Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu pushed Tuesday in Tucson for a bill that would grant his office $5 million to fight smugglers.

Speaking to about 100 people at the Pima County Republican Club at El Parador restaurant, Babeu said he would use the money to buy a helicopter, ground-based radar, AR-15 and M-4 rifles, and armored vehicles.

"What we're trying to do is bring the heaviest hand of enforcement that we can bring to bear upon largely the cartels," he said.

The proposal, HB 2718, is set to be heard Thursday by the state Senate's committee on border security, federalism and states sovereignty.

State Rep. Daniel Patterson, a Tucson Democrat, tried to amend the bill in the House to divide the $5 million among the four border counties plus Pinal County, but that amendment failed, in a vote largely along partisan lines.

"We wanted a more fair approach, which was to try to help the border counties and include Pinal since they made the request," Patterson said.

He said Babeu's growing clout in Republican circles appeared to play a role in the House's defeat of the amendment and passage of the bill.

"I think this bill is more about politics than really doing anything about border security," Patterson said.

Babeu's presentation lasted nearly an hour and focused exclusively on border and immigration matters. Attendees spoke excitedly about Babeu's future political prospects, but he said in an interview he plans to run for re-election as sheriff next year.

Still, he allowed, "I'm not closing the door to a run for Congress or for (U.S.) Senate."

In the interview, Babeu acknowledged that his outspokenness on border-security issues is one of the reasons the appropriation is directed to his county, not those on the border.

"I'm standing up and saying give me the opportunity to bring this fight to the cartel," he said.

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or