BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is urging his state’s top elections officer to step down after the man was accused of sexually harassing an employee.
The Democratic governor said Wednesday that Republican Secretary of State Tom Schedler “should immediately resign his position.”
“I’ve consistently said that any instances of sexual harassment in the workplace should not be tolerated. Elected officials must live by an even higher standard,” Edwards said in a statement.
A lawsuit filed last week against Schedler accused him of sexually harassing an employee for years and punishing her after she rebuffed repeated advances. Schedler said he and his accuser had a “consensual sexual relationship.” The woman’s lawyer denied that claim.
“Because of the number of specific and serious allegations in the lawsuit and the fact that he has admitted to conduct that by definition is sexual harassment, he should immediately resign his position,” Edwards said. “I believe this would be the best path forward for Tom and the state of Louisiana.”
Schedler’s spokeswoman said the secretary of state had no comment on Edwards’ statement.
The governor’s comments come after one of Edwards’ deputy chiefs of staff resigned in November amid sexual harassment allegations.
Edwards said that within 15 hours after his office learned of the allegations, Johnny Anderson was called in to discuss them and resigned. Similar accusations were lodged against Anderson by several women more than a decade ago when Anderson worked for Gov. Kathleen Blanco and was a university system board chairman. Anderson denies wrongdoing in both sets of claims.
Schedler is in his second term as Louisiana’s secretary of state. He is the most prominent Louisiana political figure to face sexual misconduct accusations as the #MeToo movement has unseated people in positions of power in Hollywood, the media and government across the nation.
In the lawsuit, the woman claims Schedler frequently sent her love letters, sexually propositioned her and showed up at her doorstep with unwanted gifts, including sex tapes. She claims Schedler enlisted help from state security personnel to report on her whereabouts. The lawsuit says the harassment began about a decade ago and escalated over the years.
The chairman of the Republican Party of Louisiana said it’s too early to pressure Schedler to leave office.
“If the allegations are true, then of course he should resign,” Louis Gurvich said. But he added: “We have a system for precisely this sort of thing, the justice system. It may take time to work itself out. Based on the information available to me at this time, I think we just have to let things play out.”
Gurvich said he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the state GOP, which hasn’t taken an official position on the matter.
But calls for Schedler’s exit mounted Wednesday.
State Sen. Sharon Hewitt became the first GOP elected official to urge resignation, saying she believes Schedler “can no longer be an effective leader or role model for our state.”
“It is very sad to read charges about someone I’ve known for years and consider a friend. His admission of an inappropriate relationship with a state worker that reported to him is indefensible,” Hewitt, a potential candidate for governor next year, said in a statement.
The leader of the Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus also weighed in. Rep. Helena Moreno, a New Orleans Democrat, said the allegations against Schedler “are serious, deeply concerning and surprising.”
“Despite the personal respect I have for Secretary Schedler’s service and friendship, I feel it is imperative that he resign from office in order to ensure the public’s trust in the Secretary of State’s office,” she said in a statement.
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