Rep. Ken Buck to leave office early

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Ken Buck
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, stops for a reporter as he heads to the chamber for votes, at the Capitol in Washington, Friday, Dec. 2, 2022.

Updated at 4:43 p.m. on Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Republican Congressman Ken Buck is leaving office early. He made the announcement via email Tuesday.

"It has been an honor to serve the people of Colorado's 4th District in Congress for the past 9 years,” Buck said in a statement. “I want to thank them for their support and encouragement throughout the years. Today, I am announcing that I will depart Congress at the end of next week. I look forward to staying involved in our political process, as well as spending more time in Colorado and with my family."

Talking to reporters, Buck expressed frustration with the way this Congress has operated. “This place just keeps going downhill. And I don’t need to spend my time here.”

Last November, Buck said he would not seek reelection but at the time he indicated he planned to serve out his remaining term. In his email, Buck said his last day in Congress will be March 22. The House is set to go on a two week recess the next day. 

Buck told CPR News that his message to his voters is that he’s going to do his very best in his final week. And he said there was some thought to his timing – to minimize the disruption a vacancy election will cause. 

“I’m leaving before one of the breaks to minimize that timeframe. They’ll have a chance to fill my seat and I think whoever fills that seat for the next Congress and the remainder of this Congress, will do a great job,” said Buck.

The announcement did not include any details of what Buck plans to do next, but he did give a hint. He said it’s time we talk about how we elect leaders. “I feel very strongly about that. I don’t have an organization to join, I just know in my heart I want to get involved in this election cycle and work on that issue.”

Federal law requires a vacancy election to fill Buck’s seat, with candidates picked by the vacancy committees from each political party. The power to schedule a vacancy election rests with the governor. On Tuesday, Gov. Jared Polis said he's scheduling the vacancy election for June 25, to coincide with the state primary.

That means voters in Congressional District Four will get ballots for two congressional contests in June: a vacancy election to fill Buck's seat through the rest of the year, and a primary race for someone to replace him in the next congress.

A large number of Republicans are vying to replace Buck, including current 3rd congressional district Rep. Lauren Boebert, Logan County Commissioner Jerry Sonnenberg, former radio host Deborah Flora and state Reps. Richard Holtorf and Mike Lynch.

Winning the vacancy election could give a candidate a leg-up in November’s general election, where they would be the incumbent.

In the meantime, Buck’s departure threatens to whittle the GOP’s House majority down even further. The count currently stands at 219 Republicans to 213 Democrats, with three vacant seats. California holds a vacancy election for former Rep. Kevin McCarthy on March 19. If no candidate secures a majority of the votes in that contest, it will go to a runoff in late May.

In a video provided courtesy of CNN, House Speaker Mike Johnson said he was surprised by Buck’s announcement and looked forward to talking with him about it. Buck said he gave Johnson a 30 minute heads up and will likely to talk him in person later in the day.

Buck leaves after a decade in Congress

A former prosecutor, Buck was first elected to the House in 2014, after narrowly losing the 2010 Senate race to Michael Bennet. He was part of the Tea Party wave, and later joined the House Freedom Caucus. He’s been known for his strict fiscal conservatism, constantly raising concerns about the country’s rising debt. 

But the constitutional conservative, who was once described as too conservative for Colorado, has also taken some positions at odds with most in his party.

He voted to certify the 2020 presidential election, arguing that Congress has a narrow role in approving the vote. He was one of the eight lawmakers to vote to remove former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. He helped block GOP Rep. Jim Jordan’s attempt to become Speaker. And Buck has raised doubts about House Republican’s efforts to impeach President Joe Biden, saying the evidence is just not there.

His legislative accomplishments include the No TikTok on Government Devices Act and getting Camp Amache included as part of the National Park System. Buck also forged alliances across the aisle, which he used to craft a package of Big Tech antitrust legislation that cleared the House last Congress. He also worked on a bipartisan effort to try to stop lawmakers from buying and selling stocks.

Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse worked with Buck frequently over the years, including antitrust efforts, the Amache legislation and the Dearfield Study Act. On Tuesday, Neguse said, “I’ve enjoyed serving with him. He’s been a friend and a colleague whom we’ve partnered together on numerous issues that are of importance to Colorado and to Larimer County, northern Colorado in particular.”

Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, who is retiring at the end of this term, said he was very surprised that Buck was leaving at this point in time, but wished him the best. 

He noted it will make for a smaller Republican House majority, which “could complicate things.” Republicans will now only be able to lose at most two votes to pass things without any Democratic support.

The dean of the delegation, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette, summed up Buck’s service like this: “He’s a straight shooter and he calls it like he sees it. I don’t always agree with him on the issues, but I do appreciate his faith in the system and his belief in the institution of Congress.”