Before last month, who would have picked Secretary of State Tom Schedler, a well-regarded mainstay at the State Capitol for decades, as Louisiana's highest-profile political casualty of the Me Too era?
I wouldn't have.
And who would have pegged state Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a fellow Republican from Schedler's own home base of St. Tammany Parish, as playing a major role in his inevitable downfall?
Again, not me, at least not until recently.
Hewitt wasn't the first to call for Schedler's resignation after a lawsuit by an employee painted him as a persistent, vindictive sexual harasser. That honor belongs to the state Democratic Party, which quickly gave Schedler the derisive hashtag #TwoTimingTom and sought to make partisan hay. Schedler denied those allegations but said he and his accuser had engaged in consensual sex (which she denied)
Gov. John Bel Edwards has called for the immediate resignation of Secretary of State Tom Schedler following sexual harassment allegations agai…
Hewitt's public comments, coming as they did from a fellow Republican, effectively moved the controversy out of the purely political realm and into much more serious territory, abuse of power.
When Hewitt weighed in Wednesday morning, she spoke with authority. She's been calling for better policies ever since Gov. John Bel Edwards' deputy chief of staff, Johnny Anderson, was fired amid allegations of sexual harassment. She's one of the state's most prominent Republican women and a possible candidate for governor, which puts her in a similar position to the female Democratic U.S. Senators who called for their popular colleague Al Franken to step down after he was accused of groping multiple women. She admits she likes Schedler.
"It is very sad to read charges about someone I've known for years and consider a friend," she said in a statement. "His admission of an inappropriate relationship with a state worker that reported to him is indefensible."
Edwards, a Democrat, soon echoed her call for Schedler to leave office, which he may have done anyway but which came off as less political than it might have had Hewitt not already spoken out.
Not that Edwards and Schedler have ever been adversaries. While the governor has tangled with Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser on occasion and with Attorney Jeff Landry on almost a daily basis, he and Schedler appeared to have a solid professional relationship that crossed party lines. Indeed, Edwards' Republican commissioner of administration, Jay Dardenne, is a longtime ally and hired Schedler as his top assistant in the secretary of state's office before he ran for the job himself.
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Same goes for the Democratic legislators who later joined the call for his resignation. State Sen. Regina Barrow, who chairs a committee looking into the state's harassment policies, admitted to having long "respected and liked" Schedler and said that she "always thought he was a little head and shoulders above." State Rep. Helena Moreno, who chairs the Louisiana Legislative Women's Caucus, cited her "personal respect" for Schedler's service and friendship.
By the end of the day Wednesday, a wave was forming, and even some Schedler allies who said they'd prefer to let the lawsuit play out were conceding that his version of events made his position pretty much untenable.
It certainly would be if the highly detailed accusations in the suit are correct. The allegations paint Schedler as a creep, and arguably a stalker, who used his position to intimidate, pressure and punish a subordinate. The behavior described — that Schedler sent the woman Valentine's Day cards, wine, flowers, and sex tapes, that he bought a home across from hers and had his security personnel monitor her, and that he punished her resistance with undesirable work assignments — is horrifying.
And Schedler's own version, frankly, is bad enough. It calls into question his integrity as a government official, his judgment and his focus at a time when state election systems like the one he oversees are under attack from Russia. It also frees his critics from the dilemma of whether to pass judgment before Schedler gets his day in court.
Still, even a year ago, it's hard to believe that things would have unfolded as they have, that allegations in a lawsuit would be taken this seriously, or that the camaraderie among fellow politicians that Schedler clearly enjoys wouldn't protect him.
Times have changed, and changed quickly. In Baton Rouge, Exhibit A is Anderson, whom Edwards hired in 2016 despite similar accusations from when he worked for former Gov. Kathleen Blanco a decade earlier.
Exhibit B is now Schedler, who may well have been able to hang on for a while in an earlier era. It's hard to imagine how he can now.