DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. - A longtime politician facing his first contested general election in decades made a controversial offer to his opponent: I'll give you money if you drop out.
Not only has Douglas County coroner Randy Daniel admitted he made the offer, he said he did it "out of the kindness of my heart."
Daniel last had a November opponent in 1992. That was when he was first elected coroner, a position considered part-time that pays $31,114 annually. Two other deputy coroners share the workload, which involves approximately 300 death calls each year.
Daniel filed as a Republican. Challenger Renee Godwin filed as a Democrat.
"I have a passion for wanting to help people," she emphasized. "I have empathy for them."
The 20-year law enforcement veteran currently works for the Fulton County School police. Other than the $1000 qualifying fee, Godwin said she has spent little money.
On June 5, Godwin began receiving text messages directly from coroner Daniel making a remarkable offer: he'd give her $1000 to reimburse her for that qualifying fee if she withdrew from the race.
"I laughed when I saw it and said I wasn't going to entertain it," Godwin told me. "And so I didn't respond. And then the next one was $2000."
Two weeks after that first offer, coroner Daniel texts "I'm not trying to buy u im just offering to reimburse u for ur expenses like app 1000 qualifying and app 1000 expenses."
He wrote he had all the big funeral homes in the county supporting him.
Daniel also warned "the deal to refund the money off the table at 5pm Sunday so please let me know."
Godwin let him know. No thanks.
"On the ethical standpoint, I didn't think it was right," remembered Godwin. "Because you offering me money. I kind of felt cheap."
But Daniel saw it differently.
"I wasn't trying to bribe her or nothing like that," he insisted. "It was... I just felt sorry for her."
Daniel told us it was his opponent's idea to suggest dropping out of the race because she was suffering from some medical issues. He simply wanted to help someone he considered a friend.
"I just offered to do this out of the kindness of my heart," maintained Daniel.
"You're offering her 2000 dollars so you don't have to face anyone in November," I pointed out.
"Not really. Not really," he responded. "She had just said that and she was sick and I felt sorry for her and I wanted to try to help her. I mean, I cared about her."
Then I read back one of his texts.
"'The deal to refund the money is off the table at 5pm Sunday.' Doesn't sound like you care that much about her."
"Well, again I needed to know," the coroner explained. "I couldn't sit there still and not be raising money."
Godwin said her medical issue was an uneventful hysterectomy and she never told Daniel she was thinking of quitting.
By now, you probably have the same question we had. Can a politician really do this? According to the attorney general's office, the crime of bribery only applies if the public official is the one being offered the money, not if he's the one making the offer.
Wayne Rogers lost to Daniel in the May Republican primary. He says the coroner also told him he had no chance. In fact, Daniel pointed out that big primary victory in his texts to Renee Godwin. "u need to look how bad I beat Rogers I got 85 percent he got 15 percent."
But Rogers saw someone who is running scared.
"If she didn't have a chance, why did he even make an offer?" he asked. "Why didn't he just go through the motions and beat her fair and square?"
Could that be the reason for the $2000 offer?
"Are you afraid of her?" I asked the coroner.
"Afraid of her?" he asked, puzzled.
"Afraid she's going to beat you?"
"No, not at all. I mean, if she does, I'll go home and sit on the porch. But no. I was trying to help her."
Help his opponent said she doesn't need.
"If he's right and you get blown away in November, by saying no to him you missed out on $2000," I pointed out.
"OK. I just missed out on $2000," Godwin replied with a grin. "We won't know until I run."
Douglas County has been trending toward the Democratic column for years. In 2012, the county went for President Obama. The 2014, a majority voted for democratic gubernatorial challenger Jason Carter. However, the last time the county selected a democrat countywide was in 1992, the year coroner Randy Daniel won... as a democrat. He switched parties in the next election.