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Politically Speaking: Rep. May expounds on her landmark state Senate victory

State Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis

State Rep. Karla May joins Politically Speaking to talk about her ouster of Sen. Jake Hummel in Missouri’s 4th Senate District.

May is a four-term Democratic lawmaker who represents a portion of western St. Louis in the Missouri House. Her roughly 5,000-vote victory — 20,204 to 15,137 — over Hummel was arguably the biggest statehouse surprise in the Aug. 7 primary. If May wins in November, she will represent St. Louis with Sen. Jamilah Nasheed. It would mark the first time that two African-American women have represented the city in the Missouri Senate. The 4th District also includes a small part of St. Louis County. 

A lifelong resident of north St. Louis, May’s first bid for office came in 2006, when she lost to T.D. El-Amin in a three-way race for a vacant House seat. After El-Amin resigned in 2009, May unsuccessfully ran as an independent in a special election to succeed him.

May ended up running again in 2010, defeating state Rep. Hope Whitehead. That started an undefeated streak of sorts: She defeated Whitehead and attorney Mike Owens in 2012 — and ran unopposed in 2014 and 2016. May also defeated St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones in 2016 to become 26th Ward committeewoman.

When Sen. Joe Keaveny resigned in 2016, May tried to get the St. Louis Democratic Central Committee to nominate her as his replacement. The committee instead picked Hummel, who went on to easily win a special election in 2016. May signed up to run against Hummel in this year’s Democratic primary — and prevailed with 57 percent of the vote.


Despite Hummel spending significantly more money, May ended up winning a majority of St. Louis aldermanic wards in the 4th District with four or more voting precincts. That includes some areas with white majorities — including the 14th, 24th and 28th wards. She also won by huge margins in African-American majority wards — and nearly tied Hummel in St. Louis County. 

May is squaring off against Republican Robert Crump in the general election. But since the 4th District is heavily Democratic, she will likely move to the Senate in 2019.

Here’s what May had to say during the show:

  • She was upset with how Hummel received the 4th District Democratic nomination in 2016. For one thing, she didn’t like how Keaveny, as a 28th Ward committeeman, got to play a major role in picking his successor. She was also upset with organized labor groups for not reaching out to her during the process.
  • Even though she was upset with labor over the 2016 election, she voted against every effort to weaken unions over the past two legislative session. May, an employee of AT&T, is a member of the Communications Workers of America. “I’m not going to vote for something that I know is going to hurt the people,” she said. “Right to work is wrong for Missouri.”
  • May said she wants St. Louis Public Schools’ elected board to regain power. Currently, the appointed Special Administration Board is in charge of managing the school district.
  • May said having two African-American women represent the city in the Senate would be a big accomplishment for the region. “I feel like it’s 2018 and the paradigm is changing — and I’m hopeful for the future,” she said.

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Karla May: @krmay38

Music: “Turn a Square” by The Shins

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.