Outlined on the map it looks, says my coworker, like a stretched-out Texas, this tiny precinct of 74 registered voters and an impressive voter turnout this election of nearly 91 percent. Seems fitting, politically, for the Most Conservative Precinct in Humboldt County.
1FB-1's boundaries encompass the rural rolling hill country in between Loleta and Fortuna. Fernbridge Market, just off Highway 101, nestles against the panhandle. The Eel River flows through the southern bit. Most residents live off Tompkins Hill Road, a former stagecoach road that rolls along the length of the precinct, rising hundreds of feet above sea level and so twisty in places you have to honk your horn to let oncoming cars know you're coming around the corner. At the top of the hill lies an active natural gas field, and eastward stretches timberland. Zoned for five-acre-minimum parcels, the precinct is all ranches and pastures; you don't have to see your neighbors if you don't want to.
Mary Wilson, 71, who lives with her husband, Wayne, in the approximate center of the precinct, laughed goodnaturedly over the phone last Friday when she heard she was in the most conservative precinct.
"I guess we just live conservatively and our politics are mostly conservative," she said.
Her precinct was the only one where Republican Zane Starkewolf beat Democrat Mike Thompson in the U.S. Representative race, and where Republican Jim Pell beat Democrat Wes Chesbro in the State Assembly race. Overwhelmingly.
"I think that most of the representatives have been in office too long and I would like to see a shift, because evidently it hasn't been doing us an awful lot of good economically the way it's been going," Wilson said. "And I didn't vote for Obama -- I voted for McCain -- but I was not upset that Obama won because he is a very intelligent man, and I think that the committees and people he has surrounded himself with are very intelligent and have a lot of experience. So, I'm very optimistic."
Perhaps that's how her neighbors feel, too -- we can only guess. Because on paper, McCain beat Obama whompingly in 1FB-1, by the highest margin of any precinct. And 71 percent of the precinct voted yes on Proposition 8, the ban on same-sex marriage.
Wilson said there aren't many young families in her neighborhood -- most residents are older and retired now, like the Wilsons, and many have been there for decades just like them. The Wilsons bought their 14 acres 35 years ago and left Eureka behind (except for Wayne's radiator shop). They raised kids and Arabian horses. Now they're down to just two horses, 15 sheep, two llamas and some dogs. And varmints.
"We have a pack of coyotes that are at the bottom of the hill," said Wilson. "We can hear them howling at night so we get everybody up close to the barn. And we have all kinds of raccoons and possums and fox -- we see those all the time. We had a big flock of ducks for a long time, but one by one they picked them off."
The kids have grown up, married and moved away -- well, one daughter and son-in-law live with their children on the property next door. They're both nurses, said Wilson, and they're also conservative.
"But I think it's very central -- because they're liberal-minded in some things," said Wilson.