Childhood in China Shapes Libertarian Senate Candidate’s Vision for Colorado, Country

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Photo: Lily Tang Williams
Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Lily Tang Williams.

Growing up in communist China, Lily Tang Williams says Chairman Mao's central party controlled everything: the jobs people had, the food they ate, even the thoughts they expressed. As an adult, she immigrated to the United States to escape all that, and Tang Williams has never lost her belief that smaller government is always better.

It's a creed she now preaches as the Libertarian Party's U.S. Senate candidate in Colorado. On her website she proclaims that she is running "because I hate to see the country I love becoming more like the country I left."

Tang Williams became a U.S. citizen in 1995. She's the founder and president of ACM International Corp., which advises companies that seek to do business in China.

This month Colorado's Libertarian Party hit a big milestone; its members now make up just over 1 percent of registered Colorado voters. That means Tang Williams will participate in the first U.S. Senate debate in Grand Junction on Saturday, something no Libertarian candidate in recent memory has had the chance to do. She spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner.

Read the transcript:

Ryan Warner: Lily, welcome to the program.

Lily Tang Williams: Thank you for having me, Ryan.

Warner: I understand that you got your first introduction to American government while you were in college in China. You met an American exchange student. Tell me about that experience.

Tang Williams: Yeah, I just remember his name is George from East Coast and we met at a party and he invite me to go to his dorm. Foreign student dorm were watched by the security guards, so I had to sneak in if I wanted to see him multiple times. Otherwise you have to sign registration papers go to visit him. He showed me a pocket constitution. He read to me. My English, it wasn't good enough but he read to me very slowly about the first paragraph was the Declaration of Independence. All men are created equal. Now we have these natural rights given to us by our creator, not by our government. That was just like a magic, sweet, most beautiful words I have ever heard. So my light bulbs came on. It was like wow, I would like to live in this country.

Warner: And even meeting with this exchange student, let alone reading the U.S. Constitution with him, might have put you in some jeopardy at that point.

Tang Williams: Well, yes but I do not want my government to know what I was doing. That's why I had to sneak around behind this lady who was watching the foreign student dormitory. And so nobody knew I went back there many times to talk to him about America, about the Constitution. And that's why I came to this country. I would have guaranteed rights.

Warner: Let's turn to the philosophy of your party, the Libertarian Party. We have posted a link to the party platform at It calls for repealing "All federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution," that document you read back in China. Do you agree with that idea of eliminating all of those programs, all of those services not specifically mentioned in the document?

Tang Williams: Well ideally that's the best, the Libertarian society I could imagine to live in. Its government is very small, limited by the Constitution and people voluntary help their communities, private charities and take care of their own people. That would be best way. Nobody wants to be forced by government to say got to do this. But when you believing a cause, you pull your strengths, your resource together to help each other. I thought that would be the best way and you would feel so good and so rewarding from the experience instead of being forced.

Warner: This would do away with, gosh, the entire federal safety net. You're talking Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps. I guess you're saying the idea is that the private sector is the safety net or would you leave it up to states to perhaps create?

Tang Williams: Well I think, I do believe minimum safety net for people but does that safety net have to be monopolized only by the provider which is called the government and how did Americans survive before the big federal government involved in all their sectors? I learned in American history people were independent, self-responsible but also working very hard to better their lives. They came from the other parts of the world and they build better lives for themselves here.

Warner: Isn't that a rather idealized version of the past? In other words, Social Security and Medicaid and Medicare were created to better people's lives, and there wasn't much of a safety net before Lyndon Johnson.

Tang Williams: Well I agree there. Those programs were created with good intentions but good intentions do not create desirable outcome. I would think that, to look at our government today, what is causing our country so broke today with almost $20 trillion in debt and our kids, grandchildren are going to pay for that. So I would actively look at a program to see where we could be reformed to make it more efficient or to replace with something like, for example, if you're under 30, maybe you could opt out a program, save on your own because I do trust our individual citizens are smart enough to take care of themselves and to actually build a safety net themselves.

Warner: Help me understand that, if you're under 30, what would you do?

Tang Williams: They could opt out, like for example Social Security, because our Social Security is totally broke. The lock box does not exist, government spend all the money you put in so it's the new generation now paying for the people who are retired on Social Security income today. So it's like almost like some kind of investment scam like [Bernie] Madoff. The money's not there. It's a new investor come in to pay for the old investors on their returns and on their income. But it's not going to last because by the time I retire, maybe money's gone.

Warner: To call Social Security broke entirely is I think a little bit of a broad brush, an inaccurate brush. It's solvent through, I can't remember exactly what the year is, but it's not as if people aren't getting social security checks today.

Tang Williams: Well I think that according to the predictions though, the money will be gone maybe around 2030 or something. So what are we going to do to fix it? So that's something I think the American people should put their brain together to talk about this. But to deny the problem is not going to work.

Warner: You're listening to Colorado Matters, I'm Ryan Warner and this week we are meeting some of the minor party candidates for the U.S. Senate race in Colorado. Yesterday we met the Green Party candidate, Arn Menconi, and I'm now speaking with the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, that's Lily Tang Williams.

I want to talk about the environment and climate change with you. On your website, there's a link at, you write "I am for market solutions to make sure that our environment remains clean and beautiful." One could argue that the market often encourages the opposite behavior and that the free market has led to a degradation of the environment. Can you give me an example of a market solution that you'd encourage as a way of protecting the environment?

Tang Williams: Well I can tell you my personal experience. When you have a super big government like in China, look how horrible our environment is. People have to wear masks during the winter. Our biggest polluter is government in China because they have immunity. You cannot sue them. They just build like this 45 miles away a chemical plant in my hometown and people were getting sick, wear masks. And they protested; they were crushed, silenced. So I think in this country if you look at lots of pollutions, of course polluters need to be held accountable; [it] doesn't matter if it's a company, government or private. That's also kind of part of validated rule for government to protect us from those polluters. But what is best way to do it though? I think that by giving government more power, more regulation, you know instead of demand and market. And I love this beautiful environment. I come to this country I was impressed. My first impression this is a beautiful country. I love its beauty. And the clean environment and people are very aware to how to take care of it at grassroots level.

Warner: So if there's a spill, if someone is imprudent with the environment, who does the enforcement?

Tang Williams: Well that's where government rule and regulation can play. If you are private polluter, you pollute public water and air, then you should be hold accountable.

Warner: Now how would that work if you eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency?

Tang Williams: Well I think that it work, the EPA still have some role to play but maybe cut down its size and scope of power. Right now EPA I think is doing sometimes just too much and over reaches and making people lose their jobs. We can do both. I think there is a balanced approach. You can protect environment and hold the people who are polluters accountable. But at the same time, get our country rich and prosperous so we have the technology, we have the wealth to deal with any problems that we come up with.

Warner: Do you believe that climate change is occurring in part because of human factors?

Tang Williams: You know what I keep telling people, I'm not best educated on this subject. I'm not convinced either way. But my principles is that it doesn't matter if it's global warming or global cooling. If we become more rich and prosperous, we could have the technology know how, skills and wealth to deal with it. For example, if it's global warming, everybody has air conditioning. If it's global cooling, everybody has heating. Wouldn't that be wonderful? Because I lived in China we're so poor, we didn't have any of those. We even did not have electricity in the countryside when I was growing up.

Warner: So what you're saying is that the answer to climate change is air conditioning?

Tang Williams: No. It's more wealth creation, more prosperity for the country. So we have more means, more wealth to deal with it. Instead of now we have this global, and government is actually talking about this and they are limiting people's options sometimes in terms of their jobs, their careers, and even business creation is limited. So I would like to say we have a smart balance approach on this issue.

Warner: If there are more air conditioning units running because of the more prosperous country, would you want the power source to be renewable energy?

Tang Williams: Well that's where free market comes play. We can actually use our creativity to explore, develop all sorts of energy sources and depends on price and demand and quality. Let the market work. I think if there's incentive for people to go solar, to do something more in fashion, better quality and less pollution, why not to do it? It'd be great. Everybody would love to use that too because everybody cares about environment. But just when you push it down from the central government, even the world government, like U.N. or something, I think that's just not going to work because I went through all that before.

Warner: Do you have any examples of where government has played a positive role in your life?

Tang Williams: I think I experience that a lot in this country. That I say government role is to protect life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness, right. And national defense, right. And that's legitimate role of government. That's how I see it. It's really roles restricted by the Constitution. If a government is that small and limited, we'll have a huge economical growth and we have a people volunteering to give to charity, to help each other out because we will have lower taxes and lots of people have jobs, good careers. And they're willing to give more to help each other in the communities.

Warner: We're speaking with the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate in Colorado, that's Lily Tang Williams. On your website you write at length about your position on abortion. You say that "In my personal moral beliefs, I am pro-life." But you also believe abortion should be legal in the early months of a pregnancy. Why?

Tang Williams: Well I was raised as Buddhist. Life to us is more than just human beings. A bugs on the floor and the animals. My grandma always tell me don't kill the bug when you step on it. So personally I feel like a life should be respected, it doesn't matter. All forms of life. But legally I like the woman to make that decision with her loved ones, with doctor. Because when you force one human being to take care of another human being, it's still slavery. A life without choice to me it's a slavery. And sometimes people value liberty more than life itself because that's why we fight, right, we fight for freedom and then die for freedom. I would like to see grassroots promote life culture to go help this woman in need of financial assistance, adoption, counseling education. But by simply resort to government force to ban it, I just honestly cannot support that because I like to say woman be free individual to make that choice. You don’t know what their circumstance can be.

Warner: I'd like to ask you about a bit of news that's come out this morning. The Libertarian presidential candidate was asked about Aleppo and did not know what Aleppo was. Are you aware of what happened?

Tang Williams: Actually I just found out this morning, like you can educate me. I don’t know either. What is it?

Warner: What Aleppo is?

Tang Williams: Yes.

Warner: In Syria. Do you know that's sort of the epicenter of the conflict?

Tang Williams: Yeah, right, that's Middle East conflict. But how do you explain this word?

Warner: Well it's the name of a place.

Tang Williams: Ok, just name of place? I'm still learning a lot about foreign policies. Even though the Libertarian point of view on foreign policies is non-interventionism, but the strongest defense force, second to none, is really peace through strength. And I think that I don't know everything. I'm not a career politician. I have never take a dime from government. But our policy on foreign intervention stuff is just that America should really do national defense. That's a federal government role but continue to do nation building, growth engineering and taxpayers dollars wasted on foreign wars and not necessary, not declared by Congress. It's just, it has so many bad consequences. We don’t feel safer.

Warner: But does isolationism leave a vacuum that is readily filled by, to bring this full circle, China?

Tang Williams: Well, it's not isolationism. Libertarians are nothing like isolationists. It's a misperception. We are for free trade, and peace and relationship, friendship.

Warner: You're for peace. Well that's very bold, a bold statement.

Tang Williams: Right, I'm for peace because every life, right, is important to me. And also including foreign people and children, but where can we do more culture exchange, trade, commerce, and also, like when I was growing up in China, because open-door policy, free trade. I got to listen to John Denver songs. That just make me more want to come to United States. It was just so lovely and why can't we do that with Middle East countries? American music, product, services. And the nice friendship. Maybe they will start to like us, instead of hate us, want to bomb us here.

Warner: John Denver is diplomacy. Lily, thanks for being with us.

Tang Williams: Thank you to have me.