Governor Chet Culver says it’s “full steam ahead” for construction of a new state prison in Fort Madison, despite a lawsuit that seeks to block an Illinois firm from building the facility. The Chicago-based firm was the low bidder for the job, but the lawsuit from the Master Builders of Iowa argues the contract should have been awarded to an Iowa firm because of a state law which calls for giving preference to Iowa businesses when awarding state contracts.

During a speech in Fort Madison this week, Culver touted the pending prison project. “As governor, I signed the bill that allowed this prison to be built here in Fort Madison, the largest project in the history of southeast Iowa,” Culver said, to applause from the audience of about 50 people. Terry Branstad, Culver’s Republican rival, has said he favors a “pay-as-you-go” policy on such construction projects rather than the borrowing plan Culver has approved.

Branstad has also suggested Culver’s “I-JOBS” initiative should be called “Illinois Jobs” since the Chicago company won the construction contract for the new maximum security prison. “We’ve got to get this thing built. We can’t be satisfied with a prison that was built in 1839,” Culver said in Fort Madison.

 “Terry Branstad opposes building a new prison. He is against the project, so he’s against those 400 or 500 new jobs. He’s against the $160 million infusion of investment down here.” Culver suggests Branstad is supporting the lawsuit.

“He’s trying to stop the project right now because he’s working in conjunction with the Master Builders who are trying to play politics with the lives of 400 or 500 workers,” Culver told the crowd. “We’re not going back with Terry Branstad on November 2 — not on my watch.”

 This past Monday Culver had officials in his Department of Administrative Services sign a contract with the Walsh Group of Illinois so the prison project could — in Culver’s words — “proceed promptly.”