Frank Heller, RIP

by Jonathan Reisman

My friend and policy brother Frank Heller died on the last day of April. Frank was a little older than Joe Biden. Like Biden, he came from working-class Pennsylvania roots, but he was honorable, incorruptible, and in full possession of his considerable skills and mental faculties until the end of his life.  Maine and I will miss him.

I first met Frank in the mid-1990s when I was trying to promote some semblance of a school choice movement in Maine. I wrote an op-ed for the BDN (they still tolerated me back then) supporting the Senate Republican leader’s modest school choice bill, and one Frank Heller of Brunswick savaged it as uninformed and misguided. I tracked him down and found the older brother I never had, and a nearly 30-year friendship and policy entrepreneurship conspiracy developed. We started writing together and later wrangled a joint gubernatorial appointment to a school choice task force, which only cemented the Maine Education Association’s fear and loathing of both of us. 

Frank was a serial business and policy entrepreneur in the best sense- a doer and a dreamer. Before coming to Maine, he worked on urban policy issues in Washington DC. His entrepreneurial efforts anticipated food, cyber, education and climate/energy policy trends. He founded and ran diverse enterprises: a successful bakery (the Bakery Project), a computer and educational software company (Global Village Learning), a medical records software firm (Poppadata) and finally a renewable energy-consulting firm (Katahdin Energy Works). He was an early advocate for school choice and a heterodox thinker, looking for what worked and not tied to any ideology or political party.

Frank lived in Brunswick, across the road from Bowdoin College and a few blocks from Angus King. However, even though he was ensconced amongst the elite and wealthy, he remained refreshingly down to earth and free of Brunswickian airs.

In 1998, he readily agreed to be my Congressional campaign Treasurer, despite my lack of interest or prowess in fund-raising. He campaigned with me in Lewiston. His erudite Bowdoin faculty neighbors must have been astonished and appalled to see my red Ford Ranger campaign truck frequently parked in their leafy liberal neighborhood.   

Several years later when the Attorney General’s office was working with Maine’s environmental left to punish and silence me for opposing the endangered species salmon listing amongst other crimes, Frank called in to a Maine Public Broadcasting show and shamed the Attorney General into an on air apology. That act assured that the AG would not serve another term; the Democrats could not abide one of their own admitting that the First Amendment applied to Republicans or Professors, and especially Republican Professors, who dared to publicly disagree with them, a lesson the modern woke and Janet Mills took to heart. Mills and the environmental left have since worked to make Republican Professors endangered or perhaps even extinct. My retirement is probably a relief, but my emeritus status must be hard to bear. I wonder if they sometimes cry out “Won’t someone rid me of this troublesome Professor?” Frank, a man for all seasons, would have had the perfect retort.

Starting in the early 2000’s I began to write about climate change policy in a manner that really made much of the very left leaning and environmentally correct University community very unhappy. However, Frank encouraged me, and when I testified before legislative committees he came to support me. When Washington money sought me out to bankroll a legal opinion on the constitutional problems associated with the lack of Congressional approval of the interstate agreement known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (a carbon energy tax cap and trade scheme that bankrolls Efficiency Maine and left wing environmental efforts), Frank came with me to the somewhat cloak and dagger meeting.

About ten years ago, Frank encouraged me to take an interest in ocean acidification. I found out that the ocean is actually alkaline, and becoming slightly less so, but ocean acidification is much scarier than saying slightly less alkaline. I also found out that the Machias River, with a 6.1 pH, is by far the most acidic contributor to Machias Bay, and the possibility of a geoengineering project intrigued me enough to encourage a Machias Bay Initiative that led to some efforts to monitor the Bay and river’s pH. Frank was skeptical of the climate alarmists, but concerned about global warming’s evil twin, ocean acidification, and its potential deleterious effects on aquaculture

Frank loved gardening, policy debates, his wife of 50 plus years Linda, his alma mater Penn State, Maine, and his many friends. I loved him and will especially miss his raucous laugh and good heart. RIP my brother.

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