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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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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Politics
7:09 am
Tue April 29, 2014

'Keep It Red' Fights Democrats to Keep Texas Republicans in Power

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has launched a campaign to keep Democrats in the minority in Texas.

It was the big news immediately after the 2012 Presidential election: some of Pres. Barack Obama's top campaign generals were on their way to Texas to turn the solidly conservative state into a purple state – and eventually a Democratic stronghold.

Battleground Texas leader Jeremy Bird was grilled on the plan by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert:

But for every Texas Democrat who got excited about what changes could lie ahead, there's a Republican who wants to make sure that doesn't happen.

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Politics
9:48 am
Wed April 23, 2014

Governor Perry Facing Possible Grand Jury Indictment

Gov. Rick Perry's veto of funding for Travis County's Public Integrity Unit could lead to a grand jury indictment.
Ben Philpott, KUT News

UPDATE: Governor Rick Perry has been indicted on two felony charges related to his veto of funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit. Updates can be found here.

ORIGINAL STORY (4/23/14): A Travis County grand jury is considering whether or not to indict Gov. Rick Perry over his veto of funding for the county's Public Integrity Unit.

Gov. Perry could be charged with several offenses, including bribery, coercion of a public servant, and abuse of power after vetoing more than $3 million in state money for the unit that investigates political corruption.

Perry's veto came as the result of an ultimatum given by Perry to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. Last April, Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving. She pleaded guilty and served jail time, but refused to step down.

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Lt. Governor Race
1:07 pm
Mon April 21, 2014

The Contradictory Message David Dewhurst Needs to Beat Dan Patrick

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst hopes latest attacks on Sen. Dan Patrick will bring a runoff victory in May.
Marjorie Kamys Cotera /Mark Graham for Texas Tribune

Texas is about five weeks away from several runoff elections that will set the final ballot for November. That includes the hard fought Lieutenant Governor's race between incumbent David Dewhurst, who's held the office since 2003, and state Sen. Dan Patrick

From the very beginning, this was a race about who was the most conservative candidate. So when Sen. Patrick launched his campaign last year, his first move was to paint himself as the conservative standard-bearer – while putting Lt. Governor Dewhurst's own conservative credentials in doubt.

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Politics
8:52 am
Wed April 16, 2014

Castro-Patrick Immigration Debate Offers Plenty of Attacks, Few Solutions

Mayor Julian Castro and Sen. Dan Patrick shake cordially after their San Antonio debate on April 15, 2014.
Bob Daemmrich, Texas Tribune

Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has been making headlines for taking what some consider a hard line on immigration in his campaign. Last night, he squared off against San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro over the topic.

The genesis of the debate was a squabble on Twitter between the two –started in large part because of State Sen. Dan Patrick's comments calling undocumented immigrants entry into Texas an "invasion." In the debate, Mayor Castro quickly revisited that topic.

“I want to break news to the Senator, that we’re about to celebrate San Jacinto Day, but Texas is not being invaded by Mexico. I can assure you of that," Castro joked.

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Politics
6:58 am
Thu April 10, 2014

How Sports Played a Role in the Civil Rights Movement

NBA legend Bill Russell talked about the role he played in helping other black athletes during the Civil Rights Summit.
LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas

The role sports has played in America's civil rights struggle, especially with black athletes, has been well documented.

For many the movement started with Jackie Robinson crossing the color line in baseball. But two other athletes were in Austin Wednesday to share their perspectives at the LBJ Library's Civil Rights Summit.

Jim Brown is often called the greatest running back in the history of pro football. But he was never the most popular player. He told the crowd in Austin he attributes that to his role in pushing for civil rights and equality for himself and other black athletes.

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Politics
7:54 am
Wed April 9, 2014

Immigration, Gay Marriage and the Expanding Definition of Civil Rights

David Boies and Ted Olson talk about marriage equality at LBJ Civil Rights Summit.
LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas

When the Civil Rights Act was signed into law nearly 50 years ago, its main focus was on the treatment of the country's black population. But over the years, other groups have slipped under the act’s umbrella of protection. As the LBJ Library’s Civil Rights Summit opened in Austin Tuesday, it began with a discussion of how two groups are hoping those protections will extend to them.

The opening panel at the summit dove right into one of the two civil rights issues dominating the American political and legal landscape: same-sex marriage.

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Politics
8:09 am
Tue April 8, 2014

Four Presidents Will Be in Austin for the LBJ Civil Rights Summit

Four U.S. Presidents are heading to Austin for the Civil Rights Summit.
LBJ Presidential Library at the University of Texas

Four U.S. Presidents headline a three-day summit in Austin this week, kicking off a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Life before the act can sometimes seem foreign to those of us who came after the landmark legislation was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Organizers say that alone is a great reason to hold a summit.

"Of course it's appropriate to look back. I mean, I myself am a child of the segregated South. So I grew up in that world and I know in ways that our students really don't, what things were like before this legislation,"  LBJ School of Public Affairs Dean Robert Hutchings says.

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Politics
5:00 am
Thu March 27, 2014

Tax Cut Promises Lead Campaigns, But May Be Hard to Fulfill

With tax revenues up, the call for tax cuts is getting louder.
Todd Wiseman & Mikhail Popov, Texas Tribune

Several Texas Republican candidates are pushing the idea of cutting taxes in the 2015 legislative session. That includes cutting property taxes and the state’s business tax.

The State of Texas has been flush with cash the last two years. There was a nearly $9 billion dollar surplus in 2013. With another $2.6 billion dollar surplus reported for 2014.

"Our current trends suggest that we're going to do even better than that with the continued health of the oil and gas industry," says Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. "The prospects for next session look very good on the money front and I think that's going to give the Legislature a number of options." 

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Lt. Governor Race
8:41 am
Mon March 24, 2014

Immigration Rhetoric in Lt. Gov Race Disappoints Some Hispanic Republicans

In a commercial, Lt. Gov candidate Dan Patrick touts his opposition to in-state tuition at Texas universities for qualifying undocumented children.
YouTube

Before the March primary, a handful of Hispanic Republican leaders questioned the tone on immigration among some GOP candidates – especially statements from State Sen. Dan Patrick, who’s running for Lieutenant Governor.

This year's Republican primary has been an exercise in running to the right of everyone else on the ballot. In the race for Lieutenant Governor, candidates began pushing further and further rightward when talking about border security. 

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2014 Texas Elections
4:47 pm
Tue March 18, 2014

An Interview With Controversial Conservative Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sulivan and Empower Texans handed out hundreds of thousands of dollars during 2014 state primaries.
Texas Tribune

Candidates backed by the most conservative wing of the Texas Republican Party were the big winners in March's state primaries. Support from U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and local Tea Party groups have gotten much of the credit for those wins. But support from a conservative policy group called Empower Texans also helped carry the day.

The group's leader, Michael Quinn Sullivan, has taken some heat for what's been called his efforts to purify the GOP, working to get rid of Republicans he says aren’t sufficiently conservative.

Sullivan stopped by KUT to speak with Ben Philpott about what would be different in a Legislature run by his kind of Republicans.

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SXSW 2014
5:17 pm
Sat March 15, 2014

Rapper Tyler, the Creator Arrested on Riot Charge

Tyler, the Creator performing at the Primavera Sound Festival in 2011.
flickr.com/mistressf

Police have arrested a rapper who performed at South by Southwest after officials say he encouraged a crowd to push through doors keeping them out of an already overcrowded venue.

Tyler Okonma, who performs as Tyler, the Creator, was arrested and charged with “Riot - Class A misdemeanor." Police released a video of Okonma telling fans outside of his show Thursday at the Scoot Inn to push past security personnel that were keeping them out of the venue.

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