Ken Buck (1959–) is an attorney and politician from Weld County. He represents Colorado’s Fourth Congressional District in the US House of Representatives, an office he has held since 2015, winning reelection in 2016 and 2018. Since March 2019, Buck has served as head of Colorado’s Republican Party.
Buck is known for his uncompromising stances on certain issues, especially Second Amendment rights. Although he is mostly a reliable champion of conservative policies, such as President Donald Trump’s border wall and lower corporate taxes, Buck has also broken with his party on other issues, including federal relief money during a pandemic and the number of refugees allowed into the country.
In addition to serving in the House, Buck made an unsuccessful bid for the US Senate in 2010. Before serving in Congress, Buck served as the Weld County district attorney from 2005 to 2014.
Kenneth Robert Buck was born on February 16, 1959, in Ossining, New York, to Ruth and James Eugene Buck. His parents were both lawyers, and his father had served as a captain in the army during World War II. Beginning at the age of twelve, Ken spent summers with his aunt and uncle on their ranch in La Grange, Wyoming, where he developed a love for the open spaces and solitude of the West.
Ken’s parents encouraged him and his two brothers to attend Ivy League schools; Ken attended Princeton University, graduating with a degree in politics in 1981. From there he headed to the West, arriving in Cheyenne a few months after graduating. He worked for a year in the Wyoming legislative services office before starting law school at the University of Wyoming.
Politics and Business
Buck married his college girlfriend, Dayna Roane, in 1984, and graduated from law school in 1985. He landed a job with then-Wyoming congressman Dick Cheney, who was part of a congressional investigation into President Ronald Reagan’s involvement in an illegal arms deal known as the Iran-Contra affair. President Reagan was found to have exercised poor judgment but was not directly linked to the crime. Buck described his experience with Cheney as “a really fascinating view of American politics.”
After the investigation, Buck began working as a federal prosecutor, landing in the US Attorney’s office in Denver by 1990. He was later fired for discussing a potential case with defense attorneys, and the uneasy departure cost him another potential job with Dick Cheney, who was then vice president, in 2002. By then Buck had divorced his first wife, moved to Greeley, and married Perry Webster, a businesswoman with deep ties to the local Republican Party. Buck began working as an executive for Hensel Phelps Construction, one of the largest general contractors in the world.
Along with support from his employer, Perry’s connections allowed Buck to enter electoral politics. In 2004 he was elected Weld County district attorney, a position he held until 2014. Buck touted a large drop in crime during his stint as DA, but his tenure was also marked by several controversies, including his refusal in 2005 to prosecute a rape case on behalf of a student at the University of Northern Colorado. Buck was roundly criticized for describing the alleged rape as an instance of “buyer’s remorse.”
Another controversy came in 2008. Buck’s office obtained tax documents from nearly 5,000 clients of Amalia’s Tax and Translation in Greeley, suspecting that the business was helping undocumented immigrants obtain Social Security numbers. The raid resulted in charges filed against seventy undocumented immigrants, but it also brought on a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Colorado, which claimed the raid was unconstitutional. Four district judges and the Colorado Supreme Court agreed, ruling that the raid violated the Fourth Amendment rights of Amalia’s clients. Weld County was ordered to pay the ACLU $295,000 to cover the organization’s legal fees.
US Senate Campaign
In 2010, after five years as Weld County district attorney, Buck decided to challenge Democrat Michael Bennet for his US Senate seat. Hensel Phelps CEO Jerry Morgensen donated $4,800 to Buck’s campaign, the maximum amount for an individual contribution. Some $2 million in undisclosed contributions helped Buck secure the GOP primary. During a debate with Bennet in October 2010, Buck made several controversial statements, including a defense of his use of “buyer’s remorse” to describe the 2005 rape case he had declined to prosecute. Despite his poor debate performance, Buck lost the Senate race to Bennet by just 30,000 votes.
House of Representatives
After his failed Senate bid, Buck returned to his job as Weld County DA, where he remained a favorite in the local Republican Party. In 2013 he underwent chemotherapy for stage-four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and his cancer went into full remission that summer.
His health scare inspired Buck to run for higher office again. In 2014 Republican representative Cory Gardner decided to challenge Democrat Mark Udall for his Senate seat. Buck easily won the district’s Republican nomination to take Gardner’s place in the House, then handily defeated Democratic opponent Vic Meyers by 45 percentage points in the general election.
When he finally arrived in Washington, Buck was disappointed in his Republican colleagues, especially their handling of the budget. In his 2017 book Drain the Swamp, Buck called the first budget he looked at “fiction disguised as a budget,” because it included “assumptions” and “magical cuts” that represented wishful thinking rather than reality. In the book, Buck also criticized the single-mindedness of national politicians, writing that “there’s only one problem they’re serious about solving—getting reelected.”
Stances and Legislation
Like many of his conservative colleagues, Buck often claims to want a balanced national budget even as he supports policies that increase the national debt, including the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 and President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.
Despite his support for the wall, Buck has criticized the Trump administration’s policy of limiting refugees, claiming that as a Christian he could not support turning away those fleeing from legitimate crises. Nevertheless, Buck has defended President Trump’s policy of separating immigrant families at the border, saying that “there are consequences” to attempting to unlawfully enter the United States.
In December 2019, Buck joined 194 Republican colleagues in the House to vote “nay” on two articles of impeachment against President Trump, one for abuse of power and another for obstruction of Congress.
Like many others in his party, Buck is particularly outspoken about Second Amendment rights. In early March 2020, as Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden called for increased regulation of military-style weapons, Buck brandished his own, American flag–painted AR-15 rifle in his congressional office, challenging Biden and other Democrats to “come and take it.” Buck has consistently voted against measures to increase firearms regulation, including the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.
Within Colorado, Buck represents a district whose economy is heavily dependent on energy extraction, especially hydraulic fracturing. As such, he is a strong supporter of the oil and gas industry, opposing most initiatives to expand regulation.
During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, Buck joined other conservative commentators and lawmakers in opposing the mandatory shutdown of nonessential businesses. His stance was in opposition to the nation’s top medical experts, as well as the US Centers for Disease Control, which maintained that shutting down most businesses was essential to control the outbreak. Buck was also one of the few congresspeople of either party to vote against the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provided relief to businesses and sent one-time payments to most American families. He believed the act promoted a “bailout mentality” among young people and should have directed fewer resources to corporations and more toward protective equipment and other medical supplies.
2020 Election Controversy
Buck again found himself in the public crosshairs after it was determined that, as chair of the state’s Republican Party, he had instructed a volunteer election staffer to put a GOP candidate on the ballot even though the candidate had not won the number of votes legally required to make the ballot. Buck said that the coronavirus pandemic had made the primary elections “unfair” and that he was merely abiding by the decision of the 500-member state Republican committee. A district court ruled that the party’s actions constituted a violation of state law; the party appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, but it declined to hear the case.
Buck was re-elected in 2020, defeating Democratic challenger Ike McCorkle, 60 percent to 37 percent.
Buck has two children from his first marriage: son, Cody, born in 1988, and daughter, Kaitlin, born in 1991. Buck and second wife, Perry, split in 2018; the couple had no children.