ABC News’ Teddy Davis and Ferdous Al-Faruque report:
Citing the need to focus on state business, Republican Gov. Sarah Palin has been a no-show at multiple high-profile events outside of Alaska this year. But now that her state’s 90-day legislative session is drawing to a close on Sunday, John McCain’s former running mate is drawing flak for plans to attend anti-abortion and Down syndrome events in Indiana later this week.
"It looks to us that once again she is putting her national political ambitions ahead of the needs of Alaskans and the responsibilities of her job as our governor," Alaska Democratic Party chair Patti Higgins told reporters at a Monday press conference in Anchorage.
"With the economy in a recession, Alaska’s unemployment rate is at 9 percent. There is a lot of unfinished business in Juneau . . . so where is Sarah Palin? She’s going to be half way across the country."
The latest round of criticism, which was publicized to national reporters by the Democratic National Committee, was prompted by Palin’s plans to travel to the Hossier State for a Thursday dinner sponsored by Vanderburgh County Right to Life as well as a Friday breakfast sponsored by SMILE, a non-profit organization for people with family members who have Down syndrome.
Palin is reacting to criticism of her trip by emphasizing that she will only be away for roughly 36 hours.
"I’ll be gone for one day. I already have been on record with lawmakers on this," said Palin at a Friday press conference in Juneau. "I told lawmakers, you know what, ‘Please, don’t make me feel that I have to ask your permission, lawmakers, to leave the capital city."
Democrats are not the only ones criticizing Palin for leaving the state in the dwindling days of the legislative session.
"We’re a small state. When you get down to the last days of the legislative session it’s a little bit like the last two minutes of a basketball game," said state Rep. Jay Ramras, a Republican lawmaker who has clashed with Palin. "You want to have your best players there."
When asked by ABC News why Palin could not fulfill her duties remotely, Ramras said, "Being present is 90 percent of the game. There’s nothing like having the person in the room."
Beyond this week’s trip to Indiana, Palin’s only other 2009 trip outside of Alaska was in late January when she traveled to Washington, D.C., to join President Barack Obama at the exclusive Alfalfa Club dinner.
During that same trip, she also met with her Washington, D.C., staff, attended a luncheon at the Center for Strategic International Studies, and had dinner at the home of McCain finance chairman Fred Malek.
Her list of skipped events in Washington, D.C., this year includes the winter meeting of the National Governors Association as well as the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. The NGA meeting and CPAC are two mainstays of the political calendar which were attended by fellow Republican governors eyeing a 2012 run for president.
According to Palin, on-going state legislative business also prevented her from committing to a June 8 Republican Party fundraiser in Washington, D.C.
Palin’s chief of staff issued a statement saying the attacks over the Indiana trip were "nothing more than a politically charged shot in the dark."
"We did not anticipate that the governor’s political opponents would want their hands held in the final hours of the session," said Palin chief of staff Mike Nizich.