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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Wildfires
12:40 pm
Fri April 27, 2012

What’s Your Wildfire Risk? New Website Lets You Know

Texans can visualize potential fire conditions at texaswildfirerisk.com.
Image courtesy texaswildfirerisk.com

As wildfire season begins in Central Texas, the Texas Forest Service has launched a new website to let people know what the wildfire risk for their area is.

Texaswildfirerisk.com uses the same data the Forest Service used ahead of last year's devastating fires. The Forest Service's Tom Spencer says now anyone in Texas can see how susceptible their area is to wildfire.

“They can click on the 'what's your risk' tool, click on the map where their home is and it would actually go in and calculate the average risk within about a two mile radius of their home,” says Spencer. “And then give them an idea of what the wildfire risk is to them – whether it's low, moderate, high, very high."

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2012 Presidential Election
5:28 pm
Thu April 26, 2012

Ron Paul Speaking at UT Tonight

Republican Ron Paul is speaking in Austin tonight
Photo courtesy paul.house.gov

Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul is making a campaign stop on the 40 acres.

With this week's announcement that former Speaker Newt Gingrich is dropping out of the presidential race, the Texas congressman is the last challenger left for presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at UT Austin, has a take on why Paul's still in the race.

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Smoking
4:55 pm
Wed April 11, 2012

No Ifs, Ands or Butts: UT Officially Smoke Free

A new policy prohibits lighting up on the UT campus.
Photo courtesy flickr.com/perspective

The University of Texas at Austin has kicked the smoking habit.

The UT System Board of Regents approved the policy this week. So while there are no signs up yet – and ashtrays can still readily be found around the 40-acres – smoking is no longer allowed. UT-Austin Human Resource Services director Adrienne Howarth-Moore says those no-smoking signs will be up soon.

"We have already received an order of our tobacco free campus signs,” Howarth-Moore says. “And so we are developing a plan for implementing those exterior signs, so that they will be prominently displayed for not just our campus community but for the variety of visitors and the general public that come to our campus on a daily basis."

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Politics
11:14 am
Tue April 10, 2012

Sunset Reviews Start Off With Standoff

Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) lead what was at times a tense meeting between the Sunset and Judicial Conduct Commissions.
Photo by Ben Philpott for KUT News

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission has begun to hear reports on five state agencies this morning at the Capitol. Those agencies will be up for review during the 2013 legislative session.

The state's sunset laws require all state agencies to be reviewed. Then the Sunset Commission sends recommendations for changes or even elimination.

Highlights of the meeting are expected to be presentations on the state Ethics Commission and the Higher Education Coordinating Board. But the meeting got kicked off with staff letting the Sunset Commission appointees know that the State Commission on Judicial Conduct denied access to all of the commission's processes.

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Politics
3:29 pm
Wed April 4, 2012

Getting Out the Vote in East Austin

Several organizations are hoping to see an voting increase in three East Austin precincts.
Photo by Tolly Moseley for KUT News

East Austin community groups are set to continue a local voter turnout program.

The East Austin Voter Mobilization Initiative, which describes itself as “the first-ever voter coalition in Austin comprised of Latino, African American, immigrant and civil rights organizations,” is kicking off its third year of voter  outreach and education.

The coalition’s goal is to raise voter turnout by 15 to 20 percent in three East Austin precincts – 123, 426, and 427.

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Media
12:16 pm
Wed March 28, 2012

Trayvon Martin Cartoonist Apologizes for Being 'Ambiguous'

The editorial cartoon that sparked a national backlash, printed in Tuesday's edition of The Daily Texan.
Image courtesy dailytexanonline.com

As we reported earlier, a student political cartoonist at The Daily Texan has received national attention for a cartoon on the Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida. The cartoon by Stephanie Eisner has received criticism from across the country as an offensive depiction of national media coverage.

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Austin
3:38 pm
Fri March 9, 2012

Grand Jury No-Bills Wagner; Acevedo Says Carter, Teen at Fault in Shooting

A bullet hole in the car in which Byron Carter, Jr. was found dead after being shot by APD Officer Nathan Wagner on May 30, 2011.
Photo courtesy Travis Co. District Attorney's office

A Travis County grand jury has decided not to indict Austin Police Department officer Nathan Wagner for the May 30 shooting death of Byron Carter, Jr. You can view several photos released from the grand jury investigation above.

Officer Wagner and Officer Jeffrey Rodriguez were searching an area along East Eighth street as part of an initiative targeting auto theft. They encountered 20-year-old Carter and a teenager. (Due to the teen’s age, the individual has not been identified.)

The officers say the two were acting suspiciously and they started following them. Carter and the other person then got into a car and police say the teen driver accelerated toward the two officers.

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Politics
3:37 pm
Mon March 5, 2012

Texas Candidate Filings Under Way

McDonald resigns as Judge, will announce candidacy for another office Friday.
Photo by David Barer for KUT News

Now that Texas finally has State House, Senate and U.S. Congressional maps, candidates in those newly drawn districts have started making their intentions known.

Today Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald announced he was resigning to run either for a U.S. or State House seat (he'll let us know which on Friday).

On Friday, the first day candidates could file under the new maps, Cedar Park City Councilman Tony Dale announced he'd run in a Williamson County district that includes Cedar Park and Leander.

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Texas
3:58 pm
Tue February 28, 2012

Five-Way Split for Travis County in Redistricting Map

A detail of a newly released map, showing Travis County's five districts.

A federal court in San Antonio has issued maps for United States House and Texas House seats that, barring further appeals, will be used for elections this year. 

The new maps boost the number of congressional House districts that dip into Travis County to five, dramatically changing the district for long-time Austin Democrat Lloyd Doggett. Uncertainty over how the districts would be drawn (in turn leading to postponement of the Texas primary date) have thrown a wrench in election plans for candidates, including Doggett, who currently represents District 25.

Doggett is widely expected to run in the new District 35, which stretches from eastern Travis County down to San Antonio.

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2012 Presidential Election
10:10 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Live Blogging Rick Perry's Announcement

Rick Perry, late last year in Iowa.
Photo by Ben Philpott, KUT News

Word that Gov. Rick Perry is bowing out of the GOP presidential primary will soon be confirmed by the man himself. Perry's team called a press conference in South Carolina for 10am Central Standard Time this morning, where he should confirm what aides told The Texas Tribune this morning: That Perry "is pulling out."

We'll be liveblogging the announcement from the KUT Newsroom in Austin, and via Ben Philpott's tweets on the ground in South Carolina.

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2012 Presidential Election
9:07 am
Thu January 19, 2012

Perry to Drop Out, Endorse Gingrich

Gov. Rick Perry, on his "Faith, Jobs and Freedom" tour thorough Iowa last year.
Photo by Ben Philpott, KUT News

Texas Governor Rick Perry has called an 11 a.m. press conference this morning in South Carolina. According to The Texas Tribune, KUT's political reporting partner, and other media outlets, Perry will use the event to drop out of the GOP presidential race and endorse Newt Gingrich.

Rumors were swirling last night on Twitter, as various news outlets and blogs were saying the governor was calling it quits after he canceled an appearance at Bob Jones University Wednesday afternoon.

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2012 Presidential Election
7:49 pm
Tue January 10, 2012

Perry Hoping South Carolina is No Iowa

Rick Perry greets Griffin Mann at the Point of Grace Church Iowa caucus in Waukee, Iowa on January 3, 2012.
Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

There’s no sugar-coating Gov. Rick Perry’s chances right now. He has 11 days to convince South Carolina voters to forget his early stumbles, his fifth-place finish in Iowa and his meager chances in New Hampshire tonight.

Perry brought U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney on his bus today to stir up crowds at campaign stops. Mulvaney implored a large crowd in Fort Mill to forget about the Perry they saw in debates.

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2012 Presidential Election
8:25 am
Mon January 9, 2012

On the Road: Goodbye New Hampshire

Perry is already framing his trip to South Carolina as his "Alamo"
Photo by Ben Philpott for KUT News

Well, that's two states down, at least one more to go.

I'm flying out of Manchester today for the final time. I'll join up with Governor Rick Perry, who is already campaigning in South Carolina. His dismissal of the fist primary state was obvious over the weekend. After both of the two weekend debates here, there were just a couple of reporters waiting to talk with Perry surrogates in the debate "Spin Room."

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2012 Presidential Election
9:44 pm
Tue January 3, 2012

Iowa Co-Chair: Perry Has “A Lot of Work to Do”

Republican candidate for President, Texas Governor Rick Perry, rallies supporters in an early morning gathering of his 'strike force' on Iowa caucus day January 3, 2012.
Photo by Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Update at 11:38 p.m. Perry says he is returning to Texas to reconsider his presidential campaign.

Earlier: Results are still pouring in this evening from the Iowa GOP presidential caucuses, but they can’t meet the best hopes of Governor Rick Perry’s Iowa campaign. He surged to the top of the pack after announcing his run on August 13; Perry is now looking at a fourth or fifth place showing in Iowa.

KUT News talked to Perry’s campaign co-chair in Iowa, Bob Haus.

KUT News: Governor Perry has been asking people for a second look, but was it too late in the game for him to bring it around?

Bob Haus: I don’t know. Let’s wait for all the results to come in tonight. It looks like a pretty close battle for fourth place between he and [former House] Speaker Gingrich, so we’ll see how it all turns out.

I think it’s really important to remember that this is the first step in a very long process. Regardless of what tonight’s results are, he’s laid down plans to go into New Hampshire to do the debates, go into South Carolina and start campaigning, and he’s going to keep fighting on.

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2012 Presidential Election
9:29 am
Mon January 2, 2012

On the Road: What's Next?

Perry press corps huddles over their computers scrambling to find a flight to South Carolina.
Photo by Ben Philpott/KUT News

The reporters covering Rick Perry's presidential campaign have, from time to time, complained about a lack of advance notice from the campaign on events. There have been instances of last-second news conferences called where the national media have been unable to attend. And even on a good week, reporters only found out about campaign stops about seven days ahead of time.

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2012 Presidential Election
10:19 am
Sat December 31, 2011

On the Road: Wrapping Up the Bus Tour

Photo by Ben Philpott/KUT News

Today ends the Rick Perry Faith, Jobs and Freedom bus tour.

Well, mostly...

This was supposed to be the end, but the campaign added a final day, January 2nd, to the tour. That final blitz will see the governor finally visit Perry, Iowa, A town the Texas Tribune's Emily Ramshaw and I visited on our own back in September while following Perry on the campaign trail.

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2012 Presidential Election
8:25 pm
Fri December 30, 2011

On the Road: The Surge Behind the Scenes

Photo by Ben Philpott/KUT News

The latest polls from Iowa have Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich essentially in a tie. Each candidate is within striking distance of 3rd place. And each could just a easily finish 5th.

And you can see the optimism in the Perry campaign staff. A little most jump in their step and a little more seriousness as they go about their work.

You can also see it in the number of reporters covering Governor Perry.

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2012 Presidential Election
10:15 am
Fri December 30, 2011

Polls Show Perry Gaining Momentum

Rick Perry talks with voters in Marshalltown, Iowa
Photo by Ben Philpott for KUT News

The big story out of Iowa Wednesday was the CNN/Time poll, showing former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was finally getting his turn to be the "not Mitt Romney" candidate (a position previously held by Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich).

That same polls showed Rick Perry still in 5th place in Iowa. A finish that some think could lead to the Texas governor dropping out of the GOP Presidential race.

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2012 Presidential Election
11:17 am
Thu December 29, 2011

Fighting for Iowa's Evangelicals, Perry Targets Santorum

Gov. Perry campaigning last week in DeWitt, Iowa
Photo by Ben Philpott, KUT News

Texas Governor Rick Perry spent the last two weeks namelessly attacking Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney by telling voters that they didn't need to elect a Washington D.C. or Wall Street insider.

But at this morning's campaign stop in the Iowa town of Washington, the governor focused his attack specifically on former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. A new CNN/Time poll showed Santorum jumping from sixth place in Iowa to third.

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2012 Presidential Election
8:30 pm
Tue December 27, 2011

Rick Perry Pivots on Abortion

Rick Perry listens to Iowa voters December 27, 2011 in Osceola, Iowa.
photo by Bob Daemmrich for KUT News

Texas Governor Rick Perry began the 2nd half of his Iowa bus tour Tuesday. He kicked off the week long trek by making a splash with a couple of new campaign moves.

First, Perry added Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio to the tour. Arpaio is the controversial anti-immigration lawman who endorsed Perry a few weeks ago.

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