Last Wednesday, the U.S. House Republican leadership was forced to abruptly cancel a scheduled vote on the renewal of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 following what The Eye will refer to diplomatically as dissension within the ranks.

Last May, a bipartisan group of House and Senate members assembled on the Capitol steps and declared a joint effort to speed up the renewal vote.

Both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees conducted hearings and issued recommendations and everything was a go.

That is, until last Wednesday morning’s closed-door meeting of House Republicans, when some lawmakers complained that the Act unfairly targeted Southern states and others wanted to require English-only ballots.

Unfairly targeted Southern states? Are they for real?

The intensity of the outcry clearly caught House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) flat-footed, so he decided to pull the bill and wait for the dust to settle.

The VRA enjoys wide bipartisan support and requires, among other things, nine states with a demonstrated history of voter discrimination and intimidation (SC, GA, AL, AK, VA, MS, AZ, LA, TX) against black voters (poll taxes and literacy tests) to get U.S. Justice Department approval for their election laws.

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) told the New York Times, “A lot of it looks as if these are some old boys from the South who are trying to do away with it … but these old boys are trying to make it constitutional enough that it will withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court.”

Uh-huh, thought The Eye.

Westmoreland was referring to a decision expected by the Court in two weeks involving allegations of voter discrimination against Texas Latinos in the last go-round of redistricting, but The Eye is fairly sure the first part of his comment more accurately reflects his reasoning.

The other objection to the VRA extension centered on the requirement of bilingual ballots and translators.

Saying that these constituted unfunded mandates that unfairly burdened the states, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) wrote a letter signed by 80 other Republican House members saying, “The multilingual ballot mandate encourages the linguistic division of our nation and contradicts the ‘Melting Pot’ ideal that has made us the most successful multiethnic nation on earth.”

That’s got to be one of the biggest loads of sanctimonious hoo-ha The Eye has heard in some time.

He told the Times, “There’s no need to print ballots in any language other than English.”

So, while you’re trying to take away the civil rights of all them homos out there, you might as well do the same for naturalized citizens … two birds, as it were.

Opponents of the VRA are using its renewal to extend the illegal immigration debate.

The renewal would extend the VRA for another 25 years, and it’s not looking so good for a House vote before the July 4 recess.

Democrats initially kept their comments relatively low-key, but The Eye would like to see Dems making a big deal over this because it is a big deal. What could be more important in these dark days following the election fiascoes in Florida ’00 and Ohio ’04 than protecting voting rights?

Anyone who wants to erode voter protections isn’t interested in the opinions of what Eisenhower called “an alert and reasonable citizenry.”

Having grown up in the South, The Eye is here to tell anyone who’ll listen: whatever IT is, IT is always about race in America.

Always has been, without exception…