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Little-known Senate candidate vows to fight illegal immigration

By Kevin Woster, Journal staff

In a campaign of unfamiliar names, South Dakota voters probably know the least about Republican U.S. Senate candidate Charles Lyonel Gonyo of Trent.

That's saying something, too, since the "big names" in the Republican Senate primary are Joel Dykstra, Sam Kephart and Bert Tollefson.

Gonyo has been missed entirely by most South Dakota reporters covering a primary campaign that so far has captured little public attention and inspired few news stories. But he was the first of the four GOP candidates to get the necessary 2,070 valid nominating-petition signatures confirmed by the South Dakota secretary of state. Secretary of State Chris Nelson said Gonyo's petitions were approved March 7, which made him the first of the four GOP Senate hopefuls to qualify.

Dykstra, a state representative from Canton, qualified this week. Spearfish businessman Sam Kephart and retired real-estate agent Bert Tollefson of Sioux Falls have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to submit their petitions or send a package by registered mail by that time.

Gonyo takes a pretty simple message into the campaign: "I've been spending the last 12 years fighting illegal immigration," he said by telephone Friday. "I'll be the only one (in the campaign) that's pro-American. Everybody else will be along the lines of open up the borders, bring in all the foreigners."

Declining to give his age or talk specifically about what he has been doing professionally during the past two or three decades, Gonyo said he attended colleges at South Dakota State University in Brookings and worked as a veterinarian before focusing more recently on the fight against illegal immigration.

Gonyo also said he has been deeply involved in the Minutemen, a civilian group with factions in a number of states that was formed to draw attention to illegal immigration. The Minutemen have held demonstrations and vigils, including a well-publicized civilian patrol along the Arizona-Mexican border in 2005.

Gonyo said he also works with Wake Up America, an American patriotism program that shares the Minutemen concerns about illegal immigrants and foreign ownership of property in the United States.

"I'm doing nothing but fighting to save our country from being taken over by illegal aliens," he said.

The winner of the Republican primary will face incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, whom Gonyo called a "nice Norwegian American, the same as me."

Gonyo said he will run a low-budget campaign and probably serve as his own campaign treasurer.

By mid-afternoon Friday, Kephart had filed some petitions with the secretary of state but not yet enough to make the ballot. Tollefson hasn't yet submitted any, Nelson said.

In the U.S. House race, incumbent Democratic Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin has already filed and made the ballot. Republican House challenger Chris Lien of Rapid City made the ballot Friday, after his petitions were approved by Nelson's office.

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