By this time, we’ve been inundated with year-in-review stories that seem written more to fill space than to inform. But one anniversary might be an exception. It was just a year ago that Angus King traveled to Washington to become Maine’s junior U.S. senator.

After all, it’s been nearly 20 years since anyone occupied Senate offices from Maine besides Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, and it was Snowe’s announcement she wouldn’t seek a fourth six-year term that created King’s opening.

Practically everyone with political ambitions quickly explored their options, but King acted while his friend, Rep. Chellie Pingree, dithered. It’s doubtful the other Democrat already in Congress, Mike Michaud, ever was tempted, now that he’s created his own surprise by running for governor. And hardly anyone wanted former Gov. John Baldacci to run, even though he’d served eight years in Congress.

So it was that King became the default choice for most Democratic voters, winning a three-way race with a majority over the two major party nominees.

I admit to skepticism about why a former independent governor, 10 years out of office, and now 68 years old, would seek to become a Washington headliner, representing a state with more than its share of high-caliber Senate performers. But King has been a mostly pleasant surprise in the Senate. He was serious about creating a buffer in a sharply divided chamber, and his ideas about politics and policy are striking enough to allow him to eventually make a real impact.

The year’s low point was probably the Senate’s failure to enact even legislation requiring background checks for firearms purchases. When I interviewed King at the time, he was incredulous that anyone could object to simply making sure each purchase was legal.

The second low point — the October federal shutdown —  actually became a turning point in the drive to restore a functional Congress. The tea party-inspired attack on the Affordable Care Act through the budget process was so irrational that, when it failed, House Speaker John Boehner finally broke with the tea party, and is now even entertaining an immigration reform bill that the Senate passed months ago.

As King pointed out, just the fact that Congress enacted a two-year budget is a milestone. It doesn’t mean order has been restored, but there now seems a better possibility than any time since President Obama’s election of 2008 and the minority revolt that ensued. King, who caucuses with the Democrats and often votes with them, has been at pains to maintain his independent credentials — admittedly difficult since policy has lurched so far to the right.

But he has at least one opportunity to change things in a way that will cause consternation among both parties, which are heavily dependent on campaign contributions from the financial sector.

King is skeptical about government regulation, but he’d like to restore one rule that could mean more than the 2,000-page Dodd-Frank Act that’s intended to avoid a repeat of the 2008 financial meltdown.

Along with Elizabeth Warren and John McCain, he’s sponsored a bill to essentially reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, the law that, from 1933-99, made financial institutions choose between being deposit-based or investment banks. Passed as an early New Deal reform, it led to six decades of what King likes to describe as “boring” banking — that is, stable and reliable.

Then, in a fit of deregulatory zeal, Congress repealed Glass-Steagall and Bill Clinton signed the bill, something he now says he regrets.

Restoring this wall of separation isn’t like most financial issues — incredibly complex — but at bottom, quite simple. Under other New Deal reforms still in place, the government guarantees deposits in the private banking system we all rely on. But banks weren’t allowed, under Glass-Steagall, to dabble in high-profit but much riskier investment opportunities.

You could bet your own money on high-risk securities, but not the government’s. After repeal, it got mixed together, leading directly to the extraordinary levels of risk-taking that crashed the whole system.

Wall Street hates the prospect of the return of Glass-Steagall, and will do everything in its power to prevent it. But it needs to be done.

Fortunately, for King and other supporters, the issue is clear enough to build a real groundswell of public support. Unlike arcane banking rules, practically everyone can understand this one.

And people hate rigged games, of which current banking law is a prime example. If King can bring this fight to center stage this year, he will begin to justify the confidence voters showed when they sent him to Washington.

Douglas Rooks is a former daily and weekly newspaper editor who has covered the State House for 29 years. He can be reached at [email protected]

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