualified people, and that you hire people who are willing and able to do the job and to do it effectively,” Carter said. “And that’s what we need to do. We need to be back in developing a strong law enforcement agency that’s not about favoritism.”

Carter said he believes too many mistakes have been made by the current sheriff. One of these mistakes was the hiring of Austin Edwards. He was training as a deputy with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office when he allegedly traveled to California and killed a teenager’s family.

“Oh, he never should have been hired. He never should’ve been hired by the state police,” said Carter. “He never should have been hired by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.”

“Now, I’ve had people say, ‘Well, you know what, Rex? Sheriff Andis isn’t to blame. He’s no responsible for the actions of Deputy Edwards,'” Carter said. “So, my response to that then would be: who’s name is at the top of that letterhead? Who’s signature appears at the bottom of the paperwork that approves the hiring of a deputy? And that’s none other than the sheriff himself.”

Sheriff Blake Andis says the office conducts thorough background checks.

“We can’t predict the future and [he’s] a human,” Andis said. “We are governed through the state of Virginia and that’s where they file their paperwork.”

Sheriff Blake Andis is running for another term. (Photo: Blake Andis).

After 35 years of serving the community, Andis said if elected to another term, he would like to expand on mental health, drug enforcement and training programs.

“There’s numerous programs that we want to implement,” Andis said. “A lot of things, it’s money. And that’s where we’re trying to get grants, various grants for those.”

During his time as sheriff, Andis said his office had investigated nine murders and solved all of them.

He also came up with a program that allows officers to respond to an active shooter as a single officer. All of his officers are trained in this program and Andis said the program is used throughout the state.

Andis said they have been able to add first aid trauma bags to every school in Washington County, and every school resource officer has been trained on them. He said they have two officers in every high school now.

If elected sheriff, Carter has goals to implement more resources for senior citizens, revitalize the neighborhood watch programs, and increase mental health training.

Carter wants to promote financial accountability of tax-payer money, in reference to military vehicles being purchased by the current sheriff’s office. Sheriff Andis said this has saved taxpayers thousands of dollars because they get unmarked vehicles for undercover officers from the military.

Early voting in Virginia is underway and continues through Nov. 4. Election day is Nov. 7.