Rupert Boneham, libertarian candidate for Indiana governor, admits that his biggest asset -- the fame he earned as a two-time competitor on the reality show Survivor -- is also one of his biggest obstacle.
"I'd like people to know my last name," joked Boneham, who was in South Bend on Thursday to speak with children at Dickinson Fine Arts Academy. "Everyone just knows me as Rupert."
Boneham -- who is expected to face Republican Mike Pence and Democrat John Gregg in the fall -- is probably best known as the big bear-like bearded competitor who, in 2004, won $1 million dollars after viewers voted Boneham the reality TV show's favorite all-time contestant.
But Boneham said his reality TV stardom doesn't mean he's not serious about becoming the state's next governor.
"I think that the state is very ready for a change," Boneham said. "I feel like it's time for us to have policy makers that will do more to empower the people of Indiana."
Although Boneham has not been visible in state-wide politics in the past, he said he has long been an advocate for a government that cares about people.
Before his 2003 and 2004 stints on Survivor, Boneham worked as a mentor for troubled youth, helping young offenders avoid a lifetime of crime and prison.
After winning on Survivor, and donating more than half of his post-tax winnings to charity, Boneham established the non-profit Rupert Kids charity, a mentoring program for at risk 18 to 24-year-olds.
Boneham said his platform is all about establishing a fiscally conservative government, but one that empowers individuals -- whether students or small business owners -- to succeed.
Boneham outlined some of his primary concerns:
- To focus on the state's education system by empowering teachers to teach and encouraging schools to cut down on administration. One of his goals, as outlined in campaign pamphlet, is to eliminate ISTEP testing.
- Reduce the state's prison population by focusing on re-entry programs that help offenders find jobs, and creates programs to provide some offenders, like substance abusers, with treatment instead of incarceration.
- Create a "fair and level playing field" for all businesses, so that small, locally owned businesses aren't competing against large corporations that receive tax breaks to locate in the state.
And even with the fall election still half-a-year away, Boneham -- who faces no primary challenger -- said another big part of his campaign is to introduce a lot of people to the idea that a third party candidate can be elected governor.
To do this, Boneham said he plans to visit every county in the state and talk about his Libertarian ideals -- which he describes as fiscally conservative and socially liberal -- a view he believes appeals to a lot of people tired of Republican and Democratic rhetoric.
"I want to show people that I am that voice of reason," Boneham said.
But for a man who became famous for wearing tie-dye T-shirts and eating bugs on a tropical island, Boneham knows that there's still a lot of work to do before the November election.
"Our slogan is 'It's our time,' " Boneham said, "and we believe that it is."
Staff writer Dave Stephens: