2. Rick Magnuson
December 25, 2006
Aspen press grabbed at the Pitkin County Sheriff’s race with perhaps more gusto than anything else this year. But nothing in the news got as much play in the gossip mills.Rick Magnuson’s art video, “Hole,” which showed him masturbating in the desert, acquired a stature as part of a political race that the artist likely never imagined. Articles about the video and the sheriff’s race ran in major American and British newspapers, and even provoked a joke on Conan O’Brien’s late-night television show.
Magnuson, a community safety officer with the Aspen Police, took on Bob Braudis, a 20-year incumbent sheriff beloved throughout the county. Braudis took the challenger seriously and arguably gave traction to a candidate who, in the end, earned only 1-in-9 votes.But Magnuson also earned his headlines. He was an earnest candidate, tackling major issues and raising questions about Braudis’ performance in office. By the end of the race, both Aspen papers had endorsed Braudis, but applauded Magnuson for offering a serious challenge and raising issues from drug enforcement to traffic citations.Unfortunately for Magnuson, he also made unintentional headlines. The first front-page story of the race was Magnuson’s first misstep. He alienated a good deal of voters by posing as someone else in an effort to disclose that Braudis had checked himself into an alcohol treatment clinic. The resulting hubbub made it clear that most Pitkin County voters didn’t like Magnuson’s “undercover” approach.
From there the campaign shifted to issues of drugs, drunk drivers and slanted statistics. During the “Squirm Night” debate on GrassRoots TV, both Braudis and Magnuson admitted to doing illegal drugs – in countries where the drugs are legal. Magnuson’s artwork continued to dog him, however. Another art project, in which he mailed letters addressed to Osama bin Laden at fictional U.S. destinations, also entered the spotlight. Alongside the project itself, which led voters to question Magnuson’s fitness for office, came the fact that the stunt had earned the officer a reprimand from his department.Toward the end of the race, both candidates were literally begging to stick to the issues. And though Magnuson maintained he never wanted his art in the spotlight, the possibility that he did remained a recurrent conversation topic around town.
His last salvo in the campaign only fueled more suspicious talk. Magnuson placed an ad in The Aspen Times featuring an image of an officer, Magnuson’s name, and the caption, “How do you know when you’re finished making love?””I wondered what the answer was,” said Braudis, the day of the election. “I envy his imagination and artistic slant on life. Rick brought that part of his personality to the campaign.”