PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Senate President Dominick Ruggerio has tapped state Sen. Valarie Lawson, a veteran East Providence lawmaker and union leader, as the chamber’s new No. 3.

Ruggerio announced his choice of Lawson in an email to senators on Thursday night. She will succeed the late Maryellen Goodwin, who held the position for years before her death earlier this year.

Lawson, 57, taught in East Providence schools for three decades and was first elected to the Senate in 2018. She is currently president of the National Education Association Rhode Island, one of the state’s two powerful teachers unions.

“Senator Lawson is already a valued member of our leadership team, providing counsel on matters ranging from politics to policy,” Ruggerio said in a statement. “She has earned the respect and admiration of her colleagues in the Senate.”

After years of relative stability in its top ranks, the Senate has seen significant turnover in 2023. Former Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey decided not to seek re-election unexpectedly last year, and was replaced by Cumberland Democrat Ryan Pearson, one of the Senate’s younger members. Now Lawson will be replacing Goodwin, as well.

Ruggerio on the other hand is the longest-serving member of the General Assembly, having been elected to the House in 1980 and then the Senate in 1984.

Separately, Ruggerio announced staffing changes in his office ahead of the Nov. 7 special election to fill Goodwin’s old seat representing Senate District 1 in Providence. His current chief of staff, Jake Bissaillon, is the Democratic nominee against Republican Niyoka Powell and is a heavy favorite to win.

“Of course, there is an election between now and then – but I have great confidence that Jake will be successful in his campaign,” Ruggerio said.

Presuming Bissaillon wins, Ruggerio said he plans to appoint John Fleming as his new chief of staff. Fleming is currently secretary of the Senate and was previously chief of staff to another Democrat from Ruggerio’s hometown of North Providence — Ralph Mollis — during the latter’s time as secretary of state and town mayor.

In addition, Ruggerio said he plans to expand the duties of Michael DeAngelis, his deputy chief of staff, to assist Fleming.

“I have tremendous confidence in each of these individuals – and in all the senators and Senate staff members – to provide the guidance and leadership we need as the Senate continues its work to improve our state,” Ruggerio said. “Together, this Senate will continue to lead the way to a stronger, more prosperous state.”

Ted Nesi ( 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.

An earlier version of this story misspelled Senator Lawson’s first name.