Ben Philpott

Senior Editor

Ben Philpott is the Sr. Editor 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.

Ways to Connect

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT (O'Rourke); Montinique Monroe for KUT (Cruz)

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-El Paso) kick off the first of three debates tonight in Dallas. Tonight's debate at the SMU campus, like the one in Houston on Sept. 30, will focus squarely on domestic policy. Their final debate on Oct. 16 in San Antonio will split time between domestic and foreign policy.

The race is expected to be the closest we've had in Texas since the 2002 race for lieutenant governor. So both sides head into the three debates hoping to change just enough minds to eke out a victory on Nov. 6.

Montinique Monroe for KUT; Julia Reihs/KUT

You've probably heard about the “blue wave” that’s forecast to sweep U.S. elections this November. Some expect it to flip dozens of congressional seats from red to blue, turning control of the U.S. House over to Democrats. And there’s even a slight chance that Democrats could win enough seats to take control of the U.S. Senate.

Montinique Monroe for KUT / Julia Reihs, KUT

The traditional start of the election season is Labor Day – but it feels like everyone has been campaigning for about four years now. Part of that could be the current state of politics. The large crop of 2016 presidential hopefuls kicked off their campaigns way back in 2014 – if not earlier. The race for 2018 began about 20 seconds after Donald Trump was declared the next president. And let's be honest, the race for 2020 has already begun.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon (left) / Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday challenged Fox News contributor Geraldo Rivera to a debate over immigration.

Julia Reihs / KUT

Political party conventions are always about the future – the next election, to be specific, but also the five- and 10-year plan for growth.

The last couple of decades for Texas Republicans have been pretty rock solid. In 2014, Gov. Greg Abbott won the election by 20 points. And in the 2018 primaries, Republicans set records for voter turnout in an off-year election.

Julia Reihs / KUT

Texas' top Republican lawmakers spent the morning Friday revving up the crowd at their convention in San Antonio. Now the heavy lifting of this biennial event begins.

The delegates vote on a party chairman and then begin debate on the state party platform. The (currently) 38-page document lists the party's priorities, plans and ideals.

Bob Daemmrich for The Texas Tribune

Thousands of Republicans are in San Antonio this week for the state convention. They'll bring plenty of red, white and blue clothing – along with elephant hats. But in the midst of the spectacle, there's work getting done by party officials and delegates. Here's a little checklist of what to watch for over the next three days.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Update: Of the seven congressional nominations up Tuesday night in Central Texas, only two were competitive.

In the race for the Democratic nomination for CD 25, Julie Oliver pulled away late in the evening to beat Chris Perri by a couple thousand votes. Oliver now heads to November and a race against incumbent Republican Roger Williams and Libertarian Desarae Lindsey.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

The Texas Tribune has called the Democratic primary runoff for House District 46 race for Sheryl Cole. The former Austin mayor pro-tem held a close lead throughout the night. But her opponent, immigration attorney Chito Vela, couldn’t overcome a 400-vote deficit from early voting totals.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez has won the Democratic nomination for governor. A back-and-forth race early against Houston businessman Andrew White finally broke late for Valdez.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

The most contested congressional race in Texas is House District 21, which stretches from South Austin to San Antonio and up into the Hill Country.

Robin Jerstad/Marjorie Kamys Cotera via Texas Tribune

The final two candidates running for the Democratic nomination for governor met Friday night in their first and only debate before the May 22 runoff election.

Gabriel C. Pérez

We’re a little bit closer to knowing who will be on the ballot in November. Republicans and Democrats selected most of their nominees for the general election this fall, but statewide, the races didn't quite live up to the hype. Of the highest offices on Texas ballots, only one went to a runoff. 

In a dynasty that dates back over 60 years in American politics, there is just one member of the Bush family left in any state or federal elected office.

Texas land commissioner George P. Bush is the one carrying the torch and facing a stiff primary on March 6, barely two years after his father Jeb's presidential bid failed as Donald Trump took over the Republican Party. To survive, the younger Bush has decided to adapt to — rather than resist — the new direction of the GOP.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Texas has been a one-party state for a long time.

The state was ruled by Democrats for decades after Reconstruction, with only a brief moment of purpleness in the late ’80s-early ’90s before Republicans took over. But, of course, one-party rule is never as simple as just one party in charge of everything. That one party always splinters.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

It’s go time!

Early voting in the Democratic and Republican primaries begins today and runs through March 2. KUT has spent the last month trying to provide all the information you’ll need to vote. We’ve got information on who’s running in local congressional races, state House, state Senate and the statewide races like governor.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

If you want to help pick Democratic and Republican candidates for the November elections, it's time to head to the polls.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT

Is Texas turning blue? That's the question, dream and lie (depending on your point of view) being discussed across the state.

It's the dream of Democrats, who haven't won a statewide office in Texas since the early '90s. It's a big lie, say Republicans, who argue support for President Trump has been more positive in Texas than in most of the country.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

Texans have the privilege of being able to vote for dozens and dozens of offices throughout state and local government. The whole country gets to elect a governor, but a justice of the peace? Not everyone has that honor.

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT

KUT has been reminding Austinites about Monday’s primary election voter registration deadline for a few weeks. (One more time: IT’S MONDAY, FEB. 5.) If you’ve registered in the past and haven’t moved since then, you’re cool; no re-registration needed.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

Quick quiz: How many state district judges are in Travis County? The answer is right on the tip of your tongue, right?

No, of course it isn’t. It’s a question that almost nobody knows the answer to. If you do, you’re probably either one of those judges or you work in a judge’s office.

flickr.com/safari_vacation

When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was the state's attorney general, he had a memorable description for his old job.

"My job description has been simplified over the past four years," he said during a speech in 2013. "Because what I do is I go into the office, I sue the federal government and then I go home."

Abbott was purposely oversimplifying his daily work schedule, but defending the state's laws is a key element of the job.

KUT News

When Texans – mostly farmers and ranchers – sat down to write the state Constitution in the 1800s, they didn’t see the need for an elected agriculture commissioner.

That oversight was quickly remedied.

Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT

Voter education is one of the biggest reasons someone either does or does not vote. Studies have shown the more schooling a person has, the higher his or her chance of going to the polls. Meanwhile, people who don’t study up on the ballot are less likely to go.  

The state of Texas owns a bunch of land. That's because, in case you didn't know, we used to be our own country and joined the United States without the need for a land grant from the Feds.

All that land needs someone – and an office – to look after it.

Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

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 comptroller? Do you pronounce it controller or comptroller?

The name, job description and spelling originally come from England. The full title there is Comptroller General of the Receipt and Issue of Her Majesty's Exchequer and Auditor General of Public Accounts.

Teresa Vieira for KUT News

When I moved to Austin in 2002, one of the first things I did to acclimate myself to Texas was visit the Bullock Texas State History Museum

I remember standing on the second floor, staring at the statue of the man whose name was chiseled onto the side of the building. Then I started to read his history on the plaque at the base of the statue to see just how long he'd been governor or U.S. senator.

That's when I discovered Bob Bullock had only been lieutenant governor.

KUT News

1876. It was a time of rebirth in Texas. Or maybe more precisely – time to get rid of those Reconstruction-era carpetbaggers.

"When the North sent folks down to Texas to govern as governors, Texans felt like these king-like people came down from the North and ran roughshod," says Sherri Greenberg, a clinical professor with the LBJ School of Public Affairs. "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."

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.

Democrats are running in every single Texas congressional race. But that doesn’t mean they’ll win – especially when you consider each of the districts was drawn to re-elect the party that currently holds the seat (i.e., mostly Republicans).

There is, for now, more enthusiasm for Democrats in general across the country. But we won’t really know until after the primaries whether that enthusiasm lasts and translates into wins this November for Democrats here in deep-red Texas.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez / KUT

Midterm elections, especially after a new president comes into office, often bring interesting stories. Just look at 2010, when we saw the rise of the Tea Party and a “red wave” that swept out dozens of congressional Democrats nationally and pushed an almost evenly split Texas House (76-74) to a GOP supermajority (101-49).

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