- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Prepping for a run to try to unseat Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Tuesday he’ll keep speaking out against GOP policies he believes are harming the middle class and teachers in the upcoming General Assembly session.

Cooper also told 300 Democratic activists at a luncheon he would back efforts to raise teacher pay across the board and to expand Medicaid to hundreds of thousands of additional residents.

“The legislature is now in session as of tomorrow and we have to have our voices heard,” Cooper told the event organized by Lillian’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. “Teachers and schools need our help. Working families need our help, and we can do that in a fiscally responsible way.”

Lawmakers begin filing bills and debating bills Wednesday following a two-week break since electing their leaders.

Cooper, the highest-profile elected Democrat in state politics, said in a brief interview later he would be willing to line up with McCrory on some topics, especially if the Republican chief executive offered a proposal to expand Medicaid to cover hundreds of thousands of additional people who earn too much to qualify.

McCrory has said he’s weighing the idea two years after he and the legislature refused the federal dollars.

“If we can agree on issues, I certainly will work to make them happen,” Cooper said. Legislative leaders still oppose expansion.

A former state legislator from Nash County first elected attorney general in 2000, Cooper has hinted strongly for more than a year he would run for governor but has put off a formal announcement. Another Democrat - Durham attorney, former state legislator and ex-transportation board member Kenneth Spaulding has already announced his candidacy.

Cooper said Tuesday people aren’t ready for more campaigning yet, although he’s been sending out fundraising emails that avoids directly mentioning a gubernatorial decision. But he also told the crowd at Lillian’s List - named for the first woman elected to the North Carolina General Assembly - preparations for the next election cycle for all Democrats must begin now.

“In fact, if we don’t start now, it may be too late,” Cooper said.

Cooper and Republicans have bumped heads over the past four years since the GOP increased their state government power.

Cooper said he personally opposed the 2013 elections overhaul law that include a photo identification requirement and urged McCrory to veto it. McCrory signed it into law, them hired outside counsel when it was challenged in court, although it’s the responsibility of Cooper’s office to represent the state in litigation.

While the state Attorney General’s Office has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision striking down a portion of a 2011 abortion law, Cooper said he’s worried about lawmakers’ interference with private medical decisions.

“We have leaders in North Carolina who want the voice of politicians in the medical examining room telling the doctor what to say,” Cooper told the luncheon crowd.

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