The retired judge says he thinks Issue 3 could reduce school dropout rates.
By JEFF ORTEGA
COLUMBUS -- Youngstown native Nathaniel R. Jones, who has appeared in television ads across Ohio supporting a proposal to fund college scholarships with proceeds from slot machines, says he's mainly interested in improving educational opportunities for children.
"My involvement in this is to enhance what I think is a means of providing a funding source for scholarships for Ohio children," the retired federal judge said Wednesday in a phone interview.
Jones, who also is a former general counsel to the NAACP, said he views the proposal, a constitutional amendment that voters will decide Tuesday, as a way to potentially battle high-school dropout rates.
The 80-year-old Jones, who retired in 2002 from the Cincinnati-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, said he has no position on expanded legalized gambling but sees the amendment as a way to improve education opportunities.
"Gambling is here," Jones said. "I'm not one who is in any position of doing anything about the mentality that supports gambling. I do have an overriding concern for providing resources for young people to achieve the highest level of education."
Creating a state fund
Backers of the proposal, known as Learn & amp; Earn, say the initiative, if approved, would create a state fund for all Ohio schoolchildren to receive money for college tuition.
To get that money, the initiative would take some of the proceeds from 31,500 slot machines that would be allowed at the seven horse-racing tracks in Ohio and at two proposed downtown Cleveland casinos.
According to Learn & amp; Earn backers, 45 percent of the $2.8 billion in annual slot machine revenue would fund the tuition grants for the top 5 percent of Ohio's hig school students as well as economic development, gambling addiction services and purse money for Ohio's tracks. Casino developers and racetrack owners would get the remainder, under the proposal. Ohio graduates could begin benefiting in 2009, if Learn & amp; Earn is approved.
Opponents, however, say the lure of tuition grants isn't worth the potential social problems such as increased crime and addictive gambling that could come with the proposal. The opponents say the proposal, if approved, will needlessly change the state constitution and make racetrack owners and casino developers wealthy.
"This is, without a doubt, an attempt to hijack your Constitution," David Zanotti said recently. Zanotti is president of the American Policy Roundtable, a Cleveland-area think tank, which has fought past attempts to expand legalized gambling in Ohio.
Jones said he has studied the issue and decided it was something he could support. The retired judge said he agreed to appear in one commercial supporting the proposal.
Learn and Earn backers say they expect the commercial, which has run in TV markets around the state, to air through this weekend.
Later Wednesday, Michael Caputo, a spokesman for Learn and Earn supporters, sent an e-mail alleging that U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican and an opponent of the measure, had called Jones and "screamed at him" and & quot;threatened him for 'daring to go on the air.' & quot;
Jones, in a brief interview later Wednesday, denied the characterization of the call.
& quot;We had a pleasant conversation, & quot; Jones said.
Voinovich couldn't immediately be reached late Wednesday.
Wednesday evening, Caputo sent an e-mail saying:
& quot;In my zeal to react to the actions of Sen. Voinovich, I overcharacterized the conversation that took place between Judge Jones and the senator. Though they disagree on Issue 3, their conversation was courteous and civil. & quot;
Jones, of Cincinnati, was born and raised in Youngstown and attended Youngstown schools. After two years' service in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, he attended Youngstown State University, having received his undergraduate degree in 1951 and his law degree in 1956. After some time in private practice, then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy appointed Jones as an Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio at Cleveland.
In 1969, Jones was appointed to serve as General Counsel to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where he tried many cases dealing with discrimination and school desegregation.
In 1979, he was nominated to the federal appellate bench by President Carter and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Jones' sister, Jean Wooten, lives in the Youngstown area.