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
10:31 am
Fri February 20, 2015

Timeline: Texas' First Legal Same-Sex Marriage

Suzanne Bryant (l) and Sarah Goodfriend (r) speak to the press at the celebration of their marriage, the first legal marriage of a gay couple in Texas.
Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT

Thursday morning at about 9:15, Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant became the state’s first legally married same-sex couple.

You may have already heard about the marriage, but do you know what happened in the hour before that ceremony or the hours that followed?

Let’s spend a few minutes explaining what happened, and perhaps more importantly, what happens next.

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Agenda Texas
10:29 am
Fri February 13, 2015

Border Security and Battle Lines in Austin

Texas lawmakers want border security, but what kind? And how much will it cost?
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

It's about a month into the 84th Texas Legislative session, and this week saw the first cracks in any unified front among the state's Republican leadership.

Just like every Texas legislative session – ever, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House won't always agree on things. And that was highlighted this week in the debate over border security.

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Austin
6:07 pm
Tue February 10, 2015

School for the Deaf Staff, Students React to Potential Downsizing

Miguel Gutierrez, Jr./KUT News

The Texas School for the Deaf sits on 67 acres in between South 1st and South Congress. It looks more like a small college campus than a traditional school building. But then again, says school superintendent Claire Bugen, this isn't a traditional school.

"We serve students from age zero, in our parent/infant program, through home visits. And then when the student is 18 months old, they start to come on campus for part-time services. Now these are local students. All the way through age 22. So our continuum of services is very broad," Bugen says.

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Agenda Texas
10:17 am
Fri February 6, 2015

Bills, Guns and Committees Come to the Capitol

Activists who support a legislative proposal that would lift the state's handgun licensing requirements stand outside the state Capitol on the opening day of the Texas Legislature on Jan. 13, 2015
Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

Two weeks ago Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick handed out his committee assignments, and, this week, House Speaker Joe Straus did the same. That means the sounds that now fill the House and Senate chambers –  of lawmakers giving congratulatory resolutions – is about to change.

Bills often make the news only to quickly disappear from public discourse. Some, like one that moved in the Legislature this week on open carry, gain attention and momentum. Why do some bills fade away while others don't? The answer sometimes lies with House and Senate committees.

How to Pass a Bill

The journey from bill filing to governor's signature is a long and, about 70 percent of the time, unsuccessful journey.  First up, bill referral, when bills are read for the first time in either the House or Senate and then sent to a committee.

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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.

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