INDIANAPOLIS — Rupert Boneham – a reality TV star and local advocate for at-risk young adults – said he’ll wait until Oct. 22 to announce whether he is running for governor.
But in a conversation last week with the Franklin College Statehouse Bureau, the Libertarian hinted that he’s leaning toward a yes – even as he’s learned that he’ll need millions of dollars just to be competitive.
“I want to run,” Boneham said. “I just want to make sure it’s the right decision.”
Boneham formed an exploratory committee last month to determine whether to run for governor. His likely opponents would be U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, who is facing a lesser known Republican in the GOP primary, and former House Speaker John Gregg, who is so far unopposed in the Democratic primary.
Boneham – a “Survivor” alumnus who won $1 million when viewers voted him a series’ fan favorite – said he and his team are still considering several issues, such as how much it would cost to run, how the campaign might affect his family and what it would mean for his charity, Rupert’s Kids.
But the group is also working on the small details, including a campaign logo and an improved website. For now, though, Boneham said he’s running the campaign with his own cash and is using his simple website to gather voter feedback. So far, he’s been encouraged.
“That’s what’s empowering me to overlook that fact that I have to try and generate millions of dollars, and that’s just one hurdle, one little roadblock,” he said.
Here’s what else Boneham had to say:
Question: You’ve said before that you formed the exploratory committee with the intent of seeing what people thought. Have you made any progress in your decision of whether or not to run?
Answer: I have a lot of the ideas and a lot of the plans in my head for changing the way that we run our system, run our correctional facilities, treat our small businesses, treat our private sector people, treat all of that, but I did not know and understand the dollar sign of the campaign.
When I went to the Libertarians and said, ‘I want to run under the Libertarian party,’ they looked at me and started talking about the dollars.
They started showing me even yard signs for 92 counties, where some counties would only ask for a few hundred, some would ask for a few thousand, some would ask for 10 or 20, 50,000 or more yard signs. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of yard signs at a buck and quarter a piece. We could spend a quarter of a million dollars just on yard signs, and I’m thinking I could run my whole campaign on a quarter million dollars.
That’s where I am going through the thought process right now, and is it even feasible to go up against such giants as the Republicans and the Democrats with the dollars not holding them back and be able to be heard, seen.
The one thing I’ve got going for me is people know me. I’ve been around in the community for 20 years. I’ve been out in the open for 20 years. I’ve been running our mentoring program for 20 years.
So forming our exploratory committee is just that – teaching myself and showing others that I’m serious about it.
Q: What have been some of the tangible positive responses? Because you’ve talked about a lot of 50/50 on the negative side has been they’re afraid that Rupert’s Kids is going to go away. What positive responses have you had?
A: On the negative side, it’s not so much negative of don’t run, it’s negative of, ‘Don’t get sucked in by the politicians, don’t get into such a dog eat dog world.’
Some of the positives? They see what I’ve done with the $1 million when I was tested, when I had $1 million put in my hand, and saw me give $277,000 back to charity in that first year.
They see that I’m not selling out and going to Hollywood and having cameras in my house and turning my family into the Osbournes.
They see that I have run a program, like I say, for 20 years that has not asked for a government dollar once.
Q: Have you made any fundraising efforts so far?
A: Right now, we’re running it totally out of my pocket. Right now, my focus is not as much on generating funds as it maybe should be. I don’t want to do that collecting money and then not running.
Q: You had said before in another interview that you didn’t think that the current candidates understood the point of view of the average Hoosier. Why is it that you think that?
A: Sometimes, some of these career politicians, lawyers, these multimillionaires that are getting into office, have forgotten what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck.
The ‘big boys helping big boys’ does not always play good with those of us that are working everyday paycheck to paycheck. Those of us that are out there working every day, my buddies, my friends, my neighbors, the fellow Hoosiers out there who struggle every day to keep food on the table and the car running and mortgage paid, the bills paid, with everything going up.
Sometimes those that don’t do that forget what it’s like.
Q: What I’m hearing is that you feel like those who are already declared, you feel like they’re out of touch, and you think that you understand the plight of the average Hoosier better, and that was one of the factors that made you decide to form the exploratory committee.
A: Looking at our choices, I have to say I don’t think that they are really in touch with what it is like to work paycheck to paycheck, to work where we don’t have the luxury of six months a year in the bank. One doctor bill could send us into bankruptcy.
That’s a lot of us.
On the Republican side, they show that they pull funding, and on the Democrat side, they show that they don’t care how to pay for it.
I want to show, even on the charity side, if you cannot figure out (how to be) self-sustaining, then you have to restructure and get to that point where you self-sustain — just like our community, just like our cities, just like our state.
We have to first take care of ourselves and get ourselves back to where we are creating our own products, we are working for our own people, we are doing for ourselves, and then help others. We’ve been teaching that for 20 years and it works. We just want to do it for the state now.
We’re not ready. I don’t know how you actually get ready. It’s like the couple saying they’re waiting until they’re financially stable to have a kid. If they wait that long, they’ll never have the kid.
If I wait until I collect $2 million to run, I’ll never run. If I stand up and show who I am and show what I want to do and put that on our website, I think people will listen. I know we’re ready for a change.
Q: So at this point, it’s basically just the financial that’s holding you back?
A: No, because I have to look at Rupert’s Kids too. I am the key fundraiser for Rupert’s Kids.
I have to look at my wife and daughter. Am I going to open them up again to the world? We’re talking about my announcement party where I told my daughter, ‘I don’t expect you to be on stage,’ but I looked at my wife and said, ‘I do expect you to be on stage with me.’
In Survivor, I signed up for it and I drug my family into it. I did not even understand what I even signed up for. Now we understand.
I’m signing up for governor. If I do that, if I actually come out and say I am running, then the world will be back at our door again.
I’m not just that little reality star, and I’m not just that little Kokomo kid that didn’t make it through college. I’m that guy that has ran my own business, that dropped out of school with two classes to go.
I want to show Indiana that I think I would make a great governor. I know I would make a great governor.
Q: You’ve talked about Rupert’s Kids and bringing the corporate world in, but what specifically makes you believe that you would be a good governor?
A: You can lead by example. When I come in the governor’s office and the first day I drop the governor’s pay and the governor’s salary by a quarter and the governor’s budget by a quarter and I look at everyone in administration up and I say, ‘What are you going to do? We’re cutting some of the administration in our government. We’re stopping some of the wasteful spending that we are doing.’
I’ve got great ideas, and I know I will have to incorporate the system and show how we gently change, because it can’t be overnight, it won’t be overnight.
I’m no darn angel, but very few of us are. We just try and do what’s right and help ourselves and others, and that’s what I want to show the state.