In Refugee Crisis, Tom Wolf Reminds Us He Was the Right Choice

How welcoming do you think Tom Corbett would have been yesterday?

Democratic party candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, left, and republican Gov. Tom Corbett before a debate at the WTAE-TV studio in Wilkinsburg, Pa. on Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Rodney Johnson,WTAE-TV, Pool)

Tom Wolf challenged Gov. Tom Corbett for office last year. Wolf won.

Well, good for Gov. Tom Wolf.

It hasn’t been an easy rookie year for Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor. He’s been faced with a Republican-controlled legislature that has goals pretty much the opposite of his, with the result that the annual budget — due in June — is still unfinished. He’s taken (ahem) a little bit of flack for that.

But on Monday, he made me glad he’s our governor.

All it took was this: He let it be known — days after the terrorist attacks in Paris — that refugees from the violence in Syria are welcome in Pennsylvania. He did so on a day when Republican governors across the nation were reveling in ostentatious displays of xenophobia making it clear they’d do everything (probably not much) in their power to keep those refugees out of their states.

Wolf, on the other hand, wants “Pennsylvania to continue to build on its rich history of accepting immigrants and refugees from around the world but he is also committed to protecting Pennsylvanians and will work with the federal government to ensure it is taking every precaution necessary in screening those families coming into the country,” said his spokesman, Jeffrey Sheridan.

It was a wise and astute move by the governor, putting out the welcome mat while reassuring Pennsylvanians that he’s looking out for their safety, as well. Both things are the right thing to do.

Contrast Wolf’s behavior with that of his predecessor, Gov. Tom Corbett, a year ago during another refugee crisis: With children fleeing violence from south of the border, Corbett fretted about the diseases those immigrants could bring to the commonwealth.

“Measles is one that comes to mind very quickly and what other diseases that they may or may not have,” Corbett said at the time. “We can not be a country that just takes everything that comes here without at least looking into the background of this.”

Corbett, as was often the case, was working from an incomplete set of facts: The refugee children tended to come from countries with higher rates of vaccination than the U.S. But that was probably really never the point: Given a chance to provide a safe shelter to children fleeing violence, Corbett opted instead to appeal to the worst instincts of Pennsylvania voters.

He lost. Wolf won. Good.

There can be little doubt that were he still in office, Corbett would’ve joined his fellow GOP governors in rejecting the opportunity to be a beacon of hope to those who need it. He could always be counted on to make the wrong choice. Tom Wolf is imperfect — but he’s much better than what he replaced. I’m glad he’s the governor.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.