BRATTLEBORO -- Windham County's two state senators acknowledge that they've had their disagreements, and their approach to legislative work differs in both style and substance.
But when it comes to Tuesday's Democratic primary, Sens. Jeanette White and Peter Galbraith have a common bond: They're running against Mary Cain, an unconventional candidate who has pressed ahead with her campaign in spite of a high-profile controversy regarding her work as a justice of the peace.
Cain, though, wouldn't say much about that issue during a recent campaign stop at a Brattleboro fast-food restaurant.
"I refuse to do any negative rhetoric at all. I try to be extremely positive," Cain said. "I think I've changed the conversation."
There would be no conversation about Windham's Senate election without Cain's campaign. There are two seats, and no Republicans joined the race.
Both White, of Putney, and Galbraith, of Townshend, are touting their public-service experience in seeking re-election.
White is a former Putney Selectboard member and a five-term state senator who sad she enjoys the work of crafting legislation -- taking time to listen to multiple viewpoints "and then putting them together in a way that is good for the state of Vermont and respects others' positions."
"I love the whole issue of public policy," White said. "I really love the process, and I think our process in Vermont works really well."
Those include limiting access to certified copies of Vermont residents' birth certificates. White is concerned that scam artists are using those documents, which are readily available, to steal identities.
"What we want to do is change that so that you won't get a certified copy," she said.
She also wants to ensure the public's access to governmental deliberations.
"In the Senate, we passed a really good open-meeting law," she said. "The House didn't get to it, so we'll have to start all over again."
Additionally, White expects to introduce a campaign-finance bill "to make it more transparent and accountable, both in terms of candidates' spending and donations and independent expenditures."
Galbraith, serving his first term in the state Legislature, can't claim extensive experience in Montpelier. But he's no stranger to government.
"I'm running on my record -- both in my term in the state Senate and in my previous career, which has been spent entirely in public service," Galbraith said.
Galbraith cites a "long career as a diplomat and peace negotiator" including a stint as President Bill Clinton's ambassador to Croatia and as a United Nations representative in East Timor and Afghanistan.
But he also talks at length about what he believes was a productive first term as a state senator. One initiative he was involved in was Vermont's first-in-the-nation ban on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial practice used in natural-gas drilling.
"I think I've worked hard for Vermont values, by which I mean laws that enhance our sense of community and preserve our natural beauty and our wonderful environment," Galbraith said.
Vermont's move toward a single-payer health-care system also is a priority.
"The issue that we absolutely have to address in the new session is how we pay for it, and I think that has to be through a payroll tax," Galbraith said.
He also is a supporter of continuing efforts to expand access to high-speed Internet in underserved areas.
"I consider that to be very important in itself and very important for our economic development -- probably the single most-important thing for economic development in Windham County," Galbraith said.
Galbraith and White are not running as a team. But in a letter to the Reformer, Galbraith urged voters to support both him and White despite that fact that "it is no secret that Senator White and I have disagreed on some issues."
That semblance of unity is due to Cain's challenge.
Cain is a Brattleboro-based single mother who says it should not matter that she has no legislative experience.
"The life experiences I have had are incredible for this job," Cain said. "The marketing experience I have could easily work into things we're not doing now in Windham County."
Cain wants to do more to promote this area and Vermont. And when it comes to promoting herself, she says she's running a grass-roots, "green" campaign: She enthusiastically shows off her large green name tag and says she is trying to visit every Windham County community.
"I've met shopkeepers. I've met homeowners. I've met unemployed people, young people," she said. "I've been in parades and workshops."
Cain has developed a website -- www.cain4vt.com -- where she details top issues including implementation of paid family leave and expanded health-care coverage, which she says is a "human right."
"I want to see affordable, single-payer health care with vision and dental," Cain said.
Cain often touts her popularity as a Brattleboro justice of the peace. But it was in that capacity that she made headlines for the wrong reasons last month.
In a letter to the Dummerston Town Clerk, Cain reportedly acknowledged signing a marriage certificate though she had not presided over the wedding as required by state law.
In fact, some question whether the 2010 wedding, which allegedly involved a man who was shot dead in 2011 at Brattleboro Food Co-op, ever took place.
At the time, Cain told the Reformer that she was relying on the word of the shooting victim's alleged widow.
"If there were any ulterior motives, I wasn't aware of them," Cain said, while also citing a lack of "notary training in this area."
Authorities are investigating, and it is unclear whether last month's revelations have had any effect on Cain's campaign. White said she believes Cain's actions "show some lack of understanding that would be detrimental when you're dealing with complex issues" as a legislator.
Cain said she could not address the matter.
"I really can't talk about it," she said. "I have full confidence that the Vermont State Police will conduct a thorough investigation."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.