After nearly a month of silence, Secretary of State Tom Schedler announced Wednesday that he will finish his current term but not seek re-election for a third term in 2019 following sexual harassment allegations by an employee.

“Staying’s not going to be easy. I’m not so naive to believe staying here is going to be an easy task for me, but leaving would be cowardly. And Tom Schedler is not a coward,” Schedler told a hastily called press conference in which he took no questions and openly veered from a prepared statement. His current term ends in January 2020.

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"I work for the people of the state of Louisiana and I’ve always taken that very seriously. They elected me to do a job and it’s way too important to walk away from, especially with my tail between my legs," he added.

The state’s chief elections officer has been under pressure to resign from some state elected officials – including the governor – because of allegations raised in a Baton Rouge lawsuit by a female employee. She claimed Schedler, who is married, sent her love letters and sex tapes, then punished her when she refused to go along with his repeated sexual propositions.

Through a staffer, Schedler had denied the allegations, saying he and the plaintiff, an employee, had a consensual sexual affair, which the woman's attorney denied.

He is the highest ranking Louisiana public official to be accused since a national wave of sexual misconduct allegations led prominent figures in Congress, Hollywood, business, and the national media to resign because of their behavior.

While Schedler refused to address the allegations on Wednesday, he allowed that "the truth about all this can be found somewhere in the middle ... 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 then apologized to his family, friends and staff, but not to the woman whose lawsuit he called unfair.

"I plan to fight these allegations," he said Wednesday. “I’ve never been in a situation like this before, but I can tell you your first inclination, and certainly mine, was to just fold the tent and walk away so I could protect my family.”

A prominent St. Tammany Parish Republican for more than two decades, Schedler has been supported by many GOP elected officials and party executives, who said as long as the facts were in dispute – and Schedler had denied the allegations in the lawsuit – then the courts should be allowed to sort it out. They added the caveat that if the allegations turned out to be true, then he should quit.

The secretary of state’s office is at a “critical crossroads.” Early voting is in progress for a March 24 election that will pick two House seats based in New Orleans and Tangipahoa Parish, several judges and handful of mayors and other local officials. The office is about to seek bids for new voting machines and mid-term Congressional elections are scheduled for later this year.

"I cannot in good conscience leave this group and put this place into more chaos at this point in time. I cannot do it. It would throw this organization into total chaos because I’ve been targeted in an unfair lawsuit,” Schedler said.

His announcement will open up the field for the Secretary of State election, which takes place next fall at the same time as the governor's race. None of Schedler's senior staff have voiced interest in running, said Meg Sunstrom, Schedler's spokeswoman.

Schedler was conspicuously absent Monday afternoon in the House chamber when the governor gave his State of the State speech. He was the only statewide elected official who was missing.

The secretary of state, who has been quiet since the lawsuit was filed, will return to making public appearances and testify before legislative committees in the future. He will, however, miss Thursday's Bond Commission meeting, Sunstrom said.

Schedler’s determination to finish his term flies in the face of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ calls for Schedler's immediate resignation Feb. 28.

“I’ve consistently said that any instances of sexual harassment in the workplace should not be tolerated," Edwards, a Democrat, said at the time. "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.”

Edwards deputy chief of staff Richard Carbo said after Schedler's announcement: “The governor stands by his opinion that the Secretary of State should step down immediately." 

Edwards had been joined in his resignation call by state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Republican from Slidell, where Schedler began his political career, as well as other senators and representatives.

A top staffer in Edwards' office resigned in November when publicly accused of sexual misconduct. 

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 Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.