A Republican attempt to upstage Democratic Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. missed its mark today and instead embarrassed novice Republican Lt. Gov. Mike Curb.
While Brown was in Washington on Wednesday negotiating for more gasoline for California, Curb and the Republican legislative leadership worked out a plan enabling refineries in the state to increase gasoline production by permitting more pollutants than are presently allowed by state environmental restrictions.
Curb dramatically announced the plan Wednesday in San Francisco and signed an executive order he thought suspended the regulations. Its political purpose was to demonstrate that Republicans were acting to ease California's long gas station lines while Democrat Brown and Democratic President Carter were chatting at the White House.
However, the order contained a typographic error that rendered it meaningless. Informed of this, Curb sped to Sacramento in apparent defiance of the 55 mph speed limit and signed a new order minutes before Brown's plane arrived in California air space. One motorcyclist Curb passed estimated his speed at 90 mph.
"I never looked at the speedometer," Curb admitted. "I was convinced that this was an emergency because I had been told by (California Air Resources Board Chiarman) Tom Quinn that the governor wasn't willing to change the restrictions."
But the net effect of the entire performance, a Curb aide acknowledged, was to embarrass the lieutenant governor, a millionaire record producer with little experience in government.
State Senate Republican leader William Campbell, a principal author of legislation to relax the environmental controls during the present gas shortage, said dryly that "it was somewhat unfortunate that they had a mistake in the order."
"When Jerry Brown is out of the state, the lieutenant governor is governor," Campbell said. "The thing Curb has to watch out for is when the lieutenant governor is out of town, Brown might dissolve his office."
Instead of taking this course, however, Brown is moving to have the state Supreme Court declare that Curb's authority is much more limited than Curb believes it to be.
Brown's legal counsel, J. Anthony Kline, said that Curb was engaging in "an invidious attempt to improperly usurp the governor's powers."
In the process, Curb also may be making both himself and Brown look foolish in the eyes of California voters. While Curb seemed the chief loser in this incident, Brown officials incorrectly declared that the second order, signed at 7:02 p.m. Wednesday, was invalid because Brown's returning plane was in California air space two minutes earlier.
This is disputed by American Airlines officials who said the returning plane, slightly ahead of its flight plan, did not cross the California border until 7:10 p.m.
Informed of this, Kline claimed there was "a reasonable doubt" about the arrival time and said that, in any case, the order is invalid because Curb lacked the authority to issue it.
The California legislature moved to make the entire issue even more academic than it already is by nearing passage of a bill that would accomplish what Curb tried and failed to do Wednesday. CAPTION: Picture, Lt. Gov. Mike Curb answers questions about his order to ease gas restrictions. With him are Republican Assemblymen Don Rogers, left, and Richard Mountjoy. AP