The cabbie obviously had given it a lot of thought.
"There's only one solution," he said. "We've got to start a campaign to make Puerto Rico a state."
"Hold on a minute," I cautioned him. "It's true that the D.C. Statehood Bill has been voted out of the House District Committee, but that's a long way from enactment. We might have a pretty fair chance in the House, but the Senate's going to be tough. And even then, there's the specter of a presidential veto. It's much too soon to be even thinking about Puerto Rico."
"You miss my point," the cabbie said. "Unless we can get statehood for Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands or maybe Guam, D.C. is not going to be a state."
I knew that it wasn't unprecedented for states to be admitted in packages, or for "You admit my territory and I'll admit yours" deals to be made. But what member of Congress would be induced to vote for statehood for the District of Columbia by making Puerto Rico a state at the same time?
"I'm not talking deals," the cabbie said. "I'm talking flags. I've just spent my day off trying to figure out how to make a decent-looking flag with 51 stars. It can't be done. But add Puerto Rico, and it's a snap. Four rows of 13 stars . . .."
". . . would look awful," I said, finishing his sentence for him. Four rows would be much too shallow for a square field. And if you go changing the whole configuration, you kill statehood. The American people just won't go for a flag that doesn't look like the American flag anymore."
"Well, so much for New Columbia," he said. "Statehood probably wasn't such a great idea anyway."
I don't know if he was trying to get a rise out of me, but that's what he got. I gave him my full-fledged lecture on the virtues of democracy. "Why should residents of the District be the only second-class citizens in the country?" I demanded. "Didn't you hear what D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy said about the inconsistency of touting democracy around the world while denying it to citizens of the nation's capital? Don't you remember what Patrick Henry said about taxation without representation being nothing but tyranny?"
"That was James Otis of Massachusetts," the cabbie said, who obviously had been doing some reading on the subject, "and he wasn't talking about statehood. He was talking about nationhood. I agree that we ought to have a vote for the people who make the laws, but statehood isn't the only way to do it. If we can have a nonvoting delegate to the House and still be a city, why couldn't we have voting representation in both houses?"
"Because it would take a constitutional amendment," I told him, pointing out that we had tried that route with the Voting Rights Amendment and that we had failed. "Statehood is the only way."
"Can't afford it," the cabbie said. "We'd have to build a statehouse and a governor's mansion just for starters. Then we'd have to pay a whole flock of state legislators, state troopers and lord knows what else -- and pay them enough so they could afford to live here. Taxation without representation might be terrible, but taxation with representation could chase us all to Maryland.
"And then there's that silly name they've come up with: New Columbia. You can't even abbreviate it without making people think we live in North Carolina. And then we'd have to have cities and counties and all that. No, statehood is a bad idea, a terrible idea."
I was flabbergasted. Here was this guy who only a few minutes earlier had been an enthusiastic supporter of statehood now pulling out every argument in the book against it. And I thought I knew why.
"You're just upset because you can't come up with a decent design for a flag," I told him.
"Not true," he said. "Matter of fact, I've just figured it out. You take six rows of 8 1/2 stars each . . ."
"Six rows of 8 1/2 stars each," I said. "Hmmm.