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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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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2014 Elections
10:46 am
Wed October 29, 2014

Some Low-Profile Local Races Go Unnoticed at the Bottom of the Ballot

Get comfortable at the polls, voting could take a while.
Photo by Marjorie Cotera for the Texas Tribune

There’s been plenty of attention this election season at the top of the ballot – to the governor’s race. But some local ballots in Texas can be up to 4 pages long. And voter attention spans drop off dramatically after checking the box for governor.

In 2010, the gap between those who voted for governor and lieutenant governor statewide was more than 44,000. That's 44,000 people who walked into the voting booth, check governor, and said, "I'm done."

It's what Rice University political scientist Mark Jones calls "drop-off."

So, why's it so hard for voters to completely fill out a ballot?

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2014 Elections
10:44 am
Tue October 28, 2014

Ahead of Elections, Perry Channels the Gipper in Reagan Library Speech

Gov. Perry at a press conference announcing the state's infectious disease task force on October 7, 2014.
Veronica Zaragovia/KUT

Gov. Rick Perry was at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California last night, talking about next week's elections.

Perry's speech played off a 1964 speech by Reagan called – perhaps fittingly, in light of Perry’s presidential aspirations – “A Time for Choosing,” which launched the career of the “Great Communicator” and future president.

However, presidential allusion aside, the speech wasn’t Rick Perry throwing his hat into the ring for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

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2014 Elections
9:51 am
Mon October 27, 2014

Block-Walking Ramps Up as Election Season Winds Down

Canvassers Mark Sterling (left) and Christopher Nicholson (right) are hitting the pavement to raise awareness for the Wendy Davis campaign this week before the end of early voting on Friday.
Ben Philpott/KUT

We're finally in the home stretch of the 2014 elections. And while you're likely to see dozens of campaign ads on TV this last week...it's a knock on a door that may determine the outcome of several elections. The "get out the vote" campaigns being run by Republicans and Democrats are ramping up before the end of early voting this week.

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Politics
11:01 am
Mon October 20, 2014

Why Texas' Next Governor Will Be Weaker Than the Current One

Gubernatorial candidates Wendy Davis (D) and Greg Abbott (R)
Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune, Laura Buckman / Bob Daemmrich

Early voting for the November election starts today. And to arm you with information before you head to the polls, KUT's Nathan Bernier and political reporter Ben Philpott have been highlighting the candidates in a few key state-wide races, and letting you know just what the offices they're running for can and can't do.

Nathan: So, I guess we've saved the best for last: let's talk about the governor's race and have a quick rundown of the governor's powers, as well.

Ben: The Texas governor is traditionally considered to be a weak office. And there's a reason for that. When Texans were writing up their constitution after the civil war, the LBJ school's Sherri Greenberg says they were eager to limit any and all powers of any so-called carpetbaggers from reconstruction.

"So when Texans wrote the Texas constitution, this very populist document, with as much power as possible vested in the people and at the lowest, most local, level of government," Greenberg said.

Of course, it wasn't just Texas. Decentralizing government power was a broader trend across the country in the 1800’s. And that action in Texas left us with what's considered a weak governor.

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Politics
4:44 pm
Thu October 16, 2014

Why is the Lieutenant Governor the Most Powerful Office in Texas? And Who Wants That Power?

Lieutenant Governor candidates Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D) and Sen. Dan Patrick (R)
Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune: Jennifer Whitney / Michael Stravato

Early voting starts Monday for the November 4th election. And to help you head to the polls with as much information as possible, KUT's Nathan Bernier and political reporter Ben Philpott have been giving you a rundown of some of the state's key races, along with telling you just what the offices in question actually do.

Today, they talk about the office that some people say is the most powerful one in the state of Texas: the lieutenant governor.

Ben: So here's what a lieutenant governor can do, and why those powers are considered so important. First up, the lieutenant governor gets to be governor if the governor dies and even if the governor just leaves the state for a few days.

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Politics
1:49 pm
Thu October 16, 2014

What Does the Attorney General Do? And Who's Running to be the Next One?

Attorney General candidates Sam Houston (D) and Ken Paxton (R)
Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune, Michael Stravato and Cooper Neill

You probably already know that Texans will be electing a new governor next month. But the absence of Governor Rick Perry from the ballot has had a domino effect on other state-wide offices.

Meaning we'll also be electing new people to all 7 of the top state-wide offices. That includes Attorney General. KUT's All Things Considered host Nathan Bernier and Political Reporter Ben Philpott will help explain what the office does and who's running to be the state's next top lawyer, 

Ben: This office, like many, can take on the personality and priorities of the office holder. Especially, if you've been in that office for more than a decade, like current Attorney General Greg Abbott.

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Politics
4:33 pm
Tue October 14, 2014

Who's Running For Texas Comptroller? Also, What the Heck is a Comptroller?

Comptroller candidates Mike Collier and Glenn Hegar
Photo courtesy The Texas Tribune

Early voting starts Monday for the November 4th elections.

But before you head to the polls, KUT wants to make sure you know what you're voting on. Not only on who's running, but on what the office they're running for actually does. To do just that, All Things Considered host Nathan Bernier is going to spend the rest of the week talking with KUT's political reporter Ben Philpott.

Ben: I guess we should start with how the office is pronounced. Some people hit the letters M and P when they say "Comptroller." Others pronounce it like the word "Controller." The state's spelling, Comptroller, comes from the Old English spelling. When American governments were getting set up, they often took the Old English spelling. But what about the pronunciation?

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2014 Elections
1:06 pm
Thu October 9, 2014

Small Expenditures Can Add Up in Statewide Campaigns

Block-walking, phone banks and other logistical expenditures can cost a lot in statewide campaigns.
Tracy Olson/Flickr flickr.com/tracy_olson/

Statewide campaigns in Texas aren't cheap. Advertisements in any major television market can set a campaign back at least $2 million. So, when you’re running a campaign, you want to make sure as much of your money as possible is going to getting your candidate's message out. Of course, that means advertising, but it's more logistically nuanced than that.

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2014 Elections
7:46 am
Wed October 1, 2014

Abbott & Davis Land Jabs, Offer Few Policy Specifics in Final Debate

Credit KERA via Texas Tribune

Republican Attorney Greg Abbott and Democrat State Sen. Wendy Davis met for a second and final debate in Dallas last night.

There was plenty of sniping: Abbott alleged Davis profited from an incentive while she served on Fort Worth's city council and Davis vilified Abbott for his alleged lack of oversight of the Texas Enterprise Fund.

But both made sure voters understood their ideological differences – even if their policy specifics remained a little fuzzy – and tried to use the night to gain momentum ahead of Election Day next month.

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2014 Elections
9:25 am
Tue September 30, 2014

Lt. Gov. Candidates Trade Barbs on Taxes, Education & Immigration in Debate

State Sens. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, the candidates for lieutenant governor, debated in Austin on Sept. 29, 2014.
Eric Gay/AP

The two candidates for the state's second highest statewide office met last night at KLRU studios in Austin in their first and only debate before Election Day in November.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, spent much of his time on stage trying to paint his opponent, as a tax-and-spend liberal who would wreck the Texas economy, while State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, spent much of the night trying to paint Patrick as out of step with the mainstream.

Patrick set his sights on Van de Putte’s legislative support of a bill providing in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, questioning whether the law gave deference to immigrants in admissions. Van de Putte singled out Patrick's support of $5.4 billion cuts in the state's education budget during the 2011 legislative session.

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2014 Elections
7:47 am
Mon September 29, 2014

What to Expect in Tonight's First and Only Debate Between Texas Lt. Gov. Candidates

State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte will take the offensive tonight, callling out State Sen. Dan Patrick for previously supporting cuts to public education funding.
Jennifer Whitney / Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

Houston State Sen. Dan Patrick and State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio will meet tonight in what is likely to be their one and only scheduled debate before Election Day.

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2014 Elections
10:39 am
Fri September 26, 2014

What Exactly Can Candidates Do With Their Campaign Cash After Election Day?

There are plenty of things a candidate can't do with campaign cash, but there are also plenty of loopholes.
Tracy Olson/Flickr flickr.com/tracy_olson/

With less than six weeks before the general election, candidates are burning through their campaign cash to make that final push to win. But, when the race ends, some still have money left in the bank.

So what are lawmakers allowed to do with that money? 

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Texas
1:26 pm
Thu September 25, 2014

State Audit Finds Perry's Enterprise Fund Lacked Accountability

The governor's Texas Enterprise Fund is under scrutiny from a state audit that claims funds were allocated without review.
Photo illustration by Gage Skidmore / Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Gov. Rick Perry made a name for himself luring businesses from other states to Texas with the help of the Texas Enterprise Fund. A new report by the state auditor shows the fund handed out millions in grants to businesses without requiring the companies to create jobs or even apply for the money.

Gov. Perry started the fund in 2003, with a goal of providing additional money to entice businesses considering expansion in or relocation to Texas.

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2014 Elections
1:46 pm
Thu September 4, 2014

Technology Teaches Old-School Door-to-Door Campaigns New Tricks

Block-walking may still be a part of any political campaign, but voter data provides campaigns with invaluable insights to find sure-bet voters.
Callie Richmond/Texas Tribune

Campaigning for the November elections usually hits high-gear around this time. Political ads and mailers proliferate, which is followed by more one-on-one campaigning.

The nostalgic view often depicts politicians walking through a neighborhood, knocking on doors, shaking hands and kissing babies. But, in a world filled with smart phones, email blasts and geo-targeting, how has technology changed the door-to-door campaign?

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Politics
8:59 am
Wed September 3, 2014

Cities & Counties Are Left Holding the Bag When State Money Dwindles

Campaign promises of no new taxes at the state level, don't address infrastructure needs in municipalities.
Graphic by the Texas Tribune

Lower taxes and less government spending are hallmarks of Texas Republican leadership, and any candidate hoping to get through a GOP primary in Texas.

But making cuts at the state level hasn't actually stopped some spending, or the need to raise revenues to pay for infrastructure projects that, without state and federal money, counties and municipalities can't shoulder on their own.

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Border & Immigration
12:23 pm
Wed August 27, 2014

Who Exactly Are the Local, State & Federal Authorities on the Texas-Mexico Border?

Gov. Perry authorized the deployment of 1,000 troops to the Texas-Mexico border to supplement DPS troopers securing the border.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Security at the Texas-Mexico border has grown exponentially after an influx of undocumented, and often unaccompanied, migrant children in recent months. In response to the surge, Texas Governor Rick Perry has deployed up to one thousand National Guard troops. In addition, there's been a surge in federal Border Patrol agents and Department of Public Safety troopers.

Suffice to say, there are a lot of boots on the ground along the Rio Grande. But what exactly is the role and responsibility of every local, state and federal agency in securing the border?

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Perry Indictment
7:51 am
Tue August 19, 2014

Perry's Lawyers Say His Veto Aimed to Uphold the "Rule of Law"

Perry's legal team is comprised of David Botsford, Tony Buzbee, Ben Ginsberg and Bobby Birchfield.
Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

Gov. Rick Perry's legal team made their debut yesterday in a press conference. The collective of high-profile lawyers – which includes alums of the 2000 Bush-Gore recount lawsuit, a multi-jurisdictional workers’ rights case against BP and a former Texas Supreme Court Justice – came out defending the governor’s veto of funding to the state’s Public Integrity Unit.

The team also continued to focus attention away from the two felony charges he faces, insisting that Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg deserved to be removed from office after her arrest and conviction on drunken driving charges, and that the governor was acting in the state’s best interest.

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Summer School
3:35 pm
Fri August 15, 2014

How to Play the Perfect Game for the Dog Days of Summer in Texas

It's hard to do much outdoors in the blistering Texas summer heat. But there's nothing quite like hanging out in your backyard, even during the hottest times of the year.

So on this week's lesson from KUT's Summer School, we focus on learning a game that you can play to wind down the summer: The game of washers.

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Border & Immigration
8:49 am
Thu August 14, 2014

Gov. Perry Visits National Guard Troops Ahead of Border Deployment

Perry visited Camp Swift to address the Texas National Guard troops who have volunteered to deploy to the Texas-Mexico border in order to support the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Ilana Panich-Linsman/KUT

Gov. Rick Perry visited Camp Swift yesterday ahead of his deployment of National Guard troops and Department of Public Safety troopers to the border.

The aim of the operation – dubbed “Operation Strong Safety” – is to use troops to supplement border patrols, prevent illegal border crossings and assist federal and state authorities struggling to process an influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border from Central American countries.

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