Welcome to 2014. It's a new year, but most of the same old issues are before us, and many of them will colored by the November off-year elections.

After its disastrous roll-out, the Affordable Care Act is trying to get its bearings, and its successes and failures -- which will be charted on a daily basis -- are sure to have a considerable impact on the vote for U.S. House and U.S. Senate this November. Obamacare, however, is much more than a political football. It represents an opportunity, however flawed and cumbersome, for working people and their children to get coverage for their illnesses and injuries and protection from catastrophic health issues. That one party has been rooting avidly for its failure testifies to the horrifically partisan state of our politics.

With Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell finally standing up to the tea party extremists within their party as the year came to a close, a battle for the soul of the Republican Party is shaping up in 2014. The right wing nihilists will put up their usual slate of candidates, many of them unelectable against Democrats, and the party's mainstream is expected to counter with conservatives who actually acknowledge that government has a role in the U.S. Or will the party's elders again allow themselves to be badgered and bullied into acquiescence as they did the last two elections?

This will be the final year of the administration of Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, a part-time resident of Richmond who has been a regular presence in the Berkshires as chief executive for seven years. Issues like transportation and Internet access are state concerns that have a particular resonance in the rural west, and the governor has been a strong advocate of progressive measures that matter here.

As the year begins, Berkshire and Massachusetts sports fans are still basking in the afterglow of the Red Sox world championship and anticipating title runs for the NFL's New England Patriots and NHL's Boston Bruins. On Patriots Day this April, there will be the first running of the Boston Marathon since last year's horrific bombing, and record numbers of runners and spectators are anticipated. While it is good these days to be a sports fan in Massachusetts, this Boston Marathon will resonate for everyone who admires human courage and endurance in the face of cruel and senseless terrorist acts.