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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Politics
6:00 am
Tue February 4, 2014

Name Calling Defines Early Days of Texas Governor's Race

Sen. Wendy Davis and Attorney General Greg Abbott could be tied to name calling, whether they agree or not.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera & Bob Daemmrich via Texas Tribune

There’s been just a bit of name calling in the Texas Governor’s race – with much of it coming from conservatives and Greg Abbott supporters  directed at Wendy Davis. But what’s the role of the candidate to respond to those kind of attacks?

Name calling isn't really anything new in political campaigns. Even if the candidates don't necessary approve of the language. So if it's expected, maybe the real question isn't whether or not it should happen in the first place, but how a campaign should respond.

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Politics
12:28 am
Wed January 29, 2014

Democrat Celia Israel Wins HD 50 Runoff

Celia Israel taking celebratory pictures with supporters Tuesday night in Austin.
Ben Philpott, KUT News

Voters in northeast Travis County have a new state representative. Democrat Celia Israel won last night’s special election runoff to fill out the remainder of former state Rep Mark Strama’s term.

Israel, a Democratic activist, had finished 2nd in the November special election. But while she lost by about 8 percentage points to Republican Mike VanDeWalle, the three Democrats running in that election took nearly 60 percent of the vote combined. And as the votes came in last night, once again 60 percent of the district picked a Democrat.

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Politics
4:13 pm
Tue January 28, 2014

Few Differences, Plenty of Attacks at GOP Lt. Governor's Debate

Clockwise, the four GOP Candidates for Lt. Gov.: incumbent David Dewhurst, Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples; Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson; and state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston.
Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

The four Republican candidates for Texas Lieutenant Governor met last night in a debate broadcast across the state. And, as it’s been through the months leading up to the March primaries, the hour-long event showed few differences among the candidates when it came to policy. But that didn’t stop them from attacking each other throughout the night.

As a three-term incumbent, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst has been the main punching bag of his three challengers throughout the campaign. With each highlighting what they consider missteps by Dewhurst as reason to give someone else a chance at the job.

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GOP Primary
6:00 am
Mon January 27, 2014

Heading into Texas Primary, Stockman Challenge to Cornyn Barely a Blip

The election battle between Rep. Stockman and Sen. Cornyn never amounted to much.
Gage Skidmore/Texas Tribune

The Tea Party revolution in Texas has led several unknown, outsider candidates to election victory over the last few years, like Texas’ junior senator, Ted Cruz. Many expected the state’s senior senator, John Cornyn, to face a serious Tea Party challenge in the March primary. But with less than two months to go, it doesn’t look like there’s much of a challenge for the two-term senator.

There are seven people running against John Cornyn in the Republican primary. So it’s not like nobody wants him out of office. But it wasn’t until the very last day before the December filing deadline that anyone with any kind of political clout threw their name in the ring. That’s when Congressman Steve Stockman signed up to be the Tea Party champion to take on Cornyn.  

Instantly, political journalists in Texas and across the country got interested in the race.

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Governor's Race
3:28 pm
Mon January 20, 2014

Wendy Davis Responds to Discrepancies in Her Biography

Senator Davis on the State Senate floor during her June 25th filibuster
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, has issued a statement responding to an article released over the weekend that points to inconsistencies in her accounting of her life story.

The article, written by Wayne Slater of The Dallas Morning News, pointed to a couple of details from the story Davis has used during her campaign for Governor: specifically, that Davis was not a divorced mother at 19, but instead 21. Slater also highlights that while Davis initially paid her way through college, her second husband helped pay for her final years at Texas Christian University and Harvard Law School.

Conservatives have jumped on the story, calling Davis a liar. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh called her a "genuine head case" on his program today, saying she had "made stuff up" and would have been "really poor and destitute were it not for a man" – a reference to her second husband, lawyer Jeff Davis.

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Austin
7:00 am
Tue January 14, 2014

Starting Next Week, HD 50 Voters Head to the Polls for Special Election

The HD 50 special election will head to early voting next Tues., with Mike VanDeWalle taking on Celia Israel
Photo by KUT News

Democrat Celia Israel and Republican Mike VanDeWalle emerged as the leaders in a four person race in November. VanDeWalle leads the pack with about 39 percent of the vote. On election night, he said the win was driven by energy from Republicans who want a change after nine years of Democrat Mark Strama.

“Yes I think there’s been a pent up excitement waiting to happen," VanDeWalle told KUT. "And I think we’re seeing it now.” 

But the concern for VanDeWalle’s campaign is that the November victory could be his ceiling—the remaining 61 percent of voters picked one of the three Democrats in the race. With Israel getting the majority of that support, the long-time Democratic activist and real estate agent knows a special election runoff brings its own set of problems for her.

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Politics
3:40 pm
Fri January 10, 2014

In Austin, Cruz Calls Obama Actions "Dangerous and Terrifying"

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) says Democrats are to blame for last government shutdown, and can control whether it happens again.
Ben Philpott/KUT

Texas Senator Ted Cruz was in Austin today speaking at the Texas Public Policy Foundation's annual policy orientation. He spent his time attacking what he sees as a disregard for federal laws by President Obama.

Senator Cruz’s speech to lawmakers, policy wonks and grassroots activists gave several examples of the President using executive authority to supersede federal laws. Pointing specifically to immigration reform, marijuana prosecutions and the Affordable Care Act.

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Sports
6:58 pm
Sat December 14, 2013

Mack Brown Leaving UT Longhorns After Bowl Game

Mack Brown celebrates winning the 2005 national championship over the University of Southern California.
Jim Sigmon UT Athletics

Texas Longhorn’s Football Coach Mack Brown is leaving the team after 16 years.

In an email released Saturday night, Brown said the Longhorn job was the best in the country and that he wants to team to get back to the top of college football.

"I sincerely want it to get back to the top and that's why I am stepping down after the bowl game. I hope with some new energy, we can get this thing rolling again," Brown said.

UT-Austin president Bill Powers and new athletic director Steve Patterson heaped praise on Brown in the release.  Patterson said Brown was a, "...tremendous coach, mentor, leader and ambassador for our university and our student-athletes." While Powers simple said, "Mack is just the best and he will be missed."

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CPRIT
12:12 pm
Fri December 6, 2013

Former Executive at CPRIT, Texas' Cancer Agency, Indicted

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg announces the indictment of former CPRIT executive Jerald Cobbs.

A Travis County grand jury has indicted Jerald Cobbs, a former executive with the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), in connection with an $11 million grant the agency approved without putting it through required reviews.

The charge of securing execution of a document by deception carries a potential jail sentence of five to 99 years or life, and a fine of up to $10,000.

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Agenda Texas
9:28 am
Wed November 20, 2013

Under the Microscope: How Feasible is Greg Abbott's DNA Protection Plan?

Attorney General Greg Abbott lists DNA protections as a top priority for his campaign.
Veronica Zaragovia, KUT News

The closer we get to next year's March  primaries, the faster the campaign promises fly. Republican gubernatorial frontrunner Greg Abbott recently made a splash by releasing an extensive list of items he says he’ll push for once elected.

One proposal in particular stood out a bit: safeguarding your DNA.

The proposal is a part of Abbott’s “We The People” plan. It also includes things like gun rights, campaign ethics and blocking the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. But DNA is item number one.

 

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Agenda Texas
11:48 am
Mon November 18, 2013

How Do Texas Republicans' Gun Policies Compare with Public Opinion?

Gun rights are front and center in the 2014 GOP primary election.
KUT News

Several races in the 2014 GOP primary appear promising for advocates of expanding gun rights in Texas.

Top Republican candidates are making sure primary voters know they’re opposed to any gun control efforts at the federal level – with some even proposing ways to loosen current Texas law.

Attorney General Greg Abbott has included a couple of gun-related proposals as part of a major policy paper released by his gubernatorial campaign. As spelled out in his “We the People” plan, Abbott would allow Texans to openly carry handguns and allow guns to be brought on college campuses.

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Agenda Texas
12:52 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

Texas Democrats Slow to Follow Davis Onto the Ballot

At separate events, Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis filed for governor in Austin on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013.
Jack Plunkett/Erika Rich, Texas Tribune

It’s filing time for Texas candidates running in the March party primaries. The gubernatorial frontrunners – Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis – have already filled out their paperwork.

But there’s a big difference between the two candidates in terms of what’s below each of them on the ballot.

Attorney General Abbott leads a very crowded ballot in several statewide race  – including a four-way race for the GOP Lieutenant Governor nomination. And there could be equally contentious fights among Republicans up and down the ballot. There are currently 36 Republicans expected to run in 14 statewide races. 

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Agenda Texas
4:49 pm
Fri November 8, 2013

Why Haven't Austin's Floods Drawn Political Attention from State Leaders?

The American Red Cross hands out hot lunches to residents of the Onion Creek community. The neighborhood was devastated by torrential rains that fell on Oct. 31.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon, KUT News

When an explosion leveled the town of West, state and federal politicians descended on the town, alongside state and federal aid workers.

But so far, the deadly flooding in southeast Austin and Travis County has not received the same kind of attention.

So why the difference in response?

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Election Day
5:58 am
Tue November 5, 2013

Three Ways Voter ID Could Affect You This Election Day

This election day is the first featuring Texas' new voter I.D. law.
Photo by KUT News

It’s Election Day and, if you didn’t vote early, today is your final chance to cast a ballot on nine proposed state constitutional amendments, along with a few local elections.

This election is also the first one with the state’s new voter ID law in place.

For Agenda Texas, KUT's Ben Philpott breaks down what you should expect at the polls this Election Day.

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Agenda Texas
11:16 am
Wed October 30, 2013

Abbott Would Limit State and Local Spending as Governor

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott at The Texas Tribune Festival on Sep. 28, 2013. Abbott released his first major policy plan this week.
Callie Richmond, flickr.com/thetexastribune

The leading Republican in the race to be the next Texas Governor has released his first major policy plan of the campaign. Attorney General Greg Abbott’s “Working Texas” plan includes several proposals for restraining state and local government spending. 

Parts of the plan are a nod to proposals in Governor Rick Perry’s 2012 Texas Budget Compact. That includes linking the state’s constitutional spending cap to population growth and inflation instead of growth in personal incomes.

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Haunted Houses
3:31 pm
Tue October 29, 2013

Austin's House of Torment Named One of Country's Best Haunts

Austin's House of Torment was recently named among the nation's best haunted houses.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Looking for a good scare before Halloween? Heading to a local haunted house is always a good idea. And if you live in Texas, you're lucky enough to be near three of the country's best haunts.

According to a new ranking by Hauntworld.com, the self described "World's #1 Haunted House Website, Texas has four of the top 13 haunted house in the country. 

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Agenda Texas
6:03 am
Fri October 18, 2013

The 9 State Propositions Texans Will Vote On Next Week

Prop 6 is getting most of the attention this election.
KUT News

Early voting begins Monday on nine proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. Constitutional elections traditionally draw less than 10 percent of registered voters to the polls. But the changes being proposed could have widespread effects on Texas in the future.

Below you’ll find the Secretary of State's explanation of each of the Joint Resolutions passed in the House and Senate that created the amendment propositions, along with the ballot language you’ll see when voting. We’ve also included links to groups for or against passage on individual propositions, if there are any.

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Agenda Texas
8:10 am
Thu October 17, 2013

For Texas' Ted Cruz, Shutdown Ends with Little Political Damage

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has made it through the shutdown without hurting his support in Texas.
KUT News

The federal government shutdown is over, for now. But the battle over who gets the blame for the congressional meltdown will likely extend through the 2014 party primaries and general election. So how did the shutdown affect the political landscape in Texas?

A recent Rasmussen poll found 78 percent of the country would vote to get rid of the entire Congress and start over. And yesterday, the Houston Chronicle expressed regret for its endorsement of Sen.Ted Cruz in the 2012 Senate race. Sounds like there are dark days ahead for our Congressional incumbents in Texas.

Actually … no, says Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith.

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Agenda Texas
10:17 am
Wed October 16, 2013

Texans Could Vote to Help Cut Veterans' Property Taxes

Voters could give property tax breaks to soldiers and their families on November 5th.
Photo by KUT News

When Texans go to the polls beginning Monday, they’ll have the chance to vote on nine constitutional propositions. Two of them would cut property taxes for disabled veterans or their surviving spouse. 

Both propositions have their origins in an oversight and look to tweak current laws to give returning Texas veterans and their families property tax breaks.

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ACL Cancellation
8:46 am
Sun October 13, 2013

Heavy Rains Soak Austin, Central Texas; ACL Festival Cancels Final Day

A flood warning remains in effect along the Colorado River for Travis and Bastrop Counties, and a flash flood watch for Central Texas remains in effect until this evening.
YNN Austin

Because of the weather, all of Austin Parks and Recreation systems trails are closed. Parks and Recreation also closed the Barton Springs Pool because of flooding, and all of Austin's golf courses are also closed. The Austin Police Department is urging limited driving on roads. 

Extreme flooding also impacted the Travis County wastewater lift station. It spilled 500,000 gallons of wastewater earlier this morning. The lift station, located at 4504 Travis Country Circle, has been repaired by Austin Water crews. Austin Water urges residents to avoid the area's creeks, though Austin Water's drinking water supply isn't affected.

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