NEW PORT RICHEY — In recent months, Pasco Sheriff Bob White has spoken out twice about an issue that stretches far beyond the county line: illegal immigration.
"When we let illegal aliens come into this country and spread their stuff," he said at a May news conference, gesturing toward seized drugs, "then shame on us. Shame on everyone involved."
Now, he's leaving that hot-button message at the homes of Republican voters — to help his contract attorney and longtime friend Richard Corcoran, who is running in a tight race for the state House 45 seat.
"I'm fighting to keep illegal immigrants off the street," White says in a new robocall to district voters. "This is a difficult fight. And Richard Corcoran is the representative I need in Tallahassee to get a law passed in Florida similar to the one in Arizona."
In the message, paid for by Corcoran's campaign, White makes reference to his agency's arrest in May of two illegal immigrants with an arsenal of guns and drugs, as well as drug arrests in August 2009 involving three undocumented immigrants and 52 kilograms of cocaine.
White said in an interview Thursday that he's never made such calls but felt strongly about the issue and the candidate.
"This is an unsupervised immigrant population that is unnecessary and unrestrained and dumped on an existing economy and lifestyle," White told the Times, calling Corcoran "a lifelong conservative."
White dismissed questions about whether his earlier news conferences were intended ultimately to be a political benefit to Corcoran, whom he hired as a $90,000-a-year contract attorney last year. Corcoran has also worked on White's previous political campaigns.
"That right there skews the real issue," he said. "This immigration issue has nothing to do with Richard Corcoran. But I know Richard understands it, because I've talked to him enough to know.
"A, we're friends. Two, we talk. Three, we work together. I don't know what else to say about that," he added later. "Here's the key: This guy understands the process. When you know the road, you can drive a little faster. You can get things done."
Corcoran's opponents in the House 45 Republican primary — business owner Fabian Calvo of Clearwater and Pasco School Board member Kathryn Starkey of Odessa — say their stances on illegal immigration are strong.
"I do favor an Arizona-style law, yes I do," said Calvo, who has faced criticism from Corcoran over his past donations to the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization.
Calvo added that he thinks White's robocall supporting Corcoran "is kind of like the good-old-boy network that I think is wrong with our system today."
Starkey, who has known White for years, would not comment on the sheriff's role in the campaign.
"I favor a strong immigration policy," she said. "I think having a lot of illegal immigrants is very costly. … There's also a national security issue."
Illegal immigration is certainly an issue that gets White fired up.
He rattles off the names of al-Qaida leaders educated in the United States, sounds off without prompting about the federal government's lawsuit against Arizona over that state's controversial law.
The measure requires police to check immigration papers of anyone they stop and suspect of being in the United States illegally and gives officers broader powers to detain anyone under those circumstances. Critics say the law could lead to harassment of Hispanics, regardless of their citizenship status.
"When the commander in chief sues his own people, siding with a foreign power (Mexico), that is incredible," White said. "When the president of Mexico stands in our house and criticizes us for what his country refuses to do? Then we need to have the best people representing us from the courthouse to the White House."
But given he only cites two incidents involving illegal immigrants in Pasco, why does White think the problem is so overwhelming here?
"We have investigations that obviously I'm not going to talk about," he said. "If it's happening to sheriffs in Arizona, how long before it happens here? You've got to get in front of this issue."
White used his recent news conferences to lobby for more funding for his agency, saying that he needed extra deputies to handle the local influx of illegal immigrants.
He said he is careful to draw a distinction between illegal immigration and legal immigration, but added that he thinks the illegal Mexican immigrants should do more to help themselves back home.
"Instead of flooding across our borders," White said, "how about those people pull themselves up by the bootstraps and make something of Mexico?"
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.