PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — R.I. Senate Democrats have tapped Cumberland Democrat Ryan Pearson as their next majority leader, making him the highest-ranking millennial in the General Assembly.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio landed on Pearson, 34, to succeed outgoing Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey after the Warwick Democrat made the surprise decision not to seek re-election this year.
Senate Democrats ratified Pearson’s selection at a closed-door caucus late Thursday afternoon.
Ruggerio, 73, will continue as Senate president, a position he has held since 2017. Providence Democrat Maryellen Goodwin, 58, is expected to continue serving as majority whip, as well. Both longtime senators dispatched progressive primary challengers in September.
First elected in 2012, Pearson is currently chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He works as an executive at Citizens Bank, and will also be the first openly gay member of Senate leadership. He won re-election Tuesday with 59% of the vote against Republican Dionne Larson.
His ascension will give Cumberland outsized influence on Smith Hill next year, with both the governor, re-elected Democrat Dan McKee, and the No. 2 Senate leader hailing from the Blackstone Valley town.
The promotion of Pearson will open up his current job chairing the powerful Finance Committee, with Sens. Lou DiPalma, D-Middletown, and Walter Felag, D-Warren, among the potential candidates to succeed him.
Leadership of the Judiciary Committee is also open due to the retirement of Barrington Democrat Cindy Coyne. Sens. Dawn Euer, D-Newport, and Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston, are both viewed as possible successors.
Pearson’s elevation is the only major change in the General Assembly’s top ranks after an election that saw Democrats maintain their lopsided supermajorities in both chambers.
Republicans suffered a net loss of one seat in the House, giving them just nine of 75 seats in that chamber, while the Senate will be unchanged with 33 Democrats and five Republicans. (Democrats technically lost one seat in the House, with former Woonsocket Rep. Jon Brien returning to the House as an independent, but he plans to support Shekarchi for speaker.)
House Democrats held a caucus for Thursday evening to endorse a second term for the leadership team of Speaker Joe Shekarchi, 60, of Warwick, and Majority Leader Chris Blazejewski, 42, of Providence.
Republican lawmakers will also have new leaders in both chambers when the new legislative session begins in January.
In the House, the new minority leader is Foster Republican Michael Chippendale, 53. He succeeds New Shoreham Republican Blake Filippi, who declined to seek another term.
In the Senate, the new minority leader is North Smithfield Republican Jessica de la Cruz, 41, who succeeded longtime the GOP’s longtime leader in the chamber, Dennis Algiere of Westerly.
Notably, all three retiring Assembly leaders — Democrat McCaffrey, Republican Filippi and Republican Algiere — saw their current seats flip to the other party on Tuesday.
McCaffrey’s seat was won by Republican Anthony DeLuca II, partly thanks to help of Democrats opposed to their party’s progressive nominee, Jen Rourke. Filippi’s seat was won by Democrat Tina Spears, and Algiere’s seat was won by Democrat Victoria Gu.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Threads, Twitter and Facebook.