A senior man with grandson picking apples in orchard in autumn.

"And in the matter of these two characters, it seems the old saying, “like father, like son,” has never been more accurate."

The criminal case against County Assessor Paul Petersen, accused of 32 felonies in Arizona for leading an adoption fraud scheme, brings me back in time more than 20 years and reminds me of a saying that rings especially true these days.

The apple does not fall far from the tree.

Assessor Petersen’s father, you see, was an Arizona legislator who later became state Treasurer before resigning in criminal disgrace in 2006.

 Almost a decade before David Petersen, Paul’s dad, faced his own legal proceedings, I had a run-in with the man that Paul’s case brought back to mind.

The year was 1997. Back then I was a columnist for the Arizona Republic. On the afternoon of Dec. 17, I went to the state Capitol for a hearing on a bill. 

Wait, scratch that. I went down to the Copper Dome for a hearing on what remains the dumbest legislative bill I have seen in more than a half century on this green earth. 

It was called, as I labeled it in multiple columns back in the day, the “Rapist Protection Act.” The sponsor? Mesa state Senator David Petersen.

The bill, as Petersen drafted it, would have given sex offenders, including child molesters and rapists, more control over their own treatment. Petersen even had the gall to hold hearings where sex offenders testified about how they didn’t like their court-mandated treatment.

 His bill included a line that positively boggles the mind: “A patient may refuse to participate in a counseling program if the procedures, policies or practices … denigrate the religious beliefs of the patient.”

Petersen attacked me at length from the dais, always referring to me as “LIE-bo-witz.” After the hearing, I tried to interview the Senator about his bill. The man was absolutely not happy.

 “You’ve impugned my character,” he thundered. “I don’t have to be harassed in this Senate building. Don’t harass me.”

Petersen summoned Capitol police to escort me out of the building.  Naturally, I went back in. Petersen blathered about having me arrested, but ultimately stopped short of that.

 Contacted by reporters after the hearing, Petersen explained, “I was mad, I wanted him out of my face. He wouldn’t leave. He was a jerk.”

Talk about compliments.

The Pedophile Protection Act bill never saw the light of day after that brouhaha. A decade later, in what can only be described as the Petersen Principle, David somehow rode his own incompetence all the way to the state Treasurer’s office. 

As treasurer, Petersen ended up being criminally investigated for trying to force the state to do with business with an Oklahoma-based non-profit to which he had financial ties. The name of the company? The Character Training Institute.

You can’t make this stuff up.

Twenty years later, we are confronted with news detailing that son Paul is far, far slimier than his old man. The charges include selling off babies like merchandise and  bilking the state’s Medicaid program out of more than $800,000. 

Petersen has been suspended without pay from his assessor duties, which makes sense given that he faces criminal charges in three states.

He’s so far fought to keep his $77,00-a-year job, which also makes sense, given that he’s David Petersen’s son and likely believes he should be allowed to craft his own punishment.

What do I believe? Well, call me a jerk, but I believe character matters. And in the matter of these two characters, it seems the old saying, “like father, like son,” has never been more accurate.

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