Credit: T.Young

Remembering Hunter S. Thompson’s audacious bid to become Sheriff

Hunter S. Thompson was a true maverick in every sense of the word. Make no mistake about it, a town being managed under his regime would be an absolute spectacle, an idea which sounds far-fetched but, for a period of time, once looked a real possibility. In 1970, the world was nearly handed a micro-scale glimpse of what a Hunter S. society would look like when he put himself forward as a candidate running to be sheriff of Aspen and the surrounding Pitkin County.

Three years earlier, Thompson and his family had moved to Colorado, a location which had become home to lots of like-minded writers, hippies and left-field thinkers who wanted to live the quiet life on their own terms in a liberating setting. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, it was steeped in the counterculture movement of the 1960s which Thompson was the front and centre poster boy of and, as it happened, Aspen was the perfect home for Hunter, a place in which he stayed until his death in 2005.

In 1969, Thompson led a consortium who wanted to change up the face of local politics in Aspen, with the gonzo journalism creator detailing his bid in a Rolling Stone article titled Freak Power in the Rockies. “Why not challenge the establishment with a candidate they’ve never heard of?”, Thompson stated in his article. “Who has never been primed or prepped or greased for public office? And whose lifestyle is already so weird that the idea of ‘conversion’ would never occur to him? In other words, why not run an honest freak and turn him loose, on their turf, to show up all the normal candidates for the worthless losers they are and always have been?” he continued.

The candidate to run for Mayor that Thompson handpicked was 29-year-old lawyer Joe Edwards, a figure who had made local headlines a year earlier when he defended a group of hippies who’d been arrested for “vagrancy” in town. Edwards claimed it was institutional bias because they defied the social norms and, in turn, he was victorious.

Thompson’s plan was to run to be Sherriff the following year if Edwards won. Unfortunately, though, the candidate would lose by just six votes. This was meant to be the end for Hunter’s relationship with politics but the Mayoral election had lit a fire in his belly and he wasn’t giving up on his quest to be Sheriff.

Having detailed his political philosophy in a separate Rolling Stone article, in a piece titled The Battle of Aspen, he radically stated he would tear up the streets of Aspen with jackhammers and create “a huge parking and auto-storage lot on the outskirts of town”. Thompson also maintained that he would change the town’s name to be changed to ‘Fat City’ in a bid to prevent “greed heads, land-rapers, and other human jackals from capitalizing on the name ‘Aspen’.”

As you would expect from Thompson, his manifesto included a liberal attitude towards drugs, “any sheriff of any county in Colorado is legally responsible for enforcing all state laws regarding drugs—even those few he might personally disagree with,” he wrote.

Thompson then shaved his head for the debates against Republican Carrol D. Whittmore, who had a crew cut, which allowed the pioneering writer to refer to him as his “long-haired opponent”. Unfortunately, the shaved head wouldn’t be enough for him to secure victory with him going on to lose the election by 173 votes to his opponent’s 204 and then quit politics. Thompson will have looked down on his adopted county with pride in 2012, a time when they became the first state to legalise recreational marijuana and adopt his old policy.

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