SALT LAKE CITY — A new documentary series a decade in the making about former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson's 2012 third-party presidential bid was originally intended as a look at his final year in office.
"We started because we couldn't understand how such a progressive mayor could be elected in Utah," said Rhea Monroe, the Colorado-based independent filmmaker behind "Citizen Rocky" along with her husband, Douglas.
But as Anderson was finishing his second term in 2008, he became the only mayor of a major city calling for the impeachment of then-President George W. Bush over the Iraq War, leading protests and testifying before Congress.
"It just got bigger and bigger," Monroe said. "Then he ran for president, so it started a whole new chapter."
Anderson left the Democratic Party in 2011, then helped found the Justice Party and ran for president under its banner. He received just over 43,000 votes nationwide, about 0.03 percent of the ballots cast in 2012.
"Citizen Rocky" uses Anderson as "our vehicle to get where we're going," Monroe said, describing what will be a two-season series as more about the necessity of political involvement.
"I think for Rocky, he wanted to push the conversation further by running," she said. "It's a teachable moment. It really drives home how hard it is for independents" and why voters "are not seeing more diversity in candidates."
Anderson, an attorney whose high-profile cases include suing the federal government over what he has called a mass, warrantless surveillance program at the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, downplayed his role.
"This isn't really about any one person. It's about what people of all sorts can do to bring about positive change," Anderson said. "Whether they're in elective office or a stay-at-home mom, everybody can make an enormous difference."
Those include retired U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright, who resigned a U.S. State Department post and became a prominent anti-war activist because, Anderson said, she was "so upset hearing the lies that led us into the Iraq War."
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent endorsed by the Justice Party who ran as a Democrat for president in 2016 but lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton, shows up in the second season, Monroe said.
Among the others making appearances are Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers; former third-party presidential candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader; and actor Richard Dreyfuss.
Anderson, however, is at the center of the story filmed over nearly 10 years.
"He's very fun to watch. He's a very charismatic actor no matter what he's doing," Monroe said of the controversial mayor. "I think even people who don't like him will be interested."
Monroe said she ran into a number of Anderson's critics while she was attempting to raise money for the project that was largely supported by "one very generous benefactor," a Colorado woman she declined to name who gave $70,000.
The first three of 10 episodes are available now on Amazon Prime and Vimeo, a video-sharing website. Monroe said up to 500 people can use the access code "rocky2018" to view the series without charge on Vimeo.
A second season won't be released until 2019, she said, in the hopes it can influence the 2020 presidential race. Monroe said had Washington listened to concerns about Bush's power, "we wouldn't have the free-for-all we have now."
She sees the 2012 election, where Democratic President Barack Obama won a second term by defeating Republican Mitt Romney, now a candidate for U.S. Senate in Utah, as a turning point that helped lead to President Donald Trump's 2016 win.
"A lot of my family are Trump supporters," Monroe said. "I think they saw in Trump somebody outside the system who was saying all the things they felt were probably true but nobody said."
Republicans and Democrats need to be pushed "to address the issues that third parties are bringing up, whether it's a tea party or a progressive party or whatever," she said, by giving third-party candidates more of a voice.
Anderson praised Sanders for bringing up issues such as the corrupting power of money in politics, "exactly the kind of things we were talking about in 2012," and energizing young voters.
In 2020, Anderson said not only does the Democratic Party need to embrace Sanders' message, third-party candidates also need to be campaigning in states where they wouldn't be seen as a spoiler.15 comments on this story
"I don't think any third-party candidate would want to be the cause of Donald Trump being re-elected," he said.
But Anderson said he isn't planning on another run for president.
"If there were enough grass-roots support and we could bring in more resources and do it the right way, I'd certainly consider it," he said. "But again, it's not about winning a race. I think it's about expanding the awareness of people and their sense of the possibilities of real change in this country."