In early voting last Saturday and this past Thursday, those who normally support Republican candidates for Floyd County offices along with other registered voters joined with others who will vote between 6 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday to decide on two candidates among five who want to run the offices of Sheriff and Commonwealth’s Attorney.
On some issues, the two candidates for Sheriff — longtime Floyd Deputy Sheriff Brian Craig and Christiansburg police patrol platoon leader Doug Weddle — and the three hopefuls for Commonwealth’s Attorney — Floyd attorney Harrison Schroeder, interim Floyd Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom and assistant Pulaski prosecutor Travis Epes — seem similar.
The real differences lie in how each approach the jobs they seek.
Craig, with 18 years in the Floyd Sheriff’s department, is the choice of most of the line officers within the department and represents both the style and approach of a sheriff’s department that is familiar to most county residents. He appears to be the choice of those who believe the county’s operation of the department under three-term sheriff Shannon Zeman and others before him have resulted in positive growth and changes for the department. He is endorsed by retiring chief investigator Jeff Dalton, retiring sheriff Shannon Zeman and others in Floyd County. Craig created the county’s well-regarded school resource officer program and advocates a community approach to police, active use in social media for communications and broad outreach.
Weddle has spent most of his police career in the more urban environment of Christiansburg — the largest incorporated town in Virginia and a town that is larger than many cities in the Commonwealth. His espouses a strong command structure and format. He advocates more active policing of Floyd County residents. He wants a full-time drug dog in the squad. He is the choice of Montgomery County for Floyd’s Sheriff. As of Friday morning, all of Weddle’s endorsements on his web site were all from Montgomery, not Floyd: Christiansburg Police Chief Mark Sisson, retired Christiansburg Police Chief Gary Brumfield, Christiansburg Mayor D. Michael Barber, retired Blacksburg police chief KIm Crannis, Montgomery County Commonwealth’s Attorney Mary Pettitt and former Christiansburg Town Manager Lance Terpenney, who was part-time Floyd Town Manager in his final years but never lived in Floyd County.
The sheriff’s race has lit up comments, pro and con on both candidates, on social media. At times, it seems that more of the discussion is aimed at personalities, not defined issues and some of the Facebook comments have been strong and laced with invectives.
Whoever wins the GOP nomination most likely will face Laura Amanda Reinhard Sparks, a former Floyd County deputy who is running as an independent and ran for sheriff four years but lost to incumbent Zeman, who won handily.
In the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s race, the contest among three Republicans features two with experience as assistant prosecutors in the area and a popular local attorney with strong local connections.
Harrison Schroeder focuses on his connections and strong knowledge of Floyd County in his campaign, noting that the last elected Commonwealth’s Attorney, Stephanie Shortt, was not an assistant prosecutor beat Eric Branscom, who cited his experience as an assistant prosecutor in his first run for the job in 2007. Circuit Judge Marc Long tapped Branscom to fill out this year after Shortt became a juvenile and domestic relations judge in 2014.
Both Schroeder and Branscom are running against Travis Epes, who moved to Floyd County before going to law school and is an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Pulaski County. Ironically, the last assistant prosecutor from that area — disgraced Gordon Hannett — lost in his re-election bid to Branscom in the 2007 GOP primary. Hannett later entered a guilty plea to stealing hard drives from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office when he left the job and spent community service picking up trash on the Blue Ridge Parkway as punishment in a plea bargain.
Most election watchers consider the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s race a two-man battle between Branscom and Schroeder with Epes expected to finish a distant third. No Democrats announced for the race and no independent is expected to run so the GOP Canvass is expected to determine the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the next four years.
On Saturday, the polls for the GOP Canvass open at 6 a.m. and close at 1 p.m. Residents will vote at their normal polling places in the county.