Ben Philpott

Senior Reporter, State Politics and Policy

Ben Philpott covers politics and policy for KUT. He’s also co-host of The Ticket 2016, a podcast produced by KUT and the Texas Tribune covering the presidential election. Ben 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 four 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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Liang Shi for KUT

It's that time of the biennium.

The 84th Texas Legislature is just a few short months away, and state lawmakers are already filing their bills for the first Rick Perry-less session this side of the millennium. So far, the bills include legislative pet projects like texting and driving bans, open carry initiatives and tax cuts. Other proposals target tougher statewide issues like transportation funding and state budgeting.

You can find a roundup of issues that state lawmakers are considering below.

via Texas Tribune

The Texas Comptroller has the very important job of telling lawmakers how much money they have to spend in each 2-year budget. Getting that answer wrong can lead to millions or billions in unnecessary budget cuts.

The top two candidates running this year both say they'll be the person to make the office better.

Texas Tribune: Michael Stravato / Cooper Neill

Texas is a Red state. All things being equal, if two candidates have equal access to money and equal get out the vote efforts, the Republican is going to be favored and might even win by double digits.

The 2014 race for Texas Attorney General is setting up to be a pure representation of that Republican advantage.

The GOP nominee, State Senator Ken Paxton, has refused to speak to the press, has made almost no public campaign appearances. He has admitted to violating state securities law, and hasn't released a campaign ad since his GOP primary. And yet, recent polls have him 20 points ahead of Democrat Sam Houston.

Bob Daemmrich / Alyssa Banata/Texas Tribune

It's known as the most powerful office in Texas government. And for the first time in 12 years, this Election Day, Texans will choose a new Lieutenant Governor to run the Texas Senate.

Republican nominee state Senator Dan Patrick defeated the incumbent David Dewhurst in a rough GOP primary, where the candidate who won the title as the 'most conservative' won the voters' favor.

Patrick has taken up the mantle of Tea Party crusader in the Texas Legislature. If elected, he has promised to do things that the most conservative activists have wanted to see for years. He's pushing for the elimination of a Senate rule that requires a bill to have support of two-thirds of senators before it can come up for vote.

Photo by Nathan Bernier for KUT News

Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis have criss-crossed the state and spent millions on who will be the state's next governor. But here in Central Texas, the local races for state office have left little to no intrigue.

Now, we're not the Associated Press; we're not calling races. And KUT doesn't endorse candidates. But, there are a number of races where, barring an upset of historic proportions, we already know who's going to win.

It's finally Election Day.

After months of campaigning, thousands of commercials, and tons of ads stuffing your mailbox, statewide and local races will be decided today. But be warned, with Austin’s city elections moving to November, this year's ballot is LONG.

But luckily, KUT's Ben Philpott is here with a lyrical guide to getting through the ballot.

Laura Buckman / Bob Daemmrich

This year's governor's race was billed as the first actual competitive race for Texas governor since Ann Richards lost to George Bush in 1994. Current Governor Rick Perry was stepping down, making way for Attorney General Greg Abbott to take the GOP nomination. Newly-minted national political celebrity State Senator Wendy Davis made a run for Democrats.

But unless something unexpected happens today, the race could be a repeat of the GOP 12 point win in 2010.

The race opened with Abbott finally stepping out of Governor Perry's nearly 14 year shadow. Perry announced he would not seek a fourth full term on July 8th. Less than a week later, after years of waiting...and raising a bunch of money, Abbott finally announced his run for the governor's office.

screen capture of Glenn Hager video

Early voting wraps up today. Candidates have spent the last two weeks focused on get-out-the-vote efforts, making sure supporters don't forget to cast a ballot. But campaigns have also released final campaign videos, maybe in hopes of winning the votes of those few remaining undecided Texans.

These ads can take many different forms, from traditional television ads to testimonials from supporters. So for your viewing pleasure, we've compiled a short list of ads from the state's top races that have been released in the last week.

Mark Graham / Cooper Neil via the Texas Tribune

Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis are in the home stretch of their battle to become the next Texas Governor. And by now, the candidates have done pretty much all they can to make sure voters know who they are and what their plans for are for the state. But just in case you weren't sure, here's a look at the differences, and similarities, between the two on 5 specific issues.

Let's start with education, specifically K-12 public schools.

Here, and you might see a pattern throughout this story, both candidates say they want Texas to have an elite public school system.

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.

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?

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.

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'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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

Tracy Olson/Flickr

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.

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.

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.