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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Traffic
7:19 am
Thu July 24, 2014

How Much Do Bad Roads & Texas Traffic Cost Drivers Every Year?

Deteriorating roadways and traffic congestion costs Austin drivers $1,700 every year.
Callie Hernandez for KUT News

Believe it or not, the state of Texas needs to spend money every year just to maintain current and ever-growing levels of traffic.

The Texas Department of Transportation needs at least $4 to 5 billion in additional funds to maintain roads and keep traffic from getting worse. In November, Texans will take to the polls to decide the fate of the agency's request via a constitutional amendment for the roadway funding.

While the sticker shock of that may not sit well with some, a new study says shaky infrastructure has an annual statewide cost of over $25 billion and Austin drivers an average of $1,700 a year.

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Abortion and Women's Health
9:05 am
Fri July 18, 2014

The Texas Abortion Debate Continues a Year After HB 2 Was Signed Into Law

Wendy Davis' HB 2 filibuster, catapulting her into the national limelight and serving as a springboard for her gubernatorial campaign.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT

Last legislative session, House Bill 2 proved to be a landmark moment for the abortion debate in Texas. It further politicized the issue both sides of the aisle, garnered national media attention, boosted political profiles and launched campaigns.

When the debate was over and it finally passed, HB 2 established a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, required clinics to be certified as ambulatory surgical centers, and forced abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. 

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Gov. Rick Perry signing the bill into law.

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Politics
8:17 am
Wed July 16, 2014

Both Abbott & Davis Raise $11 Million in Most Recent Reporting Period

Wendy Davis (left) and Greg Abbott (right) have raised $27 million and $28 million respectively in their gubernatorial campaigns.
KUT

The latest campaign finance numbers are trickling in, and it looks like gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis are neck-and-neck in fundraising. At the end of the reporting period that ended on June 30, both drummed up about $11 million in the weeks following the May primaries, but Abbott's stockpile of campaign cash could give him the leg up come November.

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The Franklin Fist Bump
3:04 pm
Mon July 14, 2014

Listen: Why Obama's Austin Fist Bumper Made a Call for Gay Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama fist bumps Daniel Webb at Franklin Barbecue. Webb called for gay equality in his exchange with the president.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters /Landov

By now, you've probably seen the photo from President Barack Obama's recent Austin visit: the president smiling and extending a fist bump to a cashier at Franklin Barbecue.

If you've followed the story further, then you may be familiar with what prompted the exchange: the cashier, comedian and performer Daniel Webb, exclaimed "Equal rights for gay people!" when the president approached the counter. When Obama asked Webb if he was gay, he answered, "Only when I have sex."

Originally reported by The Austin Chronicle, the story has been written up everywhere online.

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Traffic
6:06 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Think Traffic is Bad Now? By 2035, It Could Take 3 Hours to Get From Austin to Round Rock

Researchers estimate it could take as much as three hours to get from Austin to Round Rock in 2035.
Filipa Rodrigues, KUT News

These days Austin is known as much for traffic as it is for live music or five-hour-long barbecue lines. 

If you've been commuting in Austin for a while, you might have noticed the traffic isn't exactly getting better. Despite flirtations with building a six-lane highway, constructing a long overdue urban rail system and even "sequestering" I-35 under concrete, commute times are not only stagnant, they're getting worse. In 2011, the state commissioned a study on major roadways which found — despite all those improvements — it could take Austin commuters up to three hours to get to Round Rock by 2035. 

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Politics
11:38 am
Fri June 20, 2014

Just What is 'Reparative' Therapy for Gays?

flickr.com/gazeronly

The Texas Republican Party made headlines when it included an endorsement of something called “reparative therapy” in its party platform. Supporters say the therapy can “cure” people of being gay. But the practice is extremely controversial, unaccredited and banned for minors in a couple of states.

If you've paid any attention to this topic over the last couple of weeks, you've seen dozens of stories and even a segment on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart talking about what reparative therapy is. The descriptions often mention aversion therapies, aimed at pairing homosexual feelings with something unwanted or painful, like electric shock.

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Texas GOP
10:18 am
Tue June 17, 2014

Is the Texas Republican Platform Bad for Business?

RIck Perry gives GOP delegates at the state convention a thumbs up in June 2014.
Ben Philpott/KUT

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has made a career out of visiting, recruiting, and relocating businesses from California to Texas. But as the state's GOP continues to push further and further to the right of the political spectrum, could the state's ultra-conservative stance hurt recruitment from a progressive state?

First came the Texas Republican Party platform that said homosexuality is a choice and endorsed therapy aimed at "curing" people of being gay – a therapy banned in California.

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KUT's Summer School
4:15 pm
Fri June 13, 2014

From Log to Bowl, Learning How to Turn Wood

Jim Philpott uses a flat chisel to even out the rim of a bowl in the garage workshop behind his house in Kyle.
Joe Capraro/KUT

School is finally out across Austin. But here at KUT, class is in session.

All summer long, KUT reporters will learn a new skill or craft from folks who are experts in the field. We're calling it "Summer School" and we hope you'll learn something too along the way. 

In this class, KUT's Ben Philpott gets schooled by his father, Jim, in the art of bowl turning.

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GOP Convention
3:32 pm
Thu June 5, 2014

Plea for Party Unity as Texas Republican Convention Opens

Gov. Rick Perry kicked off the Texas Republican convention this morning in Fort Worth.
Ben Philpott/KUT

Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, kicked off the state GOP convention in Fort Worth today.

In a speech to the party faithful, Gov. Perry addressed the state's shifting demographics that Democrats hope will help them win big in election cycles to come – the "fight to keep Texas red" in the words of convention materials. "The national Democrats think Texas is the new battleground," Perry told the crowd. "Well let's be really clear, Texas will be their political burial ground."

Though he isn't seeking re-election in November, Perry has left the door wide open to a second presidential run in 2016. He told thousands of delegates gathered in Fort Worth that grassroots conservatives have already "changed Texas for the better" and urged them to do the same for America.

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Guns
6:00 am
Wed June 4, 2014

Gun Law Explainer: Where Can You Carry in Texas?

Open carry supporters hope to make further progress during the Texas Republican Convention this weekend.
Erika Rich/Texas Tribune

Over the last few months, exactly where you can carry a gun in Texas has been in the national spotlight. That discussion has kicked up again at this weekend’s Texas GOP convention, where open carry advocates are barred from attending with guns and rifles.

Texas gun laws are already pretty unrestrictive. Here is a rundown:

Owning a gun:

  • You don't need a state permit to purchase a gun
  • You don't have to register a firearm
  • Assault rifles are legal

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GOP Convention
2:53 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Booze Rules Bar Open Carry Gun Groups from Texas Republican Convention

Open carry supporters won't be able to bring their guns into the Texas GOP convention.
Twitter user @SocialMatchbox and David Yoakum/Twitter user @davidb00ts

Texas Republicans have been vocal supporters of expanding gun rights in Texas. So groups pushing for laws that would expand the ability to carry firearms openly expected to be welcomed at this week's state GOP convention in Fort Worth. But the Texas GOP says the guns, themselves, will have to stay out.

Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri wants the groups to know they are certainly welcome to attend the Republican convention, but their guns will have to remain outside because alcohol is served at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

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GOP Convention
4:02 pm
Thu May 29, 2014

Gay Conservatives Denied 'Official' Spot at Texas GOP Convention

Log Cabin Republicans want an official spot at next week's Texas GOP convention.
logcabin.org

The Texas Republican Party has denied the Log Cabin Republicans a space at next week's state convention. Log Cabin Republicans represent gay conservatives and supporters of marriage equality in the party. 

Log Cabin Republican Executive Director Gregory Angelo says the state party denied the group’s application for a booth at the convention because, as homosexuals, they disagree with a plank in the party platform. The plank reads, in part, that "homosexuality tears at the fabric of society."

"It was our obligation to let the voters of Texas know and to let members of the Republican Party in Texas know that that language is in the party platform and it is being used to intentionally exclude gay Republicans from formal participation in the state GOP convention," Angelo says.

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Runoff Elections
8:15 am
Tue May 27, 2014

Six Races on Today's Primary Runoff Ballot

It's Primary Runoff day in Texas.
flickr.com/whiteafrican

It's been 12 weeks since the March primaries. And with so much time, and in some cases so much money on hand, some of the six races on the ballot have turned pretty nasty.

At the top of the list is the headline-grabbing Republican Lieutenant Governor's race between incumbent David Dewhurst and State Senator Dan Patrick.

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Lieutenant Governor's Race
12:44 pm
Mon May 26, 2014

A Mysterious Mailer Closes the Heated Runoff for Texas Lieutenant Governor

A mailer appearing across the state links incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst with Tea Party favorites.

Update: Today, KUT's Ben Philpott talked to WBUR's Here and Now about the Lieutenant Governor primary. Listen to the interview here

Original story (7 a.m.): A political mailer was sent to hundreds of thousands of Republican voters recently, calling on them to elect what it called “Tea Party Champions” in tomorrow’s Republican runoff elections. But many Tea Party leaders in the state have never heard of the group that put out the glossy ad.

The previously unheard of "United Texas Tea Party" isn't the only fishy thing about this mailer, according to Tea Party activist Katrina Pierson. It shows Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst alongside Tea Party-backed candidates like Attorney General candidate Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Sid Miller. That’s despite the fact that most Tea Party groups back Dewhurst's opponent, State Sen. Dan Patrick.

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GOP Ag Commissioner Runoff
11:12 am
Fri May 16, 2014

It's Experience vs. Conservative Cred in Agriculture Commissioner Runoff

Tommy Merritt and Sid Miller are facing off in the GOP runoff for Agriculture Commissioner.
Texas Tribune

Monday is the first day of early voting for the May 27 Democratic and Republican primary runoff elections.

The Republican race for Agriculture Commissioner is between two former state legislators, Stephenville's Sid Miller and Longview's Tommy Merritt. And unlike the other GOP primaries, this one hasn't only focused on who's the most conservative – for the most part.

That's because for Miller, this race is about conservative credentials. And he'll quickly let you know that he's got empirical data on his side.

"You know Rice University took all the votes … and ranked the legislators from one to 50 on how conservative they were. And I was ranked No. 2 and my opponent was ranked the most liberal of the Republicans," Miller says.

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Politics
6:00 am
Mon May 12, 2014

Outsider Democrats Friedman & Hogan Vie for Agriculture Commissioner

Democrats have an interesting choice to make in the Agriculture Commissioner race: Jim Hogan (left) or Kinky Friedman
Texas Tribune

Texas Democrats have had trouble over the last several years filling out the statewide ballot with well-known candidates.

This month’s runoff for the party’s nomination for Agriculture Commissioner is a prime example: Texas comedian, author, musician and former independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman faces off against Cleburn farmer Jim Hogan.

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Democratic Senate Primary
6:00 am
Wed May 7, 2014

Interview: David Alameel, the Dallas Dentist Who Wants to Fix Washington

David Alameel hopes his big lead on primary night will lead to a runoff victory.

Texas Senator John Cornyn is still waiting to find out who he'll face in the November general election. Democrats will choose their candidate during the May 27 primary runoff election.

The party faithful will pick between Kesha Rogers, a Lyndon LaRouche disciple who wants to impeach President Obama, and Dallas dentist David Alameel

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Democratic Senate Primary
10:41 am
Tue May 6, 2014

Interview: Kesha Rogers, the LaRouche Democrat For Senate Who'd Impeach Obama

Rogers campaign materials on the UT Campus, the day of the March 4 2014 primaries.
Wells Dunbar, KUT News

Democrats will pick a U.S. Senate nominee in the May 27 primary runoff election.

The race is between two virtually unknown candidates. But Democrats around the state are going out of their way to campaign against one of them: Kesha Rogers. Rogers is a follower of Lyndon Larouche and calls for the impeachment of President Obama

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Republican Attorney Gen. Runoff
10:05 am
Fri May 2, 2014

How Ethics Allegations Changed the Branch/Paxton Attorney General Runoff

Rep. Branch hopes the allegations against Sen. Paxton can lead him to a come from behind win.
Michael Stravato / Callie Richmond/Todd Wiseman

The battle for the Republican nomination for Attorney General was similar to most GOP primaries this year: a race to the right, with each candidate trying to lay claim to the title of most conservative.

But with less than a month until the primary runoff, one candidate has been busy fending off allegations that he broke the law. 

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Politics
6:00 am
Thu May 1, 2014

Democrats Hoping More Political Money Will Stay in Texas

There's plenty of political money in Texas, but for Democrats much leaves the state.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

This week the head of the Democratic Governors Association said the Texas Governor’s race isn’t in the top tier of races his group will be financially backing in 2014.

Texas has long been a fertile fundraising stop for groups like the DGA and other national Democratic candidates and organizations. But has any of that money started flowing back to Texas to help ongoing efforts to turn it blue?

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