State Assembly candidate wants ethical review of Allouez president's endorsement letter

Democratic State Assembly candidate Terry Lee speaks to FOX 11 on October 31, 2018. (Photo credit: WLUK)

BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WLUK) -- A Brown County Democrat running for State Assembly wants an ethical review of a letter endorsing the man he is trying to unseat.

A week before election day, about 4,000 recent voters in Allouez received a letter from Village President Jim Rafter. In part, Rafter writes, "Regardless of whether you tend to vote Democrat, Republican, or Independent on election day, I sincerely urge you to support the GBCI (Green Bay Correctional Institution) redevelopment proposal by voting for Rep. David Steffen next week."

“There is a big difference between leading the charge and supporting the effort,” said Rafter in an interview with FOX 11. “David has been the one to pick it up and run with it.”

Steffen's challenger is Democrat Terry Lee. Steffen was first elected to the Assembly District 4 seat in 2014. It covers parts of Green Bay, Allouez, Ashwaubenon, and Howard.

“I had a dozen people in total that reached out to me just alone yesterday and maybe about five more or so have reached out today, expressing their concern that the village president had gotten involved,” said Lee.

Lee says he emailed the State Ethics Commission to take a look at the letter for possible state law violations.

“That is not on me to figure out. I think voters are just more upset that a nonpartisan official weighed in on a partisan race,” said Lee.

“I don’t know what ethics violation could have taken place,” said Rafter.

The letterhead reads "From the Desk of Allouez Village President Jim Rafter." The bottom includes Rafter's home address, phone number, and "Paid for by Steffen for Wisconsin."

“That letter, in my three campaigns, is probably the item I'm most proud of because it's a direct communication from the heart of an elected official to his constituents, saying I'm the best choice to be elected,” said Steffen.

The main reason for support in Rafter's letter is Steffen's effort in trying to decommission the state's maximum-security prison in Allouez. It's a plan Lee says he would also fight for, but differs from Steffen in how it should be replaced. Lee wants the replacement to be state owned, while Steffen is pushing privately owned.

“It saves the taxpayers $150 million,” said Steffen. “It’s the way I could save the most amount of money, $150 million worth of savings, and also I think it’s politically feasible.”

“To me that doesn’t make any fiscal sense when we wouldn’t outright own the building,” said Lee.

The state is conducting a $600,000 study of all the correctional facilities in the state. The results of that study are expected to weigh heavily in the future plans for GBCI.

As for Lee’s email to the Ethics Commission, the administrator of the commission tells FOX 11, employees “can't discuss whether any complaints have been filed or whether scenarios that could come before the Commission would violate the law.”

A procedures memo from the commission indicates anyone who files a complaint should receive a letter within five days, detailing the next steps that might take place.

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