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Rupert Boneham
Age: 48
Education: Studied nursing but did not receive degree
Occupation: Runs a mentoring nonprofit
Political affiliation: Libertarian
Political experience: None
Associated Press
Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Rupert Boneham speaks during last week’s debate in Zionsville.

Boneham raising Libertarian profile

This is the first of three stories about candidates for Indiana governor. Today’s story looks at Libertarian Rupert Boneham.

INDIANAPOLIS – Libertarian Rupert Boneham remembers getting caught by police with a six-pack of beer at age 18.

They made him dump it out and followed him back home to tell his parents. He wasn’t cited or arrested but that didn’t matter.

“The lesson was learned,” Boneham recalls. “And my life wasn’t ruined.”

This is a key message he wants to spread while campaigning for governor – the need to reform the criminal justice system so young people aren’t permanently punished by minor miscues.

“Jail should be used for people who are hurting others,” Boneham said. He has generally followed a theme of less government intervention in society, including his opposition to passage of a new law by Republicans that bars certain agreements between unions and private companies.

Boneham, 48, has an uphill battle, though, in his race to be the state’s top executive. He is facing six-term U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican, and former Indiana House Speaker John Gregg, a Democrat.

In recent polls, he received between 3 percent and 5 percent of the vote, a number Libertarian candidates in various races usually hover at.

Andy Downs, director of the Downs Center for Indiana Politics at IPFW, said he is surprised the number isn’t higher given Boneham’s relative fame.

Boneham competed on several seasons of TV’s “Survivor” and became known for his bushy beard and tie-dye apparel. He won the $1 million prize based on audience votes in 2004.

“He started out with better name recognition than a lot of folks,” Downs said. “We say there’s no such thing as bad press. But he’s not known for deep thinking and running multibillion organizations, so that might be a part of it.”

Or it could be that Indiana Libertarians haven’t fully embraced him. Boneham approached them about running for governor when he became disillusioned with the major parties but doesn’t have an established history with them.

If Boneham’s chances at winning are slim, don’t tell him that.

“I’m going at this the exact same way as my opponents,” he said. “They believe they can win. I do too.”

He concedes that 18 months ago while talking to his wife, it was more about highlighting his issues than winning and losing.

But Boneham said that has shifted in the last six months as more supporters come on board.

At a downtown restaurant last week, he was immediately met with shouts of “Rupert” from some younger Hoosiers.

“Lightning is going to strike,” Boneham said.

He grew up in Kokomo but has made Indianapolis his home since 1990 when he moved here to help his “adoptive” grandparents, an elderly couple he met at church at age 13 and eventually began calling his grandparents.

Boneham never finished a nursing degree he was working on, “but it’s never hurt me.”

He is married with a 13-year-old daughter and for more than 20 years has run a nonprofit that mentors at-risk youth. He proudly notes he has never received government dollars.

Aside from criminal justice changes, Boneham wants to spur job creation in the state by lowering business taxes. He proposes making everyone pay the same, eliminating tax abatements and special credits.

And he supports giving counties the authority to collect local option income taxes instead of the state doing so and sending the money along, sometimes in error.

Boneham says campaigning is similar to the show “Survivor” in one key way.

“Sometimes the worst emotions are encouraged, the deceit, the manipulation. But I like showing it counts how you play the game. I am not the career politician and I do not profess to be. But I am someone you can count on,” he said.

“I showed that in ‘Survivor,’ and I hope I am showing that in my race for the governor.”