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SALT LAKE CITY — Is America ready for a new political option?
Across the country, third parties are banking the answer is "yes." And one of those parties is led by a former Salt Lake City mayor.
Rocky Anderson ran for president on the Justice Party ticket in 2012. A longtime Democrat, Anderson publicly broke with the party in 2011 over what he deemed insufficient action on war crimes, climate change and the federal debt, among other issues.
The Justice Party didn't enter the fray in 2016 or 2020. Anderson says that's because he didn't want the party to play "spoiler" and, inadvertently, help elect former President Donald Trump. But in a news release this week, the Justice Party announced that it's back and has big ambitions.
"The Justice Party plans to grow into a diverse majority political party," the statement says, "drawing independent voters, dissatisfied present and former members of the Republican and Democratic parties, and members of third parties that consistently fail to garner meaningful electoral support."
Anderson told KSL.com the party's ultimate goal is to "replace" one of the major parties, just as the Republicans replaced the Whigs in the mid-19th century.
"So how do we do that? We actually had amazing success, with almost no money and no time for organizing, at the end of 2011 and 2012 during a presidential election," Anderson said. "Now, we've got more time. We're going to organize state parties. We're going to raise money. We're going to build up membership, and we're going to become a good, solid national party and run candidates during the midterm elections (in 2022)."
While most of the Justice Party's platform might traditionally be viewed as liberal or progressive, Anderson said the party rejects "divisive" labels and has ideas that will appeal to Americans across the spectrum. "We believe that there ought to be a lot more substance behind a political party," he said. "... If you look at our position on fiscal matters, for instance, people that identify as conservatives should find it very appealing, insofar as we call for a pay-as-you-go, balanced budget approach whenever possible."
And will Anderson personally be running for office again?
"I doubt that I will," he said. "I'd like to see the Justice Party put up candidates among a diverse group of people that have the youth and vitality that we should be looking toward for leadership in this country. I mean, look what the Democrats and Republicans just gave us as choices — a couple of geriatrics where there have been real questions about the onset of dementia, and their capacity to even do their job."
Anderson is now 69 years old; Trump is 74 and President Joe Biden is 78, the oldest president ever to assume office.
'If you don't like it, take the risk'
Many third parties focus on particular issues where they feel the major parties haven't gone far enough. The Libertarian Party, for instance, draws mainly from Republicans who place greater emphasis on individual liberty, and the Green Party appeals to former Democrats who believe more should be done about climate change.
But here in Utah, a centrist party believes it can appeal to a broad swath of voters who hold diverse political opinions and think the major parties have moved too far to the extremes.
The United Utah Party was formed in 2017 as a middle-of-the-road alternative to the Republicans and Democrats. After Evan McMullin earned nearly 250,000 Utah votes in the 2016 presidential election, it was unclear whether Utah Republicans would ever truly embrace their party under Trump — though most ultimately did.
Now that Trump is out of office, the United Utah Party is gunning for moderate voters who feel politically homeless. Hillary Stirling, United Utah Party chair, cited a 2018 Gallup poll suggesting that 40% of Utahns consider themselves "moderate," just under the 41% who identify as conservative.
"There is a large moderate, centrist base here in Utah," Stirling told KSL.com. "We have the potential, certainly. The base is there for us to be a major player in Utah politics, and that's the ultimate goal."
Stirling said the party has "consistently" grown its membership by about 30% per year and has seen a "jump" in growth since the 2020 election. "Last year, we had more than 242,000 votes cast for Uniter candidates," she said, proof that "there is a hunger for something different."
For all that, though, the party has yet to win a race, underscoring the difficulty of breaking through the entrenched two-party system locally or nationally. But Stirling encourages voters to take the leap. "A vote for one of the major parties is a vote for the status quo," she said. "That's how we got here. If you don't like it, take the risk — vote for someone different."
Stirling encouraged interested Utahns to participate in the party's virtual April 24 convention.
In 2022, despite the odds and obstacles, the Justice and United Utah parties will forge ahead with America's other third parties — each believing they could, finally, mark the beginning of the end of American two-party rule.