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In forgotten county, voter anger percolates

YREKA, Calif. -- Bill Hoy remembers just one time in his 59 years that a candidate for governor of California campaigned all the way up here in Siskiyou County, along the Oregon line.

"I know for sure when Ronald Reagan was running for governor I shook his hand at the county fairgrounds," said the cattle rancher and county supervisor, thinking back to the 1960s. "There are seven counties in California that make or break you, and we are not one of them, unfortunately."

Hoy is one of only 44,650 people spread across 6,300 square miles of mountains, forests, range, and farmland in the remote county, far too few votes to get much attention during the fast and furious campaign to recall Governor Gray Davis. None of the major candidates has bothered to stump in Siskyou County.

But from the hay farms of Scott Valley to the New Age bookstores of Mount Shasta City, people have a lot to be angry about, and are keeping close watch from a part of the state that often feels neglected by Sacramento.

Farmers in Siskyou are angry about environmental restrictions, namely, the addition of coho salmon to the state endangered species list. Business owners object to the high cost of workers' compensation insurance. And lots of people are irked by high gasoline prices.

The Gold Rush brought people to the Siskiyou Mountains in the 1850s, but the gold is long gone, and the timber industry that once powered the economy is mostly a memory.

Government offices are the top employers in Siskyou County, followed by agriculture, mostly hay and cattle. Tourism is particularly important around Mount Shasta, the imposing volcanic peak that draws skiers and hikers, and spiritual seekers from around the world. Democrat Davis is not popular here; the county voted nearly 2-to-1 last year for his challenger, GOP conservative Bill Simon. "We are not that paid-attention-to," said LaVada Erickson, the only Democrat on the County Board of Supervisors. "So when we are paid attention to, it's like they want something." In McCloud, a former mill town, Frank Alves, 42, blames Davis for the rising workers' compensation insurance that forced him to sell his restaurant. He plans to vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger. "Gray Davis had his chance, in my book," Alves said. "It can't hurt to get somebody else."

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