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
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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Patrick & Van de Putte
10:11 am
Fri August 8, 2014

Lt. Gov. Candidates Appeal to Media at Broadcasters Meeting

State Sens. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Dan Patrick, R-Houston, will face off against each other in the general election for lieutenant governor.
Jennifer Whitney / Michael Stravato / Texas Tribune

State Senators Dan Patrick and Leticia Van de Putte, the Democratic and Republican  candidates for Lieutenant Governor, spoke yesterday at the Texas Association of Broadcasters' annual convention here in Austin.

The two had similar talking points – both touted their business-friendly credentials. But they didn’t meet, and one candidate implored media leaders to push the other into agreeing to debates ahead of the November election.

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Austin City Council
9:20 am
Thu August 7, 2014

Austin Could Create a Municipal ID Program

Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole says the municipally issued identification cards would allow undocumented immigrants to report crimes without fear of deportation.
Daniel Reese/KUT

Today, the Austin City Council could decide whether or not to move forward on municipal identification cards – cards which would allow undocumented immigrants to identify themselves without the fear of deportation.

The item on the council's agenda (PDF) would permit the city manager to conduct a study of the ID program to be delivered to council later this year.

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Immigration
8:10 am
Mon August 4, 2014

The Texas Border has Relaunched Rick Perry's Presidential Plans

Gov. Rick Perry, seen here announcing he's sending 1,000 troops to the Texas border. Gov. Perry's political capital has risen as Texas's border and immigration issues have increased.
Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a beating during his 2012 presidential campaign for what many Tea Party activists considered a soft stance on immigration.

But as Gov. Perry has battled President Obama over the increase of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, his poll numbers for a possible 2016 run are on the rise.

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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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