Gov. John Bel Edwards has called for the immediate resignation of Secretary of State Tom Schedler following sexual harassment allegations against the state official.

“I’ve consistently said that any instances of sexual harassment in the workplace should not be tolerated," Edwards, a Democrat, said Wednesday. "Elected officials must live by an even higher standard. 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. I believe this would be the best path forward for Tom and the state of Louisiana.”

Prominent Republican elected officials and party executives, however, say the facts are in dispute, and Schedler has denied the allegations, so the courts should sort it out before the secretary of state makes a decision on his future.

A woman who works in the Secretary of State's Office filed a lawsuit last week claiming Schedler had harassed her for more than a decade.

Schedler, a St. Tammany Parish Republican, has said he had a "consensual sexual relationship" with the woman in the past — a claim that the woman denies.

"I guess I’m more troubled by his own admission, which by textbook definition constitutes sexual harassment," Edwards told reporters after giving a luncheon speech to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge. The governor said he hasn't spoken directly to Schedler but was informed the secretary of state "wanted some time to think, some time to ponder."

But, at least for the governor, that time has elapsed. Edwards said that while Schedler is under no legal obligation to do so, he should resign immediately because the controversy will dog the office that oversees elections and business incorporations for months, possibly years as the legal action plays out.

Edwards call came after state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, from Schedler's hometown of Slidell and who has been mulling a run for governor, became the highest-profile Republican to publicly call upon Schedler to resign. 

“I’ve read the detailed and documented accusations of sexual harassment against Tom Schedler," Hewitt said in a statement Wednesday. "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."

Schedler would not comment Wednesday. "We're not going to be releasing anything today," said Meg Sunstrom, the office's spokeswoman said in response to the calls that Schedler resign.

Democratic Sen. Regina Barrow, who chairs a committee investigating the state’s sexual harassment policies, agreed with her colleague Hewitt.

“I share her sentiment, and I agree he should resign,” Barrow said, adding that the situation is very difficult for her because she has long respected and liked Schedler.

“I always thought he was a little head and shoulders above. I would have expected it from other folks but not him,” said Barrow, of Baton Rouge. But his defense — that the affair with a subordinate was consensual — raises problems for her. “It’s definitely unethical,” Barrow said.

Hewitt and Barrow were joined later in the day by Rep. Helena Moreno, chairwoman of the Louisiana Legislative Women's Caucus. “Consistent with my values and core beliefs, and 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,” Moreno said in a statement.

His lawyer in the lawsuit, Floyd Falcon, of Baton Rouge, said he had not spoken to Schedler, but his role was to represent the secretary of state in the legal action and not provide political advice.

Both Falcon and Jill Craft, the Baton Rouge lawyer representing the accusing employee, said whether Schedler resigns or not would have no impact on the lawsuit.

Craft said while her client denies any consensual relationship took place, Schedler said it did. Many government agencies, private companies and the U.S. military have policies that forbid sexual relations between a boss and employee. Generally, courts have recognized that when one partner has power over the other at work, any sex can be seen as nonconsensual.

“Sexual harassment is about power, period,” Craft said.

Louis Gurvich, the newly elected chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, said the state party doesn’t have a position on whether Schedler should resign. But, personally, he says the court should resolve the matter first.

“If the allegations made by the complaint are true, then Secretary Schedler should resign forthwith. However, the claimant has filed a lawsuit,” Gurvich said. Any talk before the court rules “is probably premature.”

Republican Sen. Mike Walsworth, of West Monroe, took a similar line saying he was concerned that Schedler had admitted to an affair with an employee. "That's something we all understand you can't do, obviously," Walsworth said. "Tom is going to come up with the right decision."

Metairie state Sen. Danny Martiny said the 25 Republican members of the Senate, a delegation which he chairs, will caucus Wednesday. As for himself, Martiny said, “When the smoke clears and if evidence is shown that he used his position to effect his relationship with this woman, then he should consider resigning.”

Republican U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, of Madisonville, said in a statement, “I’ve always known Tom to be an honorable person. I trust that the court will fairly and objectively sort out whether sexual harassment occurred.”

The lawsuit says Schedler would send the woman Valentine's Day cards addressed to "My Dearest Sunshine," roses, bottles of wine, clothing and sex tapes, despite her telling him she was not interested in a sexual relationship.

"Everyone has the right to work in a safe environment, free from sexual harassment," Hewitt said in her statement. "Sadly, I’ve reached the conclusion that Secretary Schedler can no longer be an effective leader or role model for our state. In the coming days, I hope that he too will reach the same conclusion and consider stepping down.”

Hewitt previously requested that the Louisiana legislative auditor look into sexual harassment in state government after a top aide to Edwards resigned amid harassment allegations. Johnny Anderson, the governor's deputy chief of staff, has denied any misconduct. 

"Everyone has the right to work in a safe environment, free from sexual harassment. That level of decency should exist whether you work in the Governor’s administration or for the Secretary of State," Hewitt said.

Schedler, 68, became secretary of state in November 2010 after stepping in as interim when Jay Dardenne was elected lieutenant governor. He had taken an executive level job in the Secretary of State's Office after stepping down from the Senate in 2008 because of term limits. He and Dardenne, who now is Edwards’ commissioner of administration, had served together in the state Senate.

He won election in his own right in 2011, beating then-House Speaker Jim Tucker, R-Terrytown, by about 8,500 votes out of nearly 1 million cast statewide. In 2015, Schedler cruised to a second term, winning 62 percent of the vote.

Prior to joining the Senate to represent St. Tammany Parish in 1996, Schedler, who now lives in Mandeville, was a longtime member of the Slidell City Council and, before that, was chairman of the Slidell Board of Zoning and Adjustment.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.