Jim Tolbert’s Hamilton Moment

by Reesa Turner

I confronted my acquaintance, Jim Tolbert at the Castner Range Forever event, in the 10 minutes or so just before Beto was slated to speak on Saturday morning. I started to think it was a bad idea to “float any turds” at all towards Jim, but I did preface my few questions to him by stating that this was probably not the best place or time to “trap him”. . . but as a fellow Master Naturalist, I would have felt remiss not acting at all. I wanted my “Hamilton moment”. He nodded, and was cordial enough, and seemed only slightly shocked, if not wounded by my dismay towards him. I mean, this is a guy who I know cares about people and history and environment. From his ElPasoNaturally blog

Whether you approve or disapprove the new ballpark or tearing down City Hall and the Insights Museum (and these are emotionally charged issues), there seems to be a common perception that the deals went down in the dark of night without citizen input or involvement. What adds to the alarm is that these issues are coterminous with the Quality of Life Bonds and in the context of an economy still hurting which translated means that people are still hurting. One of the Quality of Life bonds is titled “MUSEUM, CULTURAL, PERFORMING ARTS, AND LIBRARY FACILITIES PROPOSITION”. Hidden in that is the downtown arena. I for one am having a hard time justifying building an arena/performing arts facility when we are building a ballpark, HOT tax notwithstanding.

I specifically asked Jim how he, of all people, could make that vote for the arena? He answered me by asking where I would have the arena placed. Great deflection, dude. I swatted back at him with a question about unnecessary urgency, and he blurted out “Oh, there is definitely an urgency. ” I failed to ask what that urgency was, since I was too busy trying to express that this Union Pacific vs. Cortney Niland brouhaha was distasteful and we want to see the correspondence emails/videos, public record whatever they got on that. People should not be displaced, Jim. By answering that he too was disappointed in how this rail-yard controversy was presented to the public, and that lack of transparency on the part of the city was troublesome to him, he effectively made me feel as though I had stepped on him . . . but that’s me projecting my own inadequacies as an impromptu rabble-rouser upon myself. I hugged him, not without some remorse, and said thanks for your time. Then I quivered at my idiocy and tried to regroup my thoughts as I witnessed all of El Paso’s elected officials filing into the auditorium. The wheels kept spinning, my thoughts reminded me of the thousands of unedited photos languishing on my computer hard drive, what to do with them, what to do? Then my hands began to tremble . . . .

Later, I was standing near the back with the rest of the peanut gallery, where I overheard a gentleman trying to keep Andrew J. Polk’s ear about an ordnance sweep of the now developed area of Castner Range which was conducted in the early 90’s. KVIA’s Polk decided to use eminent domain upon my space, literally standing 1/4 inch in front of me and using his considerable girth as a way to force his own brand of encroachment upon my person. He ignored my suggestion to move his ass out of my personal space . . . I just pushed my toes forward until they were on the backs of his shoes, and he didn’t even flinch. Polk also had little interest on what this dude was trying to tell him. Grrr . . . .

I pulled the man aside and expressed my interest in discussing further the rushed and dangerous process of clearing that site and “why he wouldn’t want to live in any of the houses currently built on that swath of land.” We exchanged numbers and I returned to the fray. My standing space had been overtaken by a crush of an electrified people, intent on being seen, or heard. One guy saw me fumbling around with my camera and my bag which was feeling like a huge box of rocks by now, and said I have a seat for you. I almost knew it before it became evident as I walked the gauntlet straight down to the front row to sit directly next to Jim Tolbert and Ms. Niland. Jim sees me, smirks, and exclaims a 2 word “Oh Goody”, or “Oh Boy!” then we both heartily laughed, that indiscreet cackle of palpable unease . . . and my stomach began to give me fits. That may have been the special brownies kicking in, but I knew it was my brain making me taste hot bile in my throat as I tried to devise a plan of action.

Most of the general public went up to ask the BLM representatives why an executive order should be used to protect this land. One vote of dissent came from a young man who stated that he sees executive order as an abuse of power, and it would provide precedence for the incoming president to use the same methods to get his way on any number of issues . . . . Whoa Nelly, there’s something I hadn’t even considered.

I soon realized that I was there to support the use of EMINENT DOMAIN for what I perceive to be a true and greater good for fauna, flora, and the people of the United States as a whole. Wide open spaces where I can walk until my toes chafe and blister, or where I can allow too many un-shadowed sunbeams to burn my skin, are worth preserving, I rationalized. After 40 some odd years of playing in the desert, perhaps this open area would finally provide me my first encounter with a rattlesnake, or elusive Horned Toad. Maybe I’d be able to find that one crazy plant I grabbed for seed, grew in my yard a single time, never to be seen again. Not found in any number of books or databases over the past 8 years, I have searched high and low to no avail. That spindly zebra-striped stalk with a thin bushy flower of alternating white fuzz and thick, black seeds . . . it is my equivalent of a floral holy grail. That day of seed gathering was unfortunate because I didn’t have my camera to bear witness to my poaching. I’ve collected cacti, grasses and poppy seeds, along with entire poppy plants and datura pods from an area condemned to construction, and along the Trans Mountain roadside. I proved that a poppy plant can be transplanted, but not easily coaxed to flower yearly. Forever seeking that Great White Whale, scrawny and striped as it is . . . each trek, each hike with eyes scanning the ground has left me dejected. When I grew him in my yard, another failure at not taking just one photograph to aid in solving my mystery. I aim to find him, but perhaps not, especially if this gorgeous land is delivered to the corporate minded mandate.

I had not been prepared to question anyone about the downtown arena fiasco at this gathering, nor had I prepared a comment to make during the public testimony. I was typically snoozing in a THC stupor at the worst time possible. I sat there listening to the minute-long comments, my hackles rising at every shrill tone of that infernal timer, and trying to gather the nerve to approach the mic. Here was my chance to call out all of El Paso’s elected contingency for overstepping their authority, and speak directly to a huge captive audience. I tried to steel my flaccid nerves and came up with a short statement then slinked from my elite seat to the end of the line. I was told that there would be no additional speakers added to the queue. I damned myself for taking too long to gather my thoughts, then muttered a relieved “Thank You” and bolted out the doors.

In my defense, I did have a date to enjoy free beers and free “Tacos of Texas” at Memorial Park. I hopped in my truck and high-tailed it outta there.


  1. Mr. Tolbert is always cordial. Mr. Tolbert has been a champion of all that is natural, needy, or appears amiss in our city and previously took our reps to task on many similar El Paso issues. Now that he’s drunk on the kool-aid, he stands in solidarity with those who would displace actual human beings to build a fucking arena. I don’t expect you or anyone else to be able to connect the dots, but I’ve known Mr. Tolbert and read his blog for a very long time. He and Svarsbein should have been railing against this particular arena location.

  2. Your failure to take the mic is, quite simply, a failure. your endless description of your inability does not help others to overcome their own barriers to acting like citizens. All those words are thus self-indulgent at best, and at worst vaporizing–sucking other people’s energy.

  3. Sometimes the volume knob for distortion or edification needs adjusting. Static and cranial dust bunnies deaden or electrify the sound. Each man gets to choose where to set their own dial, even when that setting is awry in wasted or faint decibals. Those decibals so often too intense as to be a shrieking caterwaul of fuzz, or the knob neglected, the sound not enough as to render us deaf to our own instincts. Loss of convictions, acceptance of our inevitable erosion. My thoughts and actions written are not geared towards external edification, Ms. Nathan, I’m much too selfish for that. After all these cataract covered eyes have witnessed, I believe each man IS an island losing his self grain by grain. Succumbing to the constant lapping and wearing away of his own principles. That’s a bell that cannot be unrung.

  4. Sad to see these comments whacking each other rather than figuring out what to do about the complete submission of Council to City staff, even by reps from whom we would have expected better. The votes talk.

  5. Beware of those cordial ones. In the Mexican vernacular, they are known as “chingaqueditos.” Loosely translated, it means they silently fuck YOU over, with a smile and maybe even a pleasantry or two. In Chuco, they’ll say it’s for your own progress.

  6. And furthermore, speaking of Mexican, spare some of those arrows and give Tolbert, Svarznbein and even Niland a break. What gives with the great chicana champion who was ushered in on a platform of standing up to the great $gentrifyers$ that be? What happened to all the cultura chest-beating Mrs. Limón?

    1. Good question about Limon. Could be she’s a champion for Chicanos in her district only.

      1. But remember? “Downtown belongs to all El Pasoans.” Except for the ones that live there, I guess.

    2. In this age of moral relativism, hypocrisy is the greatest sin. But that doesn’t excuse the other City Reps. Just because Representative Limon (apparently) went over to the dark side, that doesn’t mean that Tolbert, Svarzbein, Niland, and the rest of the vendidos should get a break. They’re all responsible.

  7. Furthermore….(February 21, 2012 elpasonaturally blog) “It is easy to think in narrow terms of profit margins and personal gain and to see everything around us as a commodity. On the other hand, it is far more enriching to see not commodities but relationships: relationships with each other, relationships in community, relationships with all other people around the nation and the world. Relationships with the land, with our mountains and our desert, with the animals and plants and their habitats. Relationships. Really this is what living is all about. People not bottom lines. Instead of the world seen as a commodity, the world seen for what it is: a beautiful commonwealth of all life.” –Jim Tolbert

    People, not bottom lines.

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