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 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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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.

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

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

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. 

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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." 

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. 

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.

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.

Bob Daemmrich / Texas Tribune

Last week’s GOP primary showed the continued strength of the Tea Party in Texas. But it also showed a weakening of another stalwart Republican demographic: the businessperson.

First, a disclaimer: The results don't prove anything definitive. One election does not a trend make. And it's not hard to find people who say the state's business leaders still have a large role in Republican Party politics.

"I think the business community hasn't lost its voice," Rice University Political Science department chair Mark Jones says. "But its influence is much less then it was say 10 years ago."

KUT News

When Texans – mostly farmers and ranchers – sat down to write the state constitution in the 1800's, they didn’t see the need for an elected Agriculture Commissioner.

That oversight was quickly remedied.

Texas agriculture, crops and cattle are known across the country and around the world. Its "Go Texan" campaign can be seen in grocery stores and TV ads across the state: Why buy vegetables from California, when you can pick from that (noticeably labeled) batch from Texas?

But the office does more than sell the product. It also helps farmers and ranchers successfully grow it. 

flickr.com/safari_vacation

Texas' current Attorney General, Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott, has his own memorable description for his job.

"My job description has been simplified over the past four years," Abbott said during a speech in April. "Because what I do is I go into the office, I sue the federal government and then I go home."

Abbott was purposely oversimplifying what his office does, but defending the state's laws is a key element.

flickr.com/amagill

The Texas Legislature writes the state budget. The Governor signs it into law. But with a single action the Texas Comptroller can kill the entire appropriations process.

But before we get to that. let's start with the real burning issue: How do you pronounce it?

"No that's the argument right, is do you pronounce it controller or comptroller," UT Law School professor Hugh Brady says.

OK. Pronunciation aside, what does the office do?

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