Ben Philpott

Senior Reporter, State Politics and Policy

Ben Philpott covers politics and policy for KUT. He has been covering state politics and dozens of other topics for the station since 2002. He's been recognized for outstanding radio journalism by the Radio and Television News Directors Association, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated, the Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and has been named Radio Journalist of the Year by the Houston Press club three times.

Before moving to Texas, he worked in public radio in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and at several television stations in Alabama and Tennessee. Born in New York City and raised in Chattanooga, Tenn., Philpott graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in broadcast journalism.

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Agenda Texas
8:18 am
Fri January 30, 2015

At the Capitol This Week, Anti-Islamic Protests and a Call for Contract Reform

State lawmakers trimmed about $5 billion from education spending in the last legislative session, which led to the elimination of 32,000 school jobs, according to a report.
Liang Shi/KUT News

This was supposed to be a fairly quiet week at the Legislature.

For the seventh session in a row, Muslim groups from across the state came to Austin for their regular lobby day, just like the lobby day for doctors, or bikers, or any special interest group. Only this time they were met by about 25 protesters, who yelled and held signs with anti-Islamic slogans and briefly took hold of the mic during speeches.

Rep. Molly White, R-Belton, joined the fray by instructing her staff to ask any Muslims who came into her office if they would “renounce Islamic terrorist groups and announce allegiance to America and our laws.” The council on American-Islamic relations has already sent a letter to House Speaker Joe Straus to see if those instructions violate House ethics rules.

The legislature also broached another currently controversial topic: the Texas Health & Human Services Commission (HHSC).

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Agenda Texas
10:04 am
Fri January 23, 2015

What to Watch in the Texas State Budget

Credit Todd Wiseman & Stuart Seeger/Texas Tribune

Agenda Texas is KUT's weekly report on the Texas Legislative session. Each week we'll take a deeper look into the policies being considered and explain what they could mean for you and your life. From transportation to education to the environment and everything in between.

Two weeks down in the 84th Texas Legislature. This one was filled with the pomp of Inauguration Day, and the curious circumstance of the Texas Senate's rules for bringing up a bill. But today's Agenda Texas talks about the state budget.

Out of the billions and billions spent, there are two numbers to focus on to help understand it all.

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2015 Texas Inauguration
4:26 pm
Tue January 20, 2015

Texas' New Leaders Strike Different Tones With Inaugural Speeches

Gov. Greg Abbott, with wife Cecilia and daughter Audrey, at the inauguration ceremony at the Texas Capitol.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

Texas’ new governor and lieutenant governor were inaugurated this morning at the State Capitol. Both delivered remarks, and the two speeches struck very different tones.

For Gov. Greg Abbott, much of the speech focused on thanks and gratitude to the family, friends, and state that allowed him to succeed.

"I am living proof that we live in a state where a young man's life can literally be broken in half, and yet he can still rise up to be governor of this great state,” he said.

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Agenda Texas
10:53 am
Fri January 16, 2015

Rick Perry Says Goodbye As the Legislature Begins Its Work

Gov. Rick Perry on the House dais in his final speech to the Texas Legislature on Jan. 15, 2015.
Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

Agenda Texas is KUT's weekly report on the Texas Legislative session. Each week we'll take a deeper look into the policies being considered and explain what they could mean for you and your life. From transportation to education to the environment and everything in between.

It's KUT's political podcast that let you know what's happening under the dome, and explain how it hits home.

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This week, lawmakers from across the state have returned to Austin for the 84th session of the Texas Legislature. The beginning marked the end, at least for now, of the two long political careers of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Gov. Rick Perry.

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State Legislature
7:30 am
Mon January 12, 2015

How Will Falling Oil Prices Affect the State Budget?

Oil prices will be a consideration for the state's two-year budget.

Lawmakers will find out this morning how much money they’ll have to work with as they craft the state’s next two-year budget. They’re expected to have plenty of wiggle room, but rapidly dropping oil prices have raised some concerns. Oil and gas prices could affect those numbers.

At the end of 2013, former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs said the state could have about $2.6 billion dollars in unspent revenue from the current budget. Some believe that surplus will be even larger when current Comptroller Glenn Hegar delivers his revenue estimate this morning. And that money could be a big help, considering the state's economic future might not be as rosy thanks to falling oil prices.

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State Legislature
12:40 pm
Thu January 8, 2015

Public Integrity Unit Will Be Left Out of Texas Senate Budget

Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick announced the Senate will not restore funding to the Public Integrity Unit.
Credit Bob Daemmrich / Texas Tribune

The next Lieutenant Governor of Texas has announced the Senate will not restore funding to the Public Integrity Unit. The operation, based in the Travis County District Attorney's office, had its funding vetoed by Governor Rick Perry in 2013. That came after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested and spent time in jail for drunk driving.

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Life & Arts
4:00 pm
Wed December 24, 2014

The 2014 Words of the Year

The heart shaped emoji is the 2014 word of the year.

The Central Texas based Global Language Monitor is out with its top words for 2014.

The 15 year-old ranking doesn't just pick the most popular words based on what one segment of the English speaking world is doing. A bunch of hits on YouTube, or a single event won't usually give something "word of the year" status.

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Texas
4:51 pm
Thu December 4, 2014

Remembering Former Lawmaker Ray Farabee's Life of Service

Credit KUT

The Texas Capitol will take on a somber mood Friday, as friends and family take time to honor the life of Former Texas State Senator and KUT Board Member Kenneth "Ray" Farabee. A memorial will be held in the Senate chamber Friday, December 5 at 2 pm. Farabee died at his Austin home on November 20. He was 81.

Farabee was born and raised in Wichita Falls, Texas, at the base of the High Plains.

But it was in Austin where he would make his mark, first as a leader in student government at the University of Texas at Austin and later in the Texas Senate.

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Border & Immigration
12:54 pm
Thu November 20, 2014

Executive Action on Immigration: The View from Texas

President Obama's likely announcement of an executive order to advance immigration reform could expand benefits for migrant workers, but Texas lawmakers at the legislature and in Congress could push back on the reforms.
Ben Philpott/KUT

Republicans in Washington and Texas are set to fight President Obama on his expected executive order on immigration. But how will the order affect life in the Lone Star State?

The biggest change would obviously be for the people who qualify for work permits the president is expected to announce tonight. Co-Director of the UT Law School Immigration Clinic Barbara Hines says not only will those people no longer live in fear of deportation, it should also improve their financial situation.

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Health
3:41 pm
Wed November 12, 2014

KUT Presents: Texas and the Affordable Care Act, Year Two

What's the future of the ACA in Texas?
Courtesey of Dell Medical School

Open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act starts Nov. 15. In Texas, questions remain about the law and its effects.

On Nov. 18 at 6 p.m., KUT will host a discussion on how the law is changing health care in Texas and what's ahead for the second year of the health insurance marketplace.

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2015 Legislative Session
12:24 pm
Tue November 11, 2014

Bill Filings Begin: Four Things to Look for in the 2015 Texas Legislature

The Texas Legislature convenes on Jan. 13, but what will lawmakers be considering?
Liang Shi for KUT

It's that time of the biennium.

The 84th Texas Legislature is just a few short months away, and state lawmakers are already filing their bills for the first Rick Perry-less session this side of the millennium. So far, the bills include legislative pet projects like texting and driving bans, open carry initiatives and tax cuts. Other proposals target tougher statewide issues like transportation funding and state budgeting.

You can find a roundup of issues that state lawmakers are considering below.

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2014 Texas Elections
10:30 am
Tue November 4, 2014

Biographies Collide in Race for Texas Comptroller

Mike Collier (D) and Glenn Hegar (R) each believe their work experience will make them a good Comptroller.
via Texas Tribune

The Texas Comptroller has the very important job of telling lawmakers how much money they have to spend in each 2-year budget. Getting that answer wrong can lead to millions or billions in unnecessary budget cuts.

The top two candidates running this year both say they'll be the person to make the office better.

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2014 Texas Elections
9:00 am
Tue November 4, 2014

The Invisible Campaign for Texas Attorney General

Democrat Sam Houston (left) has been alone on the campaign trail, as Republican Ken Paxton (right) has made few public appearences.
Texas Tribune: Michael Stravato / Cooper Neill

Texas is a Red state. All things being equal, if two candidates have equal access to money and equal get out the vote efforts, the Republican is going to be favored and might even win by double digits.

The 2014 race for Texas Attorney General is setting up to be a pure representation of that Republican advantage.

The GOP nominee, State Senator Ken Paxton, has refused to speak to the press, has made almost no public campaign appearances. He has admitted to violating state securities law, and hasn't released a campaign ad since his GOP primary. And yet, recent polls have him 20 points ahead of Democrat Sam Houston.

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2014 Texas Elections
7:00 am
Tue November 4, 2014

The Race for Texas Lieutenant Governor

State Senator Dan Patrick (left) and state Senator Leticia van de Putte.
Credit Bob Daemmrich / Alyssa Banata/Texas Tribune

It's known as the most powerful office in Texas government. And for the first time in 12 years, this Election Day, Texans will choose a new Lieutenant Governor to run the Texas Senate.

Republican nominee state Senator Dan Patrick defeated the incumbent David Dewhurst in a rough GOP primary, where the candidate who won the title as the 'most conservative' won the voters' favor.

Patrick has taken up the mantle of Tea Party crusader in the Texas Legislature. If elected, he has promised to do things that the most conservative activists have wanted to see for years. He's pushing for the elimination of a Senate rule that requires a bill to have support of two-thirds of senators before it can come up for vote.

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2014 Texas Elections
6:15 am
Tue November 4, 2014

Central Texas Boasts Many Legislative Races, Little Intrigue

Credit Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis have criss-crossed the state and spent millions on who will be the state's next governor. But here in Central Texas, the local races for state office have left little to no intrigue.

Now, we're not the Associated Press; we're not calling races. And KUT doesn't endorse candidates. But, there are a number of races where, barring an upset of historic proportions, we already know who's going to win.

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2014 Texas Elections
5:05 am
Tue November 4, 2014

A Lyrical Guide to Austin's Long Election Day Ballot

A ballot this long can have all the drama and emotion of a night at the opera.
flickr.com/photos/philippeos/

It's finally Election Day.

After months of campaigning, thousands of commercials, and tons of ads stuffing your mailbox, statewide and local races will be decided today. But be warned, with Austin’s city elections moving to November, this year's ballot is LONG.

But luckily, KUT's Ben Philpott is here with a lyrical guide to getting through the ballot.

2014 Texas Elections
4:32 am
Tue November 4, 2014

In Davis vs. Abbott, Hopes For a Competitive Race for Texas Governor

State Senator Wendy Davis (left) and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (right).
Credit Laura Buckman / Bob Daemmrich

This year's governor's race was billed as the first actual competitive race for Texas governor since Ann Richards lost to George Bush in 1994. Current Governor Rick Perry was stepping down, making way for Attorney General Greg Abbott to take the GOP nomination. Newly-minted national political celebrity State Senator Wendy Davis made a run for Democrats.

But unless something unexpected happens today, the race could be a repeat of the GOP 12 point win in 2010.

The race opened with Abbott finally stepping out of Governor Perry's nearly 14 year shadow. Perry announced he would not seek a fourth full term on July 8th. Less than a week later, after years of waiting...and raising a bunch of money, Abbott finally announced his run for the governor's office.

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2014 Texas Elections
2:40 pm
Fri October 31, 2014

Texas Candidates Release Last Second Ads

Glenn Hegar's recent ad.
screen capture of Glenn Hager video

Early voting wraps up today. Candidates have spent the last two weeks focused on get-out-the-vote efforts, making sure supporters don't forget to cast a ballot. But campaigns have also released final campaign videos, maybe in hopes of winning the votes of those few remaining undecided Texans.

These ads can take many different forms, from traditional television ads to testimonials from supporters. So for your viewing pleasure, we've compiled a short list of ads from the state's top races that have been released in the last week.

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Texas Governor's Race
6:00 am
Fri October 31, 2014

Before You Vote: 5 Things to Know About the Texas Governor's Race

Abbott and Davis have filled the airwaves explaining their plans for Texas.
Mark Graham / Cooper Neil via the Texas Tribune

Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis are in the home stretch of their battle to become the next Texas Governor. And by now, the candidates have done pretty much all they can to make sure voters know who they are and what their plans for are for the state. But just in case you weren't sure, here's a look at the differences, and similarities, between the two on 5 specific issues.

Let's start with education, specifically K-12 public schools.

Here, and you might see a pattern throughout this story, both candidates say they want Texas to have an elite public school system.

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2014 Elections
10:47 am
Thu October 30, 2014

Comptroller Candidates Talk Oversight and Incentives in Debate

via Texas Tribune

The race for Texas Governor has received much of the attention this fall, but last night it was the Comptroller’s race that took center stage.

Republican candidate Glenn Hegar and Democratic candidate Mike Collier met at the debate moderated by Time Warner Cable’s Paul Brown, discussing the state’s incentive policy and the role of the comptroller in the state’s budgeting process.

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