A fishing guide from Fairbanks is poised to fill a spot in Alaska’s U.S. House election

Chris Bye, the Libertarian candidate for Alaska's U.S. House seat, is seen in an undated campaign photograph shared with the Alaska Division of Elections. (Division of Elections photo)

by James Brooks, Alaska Beacon
August 27, 2022

In Chris Bye’s preferred campaign photo, the Libertarian U.S. House candidate is ripping open his dress shirt to reveal a T-shirt that says, “Do Good Recklessly.”

After Republican fourth-place candidate Tara Sweeney abruptly withdrew from Alaska’s November U.S. House race, Bye will fill a spot in the state’s top-four primary election, an act that will put him alongside Democratic candidate Mary Peltola and Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III in the race for a two-year term in the House.

Bye, a fishing guide from Fairbanks, spoke about his campaign on Friday while waiting to take his next client fishing. He said his picture encapsulates his message. 

“I mean, we don’t have to be Superman to do good. I mean, I can just be a fishing guide and pick up garbage along the way. This isn’t complicated,” he said.

Bye, a former U.S. Army officer with deployments in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, said he isn’t wealthy and doesn’t have a traditional political background, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do the job as Alaska’s lone delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Born in Oxford, England, to an Air Force family, Bye said he “moved every two to three years” while growing up and went to two different high schools before joining the U.S. Army and going to college.

He served in a variety of roles, including as an infantryman, in armor, and as a cavalryman before his career took him to Alaska with the 172nd Infantry Brigade. 

While deployed to Iraq, he said he wrote to Alaska’s congressional delegation frequently.

“I’d be like, ‘Why am I in Iraq? Like, can someone please tell me why you voted to send us here? Because there is absolutely no constitutional emergency for us to be here,’” he said.

He said he was disillusioned by the “really dumb, canned responses” he got.

“I just knew that I didn’t fit in either (Republican or Democratic) party,” he said.

On a subsequent fishing trip with a fellow officer, the other man gave him a copy of Ron Paul’s book, “Liberty Defined.”

Paul was the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 1988 and has espoused a philosophy of limited government intervention. Reading Paul’s book “absolutely changed the way I look at governance,” Bye said. “Overnight, I realized I had been part of the problem by settling for the lesser of two evils.”

Bye retired from the military in 2017 and stayed in Fairbanks but didn’t run for office until this year. The decision came with a high cost: Bye had to give up a civilian job on Fort Wainwright because federal employees aren’t permitted to run for office.

The inspiration behind his decision, he said, was the passage of the federal infrastructure bill, known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Bye was dissatisfied by the cost of that measure, which was supported by former Congressman Don Young. He briefly considered running as a Republican or Democrat but decided to run as a Libertarian after receiving an email from the party.

“They welcomed me with wide arms, even though we’ve got some differences,” Bye said.

An example, he said, is drug policy. Bye favors continued restrictions on some controlled substances, such as fentanyl.

Answering a candidate questionnaire from the Beacon, Bye praised the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade but said contraception and other medicines should be available “for all people without a doctor’s prescription.”

He has advocated restrictions on deep-sea trawling and the gradual elimination of the practice in order to reduce salmon bycatch. 

Answering questions from Ballotpedia, he said his “top goal,” if elected, is to accelerate the transfer of federal land to individuals and the state.

On his website, Bye advocates a 10-15% cut in federal spending and a 15% cut in the number of federal employees.

By phone, Bye said that if elected, instead of the hunting trophies and memorabilia that adorned the office of former Congressman Don Young, he would “go down to IKEA … and we’re going to get the biggest damn table — because we represent Alaska — and we’re going to put as many seats around that table as possible, and everybody, every Alaskan is invited to sit at that table.”

“Because I’m not just a representative for the people that voted for me, but for everybody, even those who have conflicting views,” he said. “I mean, if we can’t be courageous in front of people who have different views, our future generations, they’re going to be sucking.”

Bye acknowledged that he faces an uphill campaign toward November. He’s received little media attention to date, his competitors have raised significantly more money for advertising, and he’s on pace to finish with less than 1% of the vote in this month’s primary election.

Still, he said, it’s important for him to not only run but also be considered a candidate on the level of the Republicans and Democrat who also are finishing in the top four.

“I’m just a fishing guide, but if we don’t have normal people in there, Alaskans are stuck with the status quo,” he said. “And the status quo so far has failed us, failed miserably.”

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: [email protected]. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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