“These men ask for just the same thing,
fairness, and fairness only.”
Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-North Las Vegas, makes for an imposing presence around the halls of the Nevada Legislature. A huge specimen of a man, his dominating size and athletic ability led to his drafting into and playing for the NBA in the 1960s by/for both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Los Angeles Rams.
Some might think that just as he imposed his physical will on lesser mortals in various sports venues, he would have had a political career commensurate with the prowess he enjoyed on the hard court and the gridiron.
Not so. Political life hasn’t been as fair to Harvey Munford as his life competing for play time against the likes of sports legends Wilt Chamberlin, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor.
And it’s not as if all Harvey ever did was shine in sports. He was also a social trailblazer of sorts for the Clark County School District. Harvey taught government classes for 36 years in Las Vegas inner-city classrooms, in some cases to Nevada’s future politicians (including Sen. Greg Brower, who went on to reach greater political heights than the 6’8’’ former center ever did).
No, life hasn’t always been fair to Harvey.
It certainly wasn’t so when as a black athlete recruited to play basketball in Billings at Montana State University—he was the first black student to attend the rural college in eastern Montana—he experienced firsthand the “thrill of [athletic] victory and the agony of” racial discrimination.
And Munford has experienced few ups and quite a few downs in political life in Carson City. In spite of being a senior member of the Democratic Assembly Caucus (both in age and political seniority), Harvey has never been assigned a committee chairmanship. This is remarkable when you realize that for the previous five sessions, his party was in control of the Assembly.
He also never saw the passage of his “signature” legislation, a bill to insert multiculturalism into Nevada’s school curriculum. In addition to his pioneering Civil Rights work as a classroom teacher, Harvey well understands the hearts of those outside the mainstream of American culture, having been married to both a Native American woman and a Filipino-American.
No, life hasn’t always seemed fair to Harvey.
But that may finally be about to change–at least, legislatively–for the good-hearted African-American lawmaker.
Yesterday in the Assembly Education Committee, Munford’s multiculturalism-encouraging education bill, AB 234, was heard yet again. This time, though, the Clark County School District, and even Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dale Erquiaga, came out in support of Harvey’s long standing “dream” legislation.
But of all the supporting testimony Harvey’s proposal received, I surmise that the most gratifying came from a fellow student and friend of Harvey’s from back in his days at Montana State. Lonnie Shields, now an aging lobbyist himself for the Nevada School Boards Association, once sat as a fan in the stands of Montana State. He well remembers all the taunts and miscellaneous items tossed Munford’s way from the Billings bleachers.
As Shields stepped forward (along with many others) to speak in support of Harvey’s bill, onlookers got the sense that a small modicum of legislative fairness might be about to descend upon this giant of a man.
Harvey Munford’s legacy will not be one of remembered eloquence. And it won’t be one in which he managed to flex the kind of daily political muscle he once displayed on the basketball court.
It will be, however, that he came to Nevada to serve. In the classroom, and in the Legislature. And serve he did, with great dignity and humility.
Soon to be 75, Harvey has always stood out because of his size. Should he pass the legislation he’s tried to push over the finish line for five sessions, he will be remembered for his influence in Nevada’s classrooms through worthy curriculum to be embedded in statewide instruction.
Life can be fair, just as Abraham Lincoln said it could and should be. And sometimes, when fairness takes a long time to come around, it feels all the sweeter for the waiting.
Let’s hope AB 234 passes and that Harvey’s time of waiting is finally over. No Nevada legislator deserves it more.