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The Freak Power Politics of Hunter S. Thompson

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Since the next issue of The Peorian will be hitting magazine racks and trash cans in a couple of weeks, I thought I'd give you a preview of the Literarea section where I take a rather in-depth look at the weird and wonderful life of Hunter S. Thompson.

While he's known primarily as a counter-culture writer, Thompson was also a political junky as evinced by his book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, which the New York Times called "the best account yet published of what it feels like to be out there in the middle of the American political process."

However, before wading into the national political scene he himself took a little foray into the world of local politics. Without further ado, here is the story of Hunter S. Thompson, the 1970 Freak Power Party candidate for the sheriff of Aspen. You can read the rest of the story in the next issue of The Peorian.


Freak Power politics

It was the fall of 1969 and the Aspen Mayoral election was coming up. Thompson was so disgusted by the candidates that he and a group of local friends ran their own candidate for mayor: a 29-year-old hippie bike-racer named Joe Edwards. Their campaign began three weeks before the election and nearly caused the upheaval of the small Western town.

This wasn't a whim or joke. Thompson noticed voter turnout was low in previous elections and determined it was mostly 18- to 25-year olds who were missing. So the theory he perpetuated was that if any candidate could garner the young vote, they would have the power to not necessarily win, but at least change the outcome of the election.

With only three weeks to organize, Joe Edwards lost the mayoral race by one vote. In reality, Edwards won the original vote by six – but lost the absentee ballot by seven. As Thompson wrote at the time, "we scared the living shit out of the Aspen Power Structure."

In analysis, the group that really cost the Freaks the election wasn't the conservatives but the old-school liberals who supported the Democratic candidate. They were so scared of the possibility of a Freak Power mayor they cannibalized their own candidate and voted Republican.

The close loss whetted Thompson's appetite and the next year the Freak Power Party entered the political arena with a vengeance. And not only in Aspen: Freak Power blossomed in Kansas, Berkeley and Los Angeles, where Thompson's buddy, Oscar Acosta, garnered 110,000 votes out of two million cast in the L.A. County sheriff race.

Thompson himself ran for sheriff of Aspen and his platform was pretty direct: an end to the selling-off of Aspen. Here is an excerpt of from one of the Freak Power ads: "And now we are reaping the whirlwind-big-city problems too malignant for small-town solutions, Chicago-style traffic in a town without stoplights, Oakland-style drug busts continually bungled by simple cowboy cops who see nothing wrong with kicking handcuffed prisoners in the ribs while the sheriff stands by watching, seeing nothing wrong with it either."

The Freak Party campaign was unique and unsettling. The Party posters bore a red fist clutching a peyote button. Thompson shaved his head clean. He proposed changing the name of Aspen to Fat City to scare off investors. It's hard to gauge if people actually believed this. On the question of drugs, as Thompson wrote, "We ran straight at the bastards with an out-front mescaline platform." Thompson relented a bit before the election, saying he would refrain from taking mescaline while on duty.

In the end Thompson lost the race 1,500 to 1,065. He delighted in the fact that he won the city vote, where the Freaks made up 30 percent of the electorate. But he was trounced in the county vote, even losing 300 to 90 in his home precinct of Woody Creek.

Perhaps the most clear description of Freak Power came from one of the many campaign posters written by Thompson: "This is the real point: that we are not really freaks at all – not in the literal sense – but the twisted realities of the world we are trying to live in have somehow combined to make us feel like freaks. We argue, we protest, we petition – but nothing changes."



About the Author
A Juilliard-trained writer, Kevin Kizer has fought against numerous world-champion writers during his career, besting the reigning middle weight writing champion in an exhibition bout in Helsinki in 1976. He also played a crucial role on the U.S. gold-medal winning writing team during the 1984 Pan-Am games, where he came off the bench in dramatic fashion to write the winning prepositional phrase just as time expired.