Republican Bill Fortner won the race for state House District 52 during Tuesday’s primary election, beating the incumbent William “Bill” Pownall and John Robertson by tallying more than 50 percent of the vote.
With several incumbents losing in Tuesday’s primary elections to candidates who ran as farther right or more conservative than those now in office, Fortner said he represents part of what may possibly be a changing guard for Wyoming politics.
“I think it’s an economic mess in Wyoming and I think people are looking for a different direction to go,” Fortner said after the results came in Tuesday night. “They’re looking for people who have a different direction in saving money, gun rights and things like that.”
Pownall has had a loose grasp on his seat since he first took office in 2015 and narrowly defended his seat twice, with his last victory in 2018 coming by a slim 18-vote margin.
“Well, it looks like I got whipped,” Pownall said as the election results became clear Tuesday night.
This year, the rancher and former Campbell County Sheriff’s 533 votes fell well short of Fortner and his 907 votes. Robertson finished third in the race with 355 votes.
Robertson said he expected to do better in the race than the results show, but that it is an interesting outcome he's still processing.
“Well, Bill Pownall is a good man. I’ve known him for a lot of years,” Fortner said. “He dedicated his whole life to law and order, serving the people.”
Although he credits Pownall to an extent, Fortner said that the voters of his district are clearly looking for a change in representation.
“I think there’s a lot that plays into it,” he said. “Just the times, the frame that we’re in right now, versus where we have been, it has everything to do with the turnout.”
Among the issues Fortner ran hardest on are the state budget, economy and gun rights.
He said there is a need to make Wyoming more appealing for new and outside businesses to come to. With a continued downward fall in the energy industry, on which Wyoming is heavily dependent, Fortner ran on pushing for a more diversified economy.
“We’re going to have to do things a whole lot different than how we have in the past,” Fortner said. “A diverse economy is a must. If we don’t have a diverse economy, we’re going to get further and further behind.”
Pownall accepted his defeat graciously, but pointed out what he called a lot of “misinformation” during the campaign about his time in the state House, including what he said is a misrepresentation of his stance on gun rights.
“The voters thought it was a time for change and they made that point very clear,” Pownall said.
And while he disagrees with how he and his voting record have been represented at times, he accepts and appreciate the district that once elected him deciding to cast its votes elsewhere.
“Well, I think I obviously honor their wishes on their votes,” Pownall said. “I guess that maybe they are leaning more far to the right than what I was. My goal was always to work with people down there. If you’re going to get anything accomplished, you have to work with people."
While Fortner’s margin of victory surprised Pownall, he handled the loss in stride and is focused on finishing out his term and then living life beyond that.
“I’ve got plenty to do, and when I end my term at the end of the year, I’ll get back to full-time ranching and enjoy life,” Pownall said.
Now with a spot in the Wyoming House of Representatives in hand, Fortner has a heavy load ahead of him if he is to accomplish the brighter economic vision he has for the state.
“Economic times and budgets and diversification, those are the three things I’m going to be hammering on,” Fortner said. “It’s crucial to Wyoming, it’s crucial to our lifestyle.”