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The Great Art Behind Hunter S. Thompson’s Run for Sheriff

  • March 04, 2021

In the end, Thompson fell short, as outlying areas of the county came out strongly against him, causing him to lose the election by nearly 7 percentage points. “We ran an honest campaign, and that was the problem,” he quipped to The Associated Press.

Nonetheless, Watkins insists you can lose a battle and still win the war: Thompson-aligned candidates, relying on his voter base and a fresh series of Benton posters, took majority control of the county commission in 1972 and the sheriff’s office in 1976. By 1986, the sheriff was a former Thompson campaign worker. Implementing Thompson’s ideas brought its own fallout, though.

“There were unintended consequences of some of the limiting of development, in that it limited the supply so much that demand went off the charts,” Watkins said of a resulting housing crunch. “It led to the transition of Aspen being more of a wealthy place. People come to Aspen now and ask, ‘Where did all the hippies go?’ There’s definitely some bitterness and disappointment about that.”

If nothing else, Watkins hopes “Freak Power” rescues Thompson’s legacy from the cartoonlike mythology that has built up around him. “When I bring up his name, sometimes people say, ‘You mean Hunter Thompson, the guy with the drugs and the guns and the craziness?’ No, I mean Hunter Thompson, the prescient political thinker who transformed a community with a radical campaign.”

Freak Power

Through Aug. 15, Poster House, 119 W. 23rd Street. 917-722-2439;; timed tickets required.

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