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Thompson not curbing his enthusiasm

June 26, 2007 | 12:00 pm

Fred Thompson today takes more steps toward a presidential candidacy, opening a "testing the waters" office in Nashville and attending a nearby fundraiser for him sponsored by a prominent backer.

Mike_curb The host is Mike Curb, identified in the Nashville Tennessean article on the event as a "music mogul and philanthropist." But Californians with good memories will recall that Curb was once a major --- and contentious --- player in state politics and that a career path on the national scene seemed within the realm of possibility for him.

Curb, 63, was a boy wonder in the burgeoning music industry of the early 1960s, starting his own record company while he was still a student at what is now Cal State-Northridge. In 1969, he was named head of MGM Records. Culturally conservative at a time --- and in a business --- when that was hardly the prevailing ethos, he gained notoriety for dumping from MGM's roster bands such as the Mothers of Invention.

Politics eventually beckoned; in 1978, barely in his thirites, he was elected lieutenant governor "with the backing of ... powerful Republicans who helped give" Ronald Reagan his start, according to a Times article a few years back recapping his career.

It is doubtful that California ever had an odder executive team --- Curb served as second-in-command to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. It's not that they weren't on the same page; they weren't reading the same book.

As the Times article recounted, when Brown left the state (which was often in those days), Curb "sought to usurp some of the traditional powers of the governor by doing things such as trying to appoint judges. One night, he raced by car from San Francisco to Sacramento to sign an executive order, trying to arrive at the Capitol and sign the document before Brown's jet flew into California airspace. Curb lost the race by two minutes."

Bristling with ambition, Curb eagerly eyed a 1982 race for governor. He seemed to many the clear favorite for the GOP nod. But he did not react well to the heat of the campaign, including revelations that, despite his socially conservative image, he had dubbed the sound track of the cult movie, "Mondo Hollywood," and that he had not registered to vote until he was 29. He lost the primary to George Deukmejian, who went on to win the governor's office.

Curb tried for a comeback in 1986, running once again for lieutenant governor. But the bloom was off his political rose and the Democratic incumbent, Leo McCarthy easily defeated him.

Curb re-focused on the music industry and, in 1994, he moved to Nashville (the same year Thompson won his U.S. Senate seat in the state). His stable of recording artists include Wynonna Judd, LeAnn Rimes and Tim McGraw. He's also been successful sponsoring NASCAR teams.

It's been quite a ride for Mike Curb. And you've got to wonder what sort of political advice he'll be whispering in Thompson's ears tonight.

-- Don Frederick

Photo: Former Calif. Lt. Gov. Mike Curb; Credit: John Russell/AP