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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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

State Senator Wendy Davis on the floor of the Texas Senate on June 25, 2013.
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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

Ben Philpott/KUT

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has made a career out of visiting, recruiting, and relocating businesses from California to Texas. But as the state's GOP continues to push further and further to the right of the political spectrum, could the state's ultra-conservative stance hurt recruitment from a progressive state?

First came the Texas Republican Party platform that said homosexuality is a choice and endorsed therapy aimed at "curing" people of being gay – a therapy banned in California.

Joe Capraro/KUT

School is finally out across Austin. But here at KUT, class is in session.

All summer long, KUT reporters will learn a new skill or craft from folks who are experts in the field. We're calling it "Summer School" and we hope you'll learn something too along the way. 

In this class, KUT's Ben Philpott gets schooled by his father, Jim, in the art of bowl turning.

Ben Philpott/KUT

Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, kicked off the state GOP convention in Fort Worth today.

In a speech to the party faithful, Gov. Perry addressed the state's shifting demographics that Democrats hope will help them win big in election cycles to come – the "fight to keep Texas red" in the words of convention materials. "The national Democrats think Texas is the new battleground," Perry told the crowd. "Well let's be really clear, Texas will be their political burial ground."

Though he isn't seeking re-election in November, Perry has left the door wide open to a second presidential run in 2016. He told thousands of delegates gathered in Fort Worth that grassroots conservatives have already "changed Texas for the better" and urged them to do the same for America.

Erika Rich/Texas Tribune

Over the last few months, exactly where you can carry a gun in Texas has been in the national spotlight. That discussion has kicked up again at this weekend’s Texas GOP convention, where open carry advocates are barred from attending with guns and rifles.

Texas gun laws are already pretty unrestrictive. Here is a rundown:

Owning a gun:

  • You don't need a state permit to purchase a gun
  • You don't have to register a firearm
  • Assault rifles are legal

Twitter user @SocialMatchbox and David Yoakum/Twitter user @davidb00ts

Texas Republicans have been vocal supporters of expanding gun rights in Texas. So groups pushing for laws that would expand the ability to carry firearms openly expected to be welcomed at this week's state GOP convention in Fort Worth. But the Texas GOP says the guns, themselves, will have to stay out.

Texas GOP chairman Steve Munisteri wants the groups to know they are certainly welcome to attend the Republican convention, but their guns will have to remain outside because alcohol is served at the Fort Worth Convention Center.

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.

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.

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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