Steve Horn Interviews Justice Party Candidate Rocky Anderson
On November 29, 2011, Rocky Anderson – former Democratic Party Mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah – announced he’d be running for President of the United States.
Though the majority of his adult life a loyal Democrat, in recent years, Anderson’s criticisms of the Party have been sharp, never mincing words in describing his displeasure. For example, Anderson once stated, “I don't know what people were expecting, all this hope and change nonsense...There's no question that we're seeing a continuation [of the harm to], and even in some instances a worsening of our republic under this administration.”
Anderson’s discontent with the Party and, in particular, the first term of incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama, has moved him not only to run for President in 2012 as a third party candidate, but to form a completely new third party, the Justice Party. Anderson hopes the Party will not merely serve as a one-and-done venture for the 2012 election, but rather, a long-term vehicle for social justice movements of all stripes, as well as a viable electoral outlet for the 99-percent.
I had the opportunity to interview Rocky Anderson over the phone on March 2 to talk about, among other things, his stances on civil liberties and the Constitution, his motives for running for President of the United States even though the electoral game is rigged against independent challengers, why he broke from the Democratic Party and formed the Justice Party, his jobs platform, his climate and energy platform, his foreign policy platform, and his plans for getting in the debates.
Steve Horn: What motivated you to run for President of the United States as a third party candidates, as opposed, to say, a progressive Democratic Party challenger in the primaries? So, first of all, why the Presidential run at all, and second of all, why not as a progressive Democratic Party challenger in the primary, as opposed to the third party you created, the Justice Party?
Rocky Anderson: For most of my adult life, I considered myself a good, loyal Democratic. I was a congressional candidate for Congress in the Second District in Utah in 1996. Everybody knew me as a Democrat when I served eight years as Mayor of Salt Lake City, although that is technically a non-partisan office.
But, I became first extremely disappointed and ultimately disgusted with the Democratic Party, seeing it as essentially a collaborator with the Republican Party in eviscerating many core Constitutional values and providing a blank check for President Bush to take this country to war on a pack of lies that would’ve been known to be lies had Congress fulfilled its obligation under the Constitution to make the final determination as to whether we go to war as the War Powers Clause requires. And the Democratic Party has essentially stood silent in the face of major human rights and civil rights abuses, even to the point that President Obama essentially brushed aside war crimes by saying that we just need to “look forward and not look backward.”
The Democratic Party has joined with the Republican Party to the point where we have the greatest amount of economic disparity between the few among the financial aristocracy and the rest of this nation. It’s the greatest disparity since the 1920’s and it has joined together with Republicans in creating what’s basically a two-tiered justice system, where the criminal laws are applied, often with a vengeance for the rest of us, keeping 2.3 million people behind bars, hundreds of thousands of them for non-violent drug offenses, while major republic-destroying felonies have been committed by people within the political elite class without any accountability.
I fear for our nation. We’re seeing a radical ratcheting up of the imperial presidency to the point of tyranny. That latest and most egregious example being the passage by Congress and signing into law by President Obama, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, that allows the Executive Branch to round up people, including U.S. citizens and detain them indefinitely, even to the end of theirs lives, without trial, without legal representation, without a right of habeas corpus. All of this, of course, is absolutely subversive not only to core constitutional values, but to the proud tradition of our nation from its very founding up until the past decade.
Horn: So it sort of sounds like part of your rationale for running not only outside of the Democratic Party, but just for running generally is the extreme emergency situation that you find the country in, in terms of, just speaking to the civil liberties issues, that there is a two party consensus on, if you look at the NDAA, for example, that this was passed with almost unanimous consensus. So, do you almost see part of this is that this is just such an emergency situation that you just felt moved to run because of what has happened to the Constitution since after 9/11?
Anderson: Yes, in large part, that is exactly why I am running.
Equally of concern, of course, is the corrupting influence of money in our government and the manner in which the public interest is continually shafted, while those who are able to buy and pay for the White House and Congress end up having their way, which again is part of why we have such an economic disparity in this country. Every major public policy disaster is attributable to this system of bribery, where our elected officials, instead of fulfilling their position in public trust, are acting as if they are on retainer by those who pay for their campaigns and who pay many millions of dollars for a city full of lobbyists in Washington.
Horn: How do you go about responding to those, there are many of these, who say that, pulling the “Nader Card,” that by running as a third party candidate, you’re playing the role of spoiler and if you, by inserting yourself in there, you’re splitting the ticket and employing the whole “lesser of two evils” debate? Even if you say all these things about Obama, for example, they still say he’s better than the alternative.
What do you say to those people who say that you’re enabling a Perry or Romney type Republican by running as a third party candidate? What do you say to that crowd? It’s always a loud crowd.
Anderson: I actually used to share that view. But I absolutely think it’s the epitome of the kind of timidity on the part of American citizens that has lead us to where we are today. If we were to allow the fear that the lesser of two evils deter us from demanding real change in our system of government, we’re essentially simply reaffirming the status quo.
We really have no cause to complain about the commission of aggressive wars, about war crimes committed with impunity, about the evisceration of our constitution, about Wall Street controlling the White House and Congress, about us being the only nation in the industrialized world that doesn’t provide basic health care to millions of our citizens, if we simply say that we’ll allow the bar to be so low that we will vote for a member of one party to keep the other very similar party out of contention.
At some point, as patriotic citizens and moral actors, we have to draw the line and it’s astounding to me how that line keeps moving for so many people; that people who say they really believe in traditional Democratic Party values will now turn a blind eye to the transformation to our republic to the point where the courts no longer are allowed to provide a check on the legal conduct by the Executive Branch because of the promiscuous assertion, first by the Bush Administration and now by the Obama Administration of the State Secrets Doctrine.
We either join together and create a grassroots movement for real change, or we’re simply going to get more of the status quo, but as we can see from recent history, it’s only going to get worse.
Horn: During your time as a Mayor, you were the only Mayor in the U.S. that called for the impeachment of President Bush for many crimes, including torture. Obama had the chance as a President to prosecute Bush Administration officials for torture and other crimes, but as you alluded to earlier, he decided to have a policy of “looking forward and not backwards.”
If you were President, would you support the prosecution of these various officials for these crimes? And taking another step forward, many of these crimes have continued under the Obama Administration, including Bagram Air Base staying open, Guantanamo Bay is still open. Taking the next logical step forward, do you see Obama Administration officials implicated in these same crimes?
Anderson: To answer the first question, if anyone has committed a federal felony there should be an investigation and a prosecution. Nobody is above the law, or certainly should not be above the law in the United States of America. This is a land of equal justice for all, not justice for some.
You mentioned the Bush Administration’s involvement in torture, but we shouldn’t forget that President Bush lied to this nation about getting warrants before getting engaging of electronic surveillance of American citizens’ communications. Every single instance of the warrantless surveillance was a felony under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. That Act was passed by Congress to apply to these very kind of acts. Unless we’re going to be a nation where, as Richard Nixon said after he was forced out of office that “if the President does it then it is not illegal,” then as a nation that lives by the rule of law there must be full accountability.
The impunity allowed during the Bush and Obama Admirations for government officials who have violated the law is a complete betrayal of the rule of law. And the law gets to the core of what makes this nation very different from tyrannies we have been very proud to distinguish ourselves in the past.
At the same time, it’s true that President Obama has betrayed his promise to close Guantanamo, just as he’s betrayed so many other promises. I don’t believe that the breach of those promises alone is a violation of criminal law, but if criminal laws have been violated over the course of this presidency, then those who have committed those crimes should be held accountable just as you or I should be held accountable for violating the law.
Horn: So, staying along the lines of civil liberties, I have a legal question for you. The Obama Administration, in particular, has had a notorious record for prosecuting whistleblowers, not only Bradley Manning, but many others as well. What’s your stand on protection of whistleblowers and how would you distinguish yourself from the Obama Administration or any Republican who’s running for President on the protection of whistleblowers?
Anderson: In my view, those who disclose illegal conduct by government agents, should not only be immunized, but rewarded.
Bradley Manning disclosed information that certainly ought to lead to a murder investigation. Civilians, including two Reuters reporters were killed in cold blood – it’s all on film – one man was obviously wounded, lying in the street and American agents brought him back within their sights to kill him, even though they knew that American servicemen and women were on their way to the scene. That is a crime against humanity. There was a van that pulled up to help the wounded man – there was a van passing by and the driver pulled up to help the wounded man in the street and there were two children in the van – and the American servicemen opened fire on him and his children. Those are the kind of things that Bradley Manning disclosed through Wikileaks.
We, as the American people not only have the right to know about those crimes, but we should be demanding that such information be disclosed and followed up with an investigation and prosecution. But in this instance, the Obama Administration simply wanted to punish the messenger rather than punish the real criminals.
Horn: So, one more civil liberties question for you before we move on to a separate topic.
A couple more controversial civil liberties infringements, one of them which is new, another which is a carry-over from the Bush Administration: The first is what is your stance on the PATRIOT ACT and what would you do about it if you were President?
And number two is a troubling thing that has happened under the Obama Administration recently, which is the FAA’s authorization of the use of domestic drones, presumably for surveillance purposes, although who knows now with the NDAA. What’s your stance on the domestic use of drones and if you were president would you put a halt to the use of drones both domestically and on the U.S.-Mexico border?
Anderson: I would put an immediate end of the use of drones domestically and I would also conduct an immediate investigation of the use of drones in other nations, especially without the express authorization of Congress. There have been many innocent people killed by drones by the U.S., all of which has harmed our nation’s security and increased the hostility of many people in many nations against the United States.
I would also abolish the right of Federal agencies to spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant. I would eliminate the obligation of third parties to hand over documents about or concerning other people without a court-issued warrant and obviously from what I said before, I’d do everything I could not only during my term, but permanently end the idea of indefinite detention of anyone without compliance of the Due Process Clause.
Horn: After 9/11, we’ve seen an ascent of the American Empire and imperial foreign policy, where we’ve seen not only are there wars going in in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there are many covert wars happening that we do not know about as U.S. citizens. Also, there are over 1,000 military bases around the world.
What’s your outlook on American foreign policy, how would you change American foreign policy, and also, what do you see America’s role in the globe as and how does that distinguish you from Obama and whomever the Republican candidate ends up being?
Anderson: I would entirely end United States empire-building. I would bring American servicemen and women back to this country unless there is a compelling national security need. That would mean disbanding almost all of our overseas military bases. I would dramatically reduce the U.S. military budget and would take an approach exactly the opposite of the Obama Administration and the neo-conservatives who are so intent in asserting U.S. dominance militarily and economically over the rest of the world, because in the long run, that will spell the downfall of this country and it’s also absolutely immoral as to people in other parts of the world. This Holy War against the Muslim world has been not only shameful, but also absolutely detrimental to our nation’s and future generations’ security interests.
Horn: I want to leapfrog off that question.
You mentioned the military budget and you tied that into domestic spending and alluded to alternatives to how that money could alternatively be spent if not on military might. Assuming you could cut military spending drastically and drastically change U.S. foreign policy, how would you spend that money at home and turn around an economy in steep decline? Do you have a jobs plan and/or a general vision that you would push as President?
Anderson: First of all, we need to dramatically reduce our accumulated debt and the interest burden that is hamstringing this nation and its future. We need to bring in adequate revenues by ending the massive tax cuts for the wealthy and we also need to cut costs particularity in our military budget, as I said earlier.
In addition, we need to make investments that will strengthen our country and build it for a better future, while we return this country to the competitive edge it once had with other nations. Our trade agreements should be renegotiated so that we bring back millions of the jobs that have been lost overseas. I would put in place a WPA and CCC type of initiative where we would repair and rebuild our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure, while at the same time employing many millions of people.
It’s appalling to me, given the success of the WPA and CCC programs that this Administration and Congress don’t even consider such initiatives to put people back to work and restore our nation’s infrastructure. We should also be putting young people to work, giving them valuable experiences that will serve them for the rest of their lives and give them the sort of work ethic that will serve them well throughout their lives. Job training and far better educational opportunities that are affordable to everyone are also going to be crucial, particularly over the long-term to keep people employed and competitive in the global economy.
Horn: One of your opponents in the Presidential race, Green Party candidate Jill Stein has called for what she has coined the “Green New Deal,” which combines tackling the global climate crisis with the jobs crisis here in the U.S. On top of that, the U.S. is one of the biggest contributors to climate change in the world. Do you envision a similar pathway forward in terms of building a “green jobs” infrastructure?
Anderson: Yes. During my eight years as Mayor, I was providing leadership not only around this country, but internationally regarding climate protection and energy independence. I’ve been advocating for years, a major investment by our nation in research and development and in converting our old dirty energy economy into a far more energy efficient and clean energy economy.
There are those in the coal, oil and gas industry that would still have people in this country believe that it’s going to be too expensive to make these shifts, but we know now that there are going to be enormous energy savings when we’re both more efficient about the use of energy and when we utilize clean energy sources.
When I was Mayor, in three years I reduced the emission of greenhouse gases in city operations by 31-percent, far exceeding the goals of the Kyoto Protocol. I took our successes and helped raise awareness about the importance of municipal action in this area, speaking not only around the United States and bringing dozens of mayors for three years to Sundance, where Robert Redford and I co-hosted them in what we called the Sundance Summit of Mayors Gathering on Climate Protection, but I also presented at side meetings at three U.N. conferences on climate change at Buenos Aires, New Delhi, and Bali.
Horn: I want to ask you a couple more questions on energy and your stances on them.
The first one is probably one of the hottest debates in the U.S. right now, which the Obama Administration recently took a stance that people in the Green movement weren’t too happy about, and that’s domestic drilling for natural gas, known by many as fracking.
Do you support opening up different states to domestic natural gas/shale gas/shale oil drilling? If not, to the contrary, do you support a ban? What’s your policy stance on fracking?
Anderson: Of course, natural gas is a good interim measure because it burns more cleanly than coal, but it should never be obtained by any means that could harm aquifers like fracking has done. It’s been so bad that some of these natural gas companies refuse to disclose what these fracking agents are that they’ve been using. So, unless there and until fracking can be proven to be safe and unless there are assurances that our water resources will not be comprised and that land stability will not be compromised, fracking should be prohibited.
Horn: Another one I wanted to ask you about is the Keystone XL pipeline and other tar sands pipelines, though that one has been the centerpiece. What would you do about the tar sands generally? Do you support the United States getting that kind of oil, meaning tar sands crude?
Anderson: Absolutely not. Tar sands are one of the most filthy, dangerous ways of obtaining any fuel. Again, we need to be pursuing, in terms of research and development and any energy subsidies, only clean, renewable sources of energy. The pipeline is an absolutely outrageous proposal that would put at risk, again, not only aquifers, but would further promote continued dependence on fossil fuels as a source of energy, rather than clean, renewable sources.
Horn: I want to move to a different topic.
I want to get your take on what the Right calls “ObamaCare,” or what we on the left call “health care reform” that Obama passed in his first term. What’s your take on that plan? Did you approve of that plan or did you want something else?
Anderson: No. The plan is outrageous, although there were a lot of problems from before, like people with pre-existing not being able to get coverage. A lot of us are going to be paying excessively high premiums, while almost all of the most fundamental problems within our system will still remain.
Even if the Obama plan is fully implemented, there will be 23 million people in this country without any basic health care coverage. There will still be hundreds of thousands of people taking money out of bankruptcy in this country because of their health care bills. Neither one of those things -- the lack of coverage or people taking money out of bankruptcy because of the expenses of health care in this country -- happens in any other country in the entire industrialized world. Ours is an incredibly wasteful, expensive, inefficient system with mediocre outcomes.
We have the worst health care system in the industrialized world. We can learn a lot from other nations, whether its France, where, according to the World Health Organization, it has the number one health care system in the world, or it’s Taiwan, which has tried to take the best elements of health care systems around the world in implementing its relatively new health care system, there are many examples that would provide a far less expensive system that provides the essential health care needs with far less cost and better medical outcomes.
Horn: I want ask you a follow up on that one.
There is a U.S. Supreme Court case forthcoming on this very issue, the Obama health care plan and the constitutionality of the Individual Mandate. There is a block of nurses and citizens who have provided an Amicus Brief supporting the repeal of ObamaCare for the very issues that you discussed.
Do you think it’d be better to start over on this debate? Do you feel as if Obama’s health care plan was a step in the right direction or a step in the wrong direction, helping entrench the private health care insurance industry? If the latter is the case, would it be better in your opinion for the plan to be struck down by the Court and then start the debate over again in a direction you were talking about before, more like a French model, Taiwanese model, most of the industrialized world model?
That’s a lot of questions in one – sorry about that!
Anderson: That’s okay.
Although the Obama plan addresses some of the very serious problems, all in all, it perpetuates the injustice and incredible expense and inefficiency of a health care system that will continue to fail many millions of people in this country.
I would like to see this nation start over by addressing what’s truly in the public interest, taking the best elements of other systems that are working well for people throughout the industrialized world and not allowing the corrupting influence of money from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries control the result. Most of us in this country know that the reason why we have such an obscene, unjust, expensive health care system: all you have to do is follow the money. The public’s interests have been shafted while the insurance companies end up in an even better situation than they were before, with a mandate that everybody in this country buy their perverse products.
The Obama plan even allows up to 20% of what they call “administrative costs,” which is not only the paper work and paying for people whose job it is to figure out ways to deny people coverage, but also shareholder returns on investments and enormous salaries and bonuses to not only the executives, but also the people who sell these products. The Obama plan sets aside up to 20% for that, when the administrative costs in many industrialized nations are in the 2-5% range. So, the Obama plan guarantees still millions of people without any coverage, all on the basis of whether people can afford it or not, and also allows for this enormous waste in our system that’s not experienced in other countries.
Horn: I want to ask you about structural barriers you face as a non-Democrat, non-Republican candidate running for President in the U.S.
The first one is about how our media is structured, in that it’s a lot harder for a person like you to get your message out in the mass media, generally speaking. How do you intend in the coming months, as ads proliferate in the Citizens United age, to get your message out and how do you plan to compete with what best could be described as a “noise machine” of the Democratic and Republican Parties that will transpire over the coming months?
Anderson: We’ve witnessed very courageous people in other nations, including most recently Egypt and before then, Tunisia, organizing at the grassroots, being tenacious about it, communicating through the democratized means of social media, and ultimately overthrowing dictatorships in their countries. We can do the same thing in this country, particularly with the advantages of social media, we can get our message out to people if they want to be part of a true peoples’ campaign for real change.
We haven’t raised nearly enough money, but I believe even with limiting contributions to $100 per person, we will have enough, especially utilizing the fantastic volunteer help that we have, to get the word out that people have a real choice. That they can elect somebody with experience, with proven passion on the issues that matter to people in this country, and that we can elect somebody as our president who will successfully fight for the public interest, and at the same time, to remove in every way possible, the corrupting influence of money in our government.
Horn: One of the key arenas for policy debate during presidential election cycles is the three debates themselves and the one vice presidential debate that occurs. One of the problems with that right now, at least for third party candidates, is the rules for getting in, that it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible by design for them getting in.
Do you see this as a key arena that you’d like to get in, and if so, do you intend on putting up some sort of fight to get in down the road when those are around the corner?
Anderson: I’ve already been working for a long time, even before I decided to run for president, to get the debates opened up for third party or independent candidates.
The truth is that the Republican and Democratic Parties got together to form the Commission on Presidential Debates to hijack the previously independently run and organized debates away from the League of Women Voters.
Now the candidates form the two dominant parties have their representatives get together, they work out a Memorandum of Understanding and then they give that to the Commission on Presidential Debates, which dutifully executes what those two candidates agreed upon.
You mentioned the three debates earlier, but that’s not even settled. When President Clinton was running against Bob Dole, Dole wanted to make sure that Ross Perot was left out of the debates, so in return for President Clinton’s agreement that Perot would be left out, every other decision was left up to President Clinton’s negotiator. So, because he was so far ahead in the polls, they scheduled only two debates with only a 90-second response and they required that the two debates be scheduled at the same time as the World Series playoff games. Because, as George Stephanopoulos later conceded to Chris Matthews, they were so far ahead in the polls, they wanted to make sure that these debates were as much of a non-event as possible.
That’s how these debates are manipulated, because once again, the duopoly of the Republican and Democratic Parties has sole control, all of it, against the public interest. The same thing happens with ballot access in this country. In many states it’s virtually impossible for third party candidates to get on the ballot because Republican and Democratic candidates have made it impossible.
Horn: Would you support people on your campaign doing some form of civil disobedience, at least trying to raise awareness of these horrendous barriers that are designed to keep third party candidates out of the debates?
Anderson: Well, I’ve actually worked for many months in getting signatures and support of numerous Salt Lake City organizations, including the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce for an independently organized debate in this area. That kind of effort was being carried on by several other cities in the country. I think there would be great interest in the media for a truly independent debate that included other voices.
I would be thrilled to participate in a general election debate because we would certainly provide a very different option to the American people and I can tell you these debates would not be the boring series of 90-second sound bites like we’re used to hearing in these debates. There would be many more millions of people tuning in and they would be hearing an extremely different approach to what we’re going to hear from Republicans and Democrats, and it would make a difference.
Whether I win or lose this election, being able to tell the truth to the American people and raise consciousnesses will lead to very positive results for this country. It happened when Teddy Roosevelt ran as a third party candidate with the Bull Moose Party, and it happened again when Ross Perot ran with the Reform Party. We saw matters being discussed during the campaigns that neither of the two major political parties would have discussed.
Horn: I wanted to ask you quickly about one of your third party opponents. You created the Justice Party for the 2012 election….
Anderson: No, we created the party to be a major force in American politics for the long haul.
Horn: I’m not overly familiar with Green Party politics, but why did you choose to create the Justice Party instead of joining forces with the Green Party? Do you see the platforms as different? Could you foresee yourself, in order to build a stronger movement and in order to get more votes, joining forces with Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in the coming months?
Anderson: I think Jill Stein is a really great person. We actually had many discussions before we formed the Justice Party. The Green Party has been around for a long time and has had organizational problems, which is understandable, but I think that it’s perceived far too much in this country simply as a fringe party that’s never going to have real governing authority.
Jill Stein said in an interview recently that every time she runs she gets fewer and fewer votes, but that’s not really important, what’s important is being part of the discussion. Well, I think it’s important to be part of the discussion, but it’s also important to make a real difference over the short- and long-term.
I don’t have a vice presidential candidate running with me yet. I haven’t really talked to anybody at any length about that yet because we’ve been very busy since my announcement since mid-December getting this campaign off the ground and we’ve made tremendous progress. I don’t want to see the vote be split between two parties that have so much in common as the Justice Party and the Green Party have, and it would be great to see some sort of merger, but it’d have to be in the name of something other than the Green Party and there would have to be the perception that it is a much larger tent, that moderates and even mainstream Republicans that are sick and tired of the nuttiness that they’re seeing in their Party can fit under, and they’ll certainly find they have a home in the Justice Party.
Horn: Anything else you’d like to put on the table, policy-wise or things that are on your mind?
Anderson: I would simply emphasize that for a third party to succeed we need candidates who have extensive experience in the public sector, candidates who have management and executive experience that would give confidence to the American people about the capacity of the candidates. I have that kind of record and on top of that, I have a record of working with a number of non-profit organizations and with a human rights organization that makes clear where my passions and lifetime commitments are.
My record is very, very different than Barack Obama’s and certainly very different from those who have been amassing so much wealth that have now decided to seek the Republican nomination for President. I would encourage anyone to check out our website at GoRocky.org and any of the extensive biographical information about me on the Internet, including on Wikipedia.