By JOE BEACH
As the race for the Republican presidential nomination moved toward Western primaries and caucuses, reporters for the Capital Press last month began reaching out to the various campaigns in an attempt to find out the candidates' positions on issues important to farmers and ranchers.
A reporter was assigned to each of the remaining candidates -- Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul -- with instructions to contact the campaigns and get answers to a handful of questions on farm subsidies, immigration, trade and government regulation.
Mindful that the Washington caucus is March 2, followed by Super Tuesday contests March 6 that include the Idaho caucus, we had hoped to have information available for this week's edition.
But after three weeks, only Ron Paul's campaign gave us any answers, which we've posted on CapitalPress.com. So with the exception of Paul, what we know about each candidate has been gleaned from their websites and statements they have made on the campaign trail.
Paul supports gradually eliminating all farm subsidies and replacing them with free trade and low-tax policies. He doesn't consider tax credits for the ethanol industries to be subsidies, saying they are a means to allow people to keep more of their own money. He would consider eliminating those credits as part of a broader reform plan to lower taxes.
He supports immigration reform to ensure a "reliable and legal" workforce, but opposes mass amnesty or mass deportation of illegal immigrants already in the country. He opposes the E-Verify program. He opposes any attempt by the Labor Department to limit the ability of young people to gain experience working in agriculture.
Paul said the federal estate and income taxes should be repealed. Barring that, he would work to keep tax rates as low as possible. He supports reform of the Endangered Species Act. He supports holding polluters accountable for the damage they cause, but is against subjecting those who do no harm to costly regulation.
He favors reducing the amount of land held by the federal government, allowing state government and private owners to decide how much grazing and other activities to allow. He would end the trade embargo with Cuba.
Romney favors the elimination of the estate tax. He supports a flatter, simpler individual income tax, and would cut corporate tax rates from 35 percent to 25 percent. He has proposed reforming both individual and corporate income taxes.
He would seek trade promotion authority that would give the president the power to negotiate trade pacts that would then be submitted to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendment.
Romney favors a guestworker program and some form of employment verification program that would include identity cards with biometric information for immigrants. He doesn't support amnesty for illegal immigrants currently in the U.S.
Santorum favors eliminating most agricultural subsidy programs over four years, as well as the elimination of energy subsidies and tax credits.
He supports market access and foreign market development programs. He also supports the federal crop insurance program, but says it should be subject to funding reductions as part of his overall strategy to balance the federal budget.
He favors reducing federal regulation, and cutting funding for the EPA.
He supports a "workable" guestworker program to provide a labor force for U.S. farmers.
He proposes simplifying the tax code by establishing two personal income tax brackets, with a top rate of 28 percent. He would reduce capital gains taxes, and cut the 25 percent corporate rate in half. He supports eliminating the federal estate tax.
He is in favor of returning some federal land to the states or selling them to private owners.
Gingrich supports eliminating capital gains and estate taxes, giving individual taxpayers the option of paying a 15 percent tax rate, and reducing the corporate rate from 35 percent to 12.5 percent.
He supports a "well-regulated, robust" guestworker program that includes biometric cards to eliminate fraud. He favors a policy that addresses the presence of millions of illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Gingrich supports maintaining "components" of the existing farm program that protects farmers from price volatility and weather, including a strong crop insurance program. He supports streamlining USDA's bureaucracy. He proposes increasing oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency and replacing it with an Environmental Solutions Agency.