Louisiana elections chief won’t quit amid harassment claims

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s top elections officer rejected calls from the governor and some state lawmakers for him to resign, and said Wednesday he will fight a lawsuit claiming he sexually harassed one of his employees.

But Secretary of State Tom Schedler also said his career in public office is coming to an end. In his first public comments since the lawsuit was filed in February, a somber Schedler announced he won’t run for re-election next year. His term ends in January 2020.

The Republican statewide elected official didn’t directly respond to any of the allegations or deny them, beyond calling the lawsuit “unfair.”

“As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, somewhere in the middle,” Schedler said. “All the facts will be revealed in the proper place, in the proper time. I do not intend to feed rumor mills and gossip columns.”

He refused to answer any questions.

The lawsuit claims Schedler harassed a woman who worked in his office for years and punished her when she rebuffed repeated advances.

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.

Schedler had previously responded through a spokeswoman, saying he had a consensual sexual relationship with the woman, a claim the woman’s lawyer has denied.

On Wednesday, Schedler apologized to his family, employees and friends “for how disappointing this is.”

“I’m going to leave God to judge me, right or wrong, and I’ll let him guide me of what my future may be after I finish here with the job I have in front of me,” he said.

Schedler, now in his second term as secretary of state, 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 country.

Schedler said his first inclination was to step down quickly after the lawsuit was filed, but he said he made the decision to complete his four-year term after “brutal discussions” with his family, friends and colleagues. He said it would be unfair to walk away from the position while his office and staff were grappling with upcoming municipal elections, an effort to replace voting equipment and ongoing national worries about cyberattacks and voting security.

“I’m not so naive as to think staying here is going to be an easy task for me. But leaving would be cowardly. And Tom Schedler’s not a coward,” he said.

Gov. John Bel Edwards and several female lawmakers have urged Schedler to leave office.

Edwards, a Democrat, reiterated his push for resignation Wednesday.

“The governor stands by his opinion that the Secretary of State should step down immediately. The number of specific allegations outlined in the lawsuit and the fact that the Secretary of State has admitted to conduct that by definition is sexual harassment is very concerning and will only serve as a distraction for the remainder of his term while this issue is litigated,” Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said in a statement.

One of Edwards’ deputy chiefs of staff resigned in November amid sexual harassment allegations.

Republicans are split on Schedler’s future.

Louis Gurvich, who chairs the Republican Party of Louisiana, said it’s too early to pressure Schedler to leave office until the outcome of the litigation is clear. GOP state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, of Slidell, urged resignation, saying Schedler “can no longer be an effective leader or role model for our state.”


Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at <a target=”&mdash;blank” href=”http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte”>http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte</a>

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