SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Voters, not elected officials, should decide whether to make California the second state after Oregon to allow doctor-assisted suicide, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Tuesday.

The Catholic governor made the remark a week after a key U.S. Supreme Court decision that has prompted state legislators to push anew for a change in California law to allow terminally ill patients to ask doctors to help end their lives.

"I personally think that this is a decision probably that should go to the people, like the death penalty, or other big issues," the celebrity governor told the annual Sacramento Press Club lunch. "I don't think that we -- 120 legislators and I -- should make the decision.."

"It's irrelevant what I think about this because I would never want to force my opinion on something like that," Schwarzenegger told the lunch where the carefully scripted Republican governor allows unusually expansive questioning.

A week ago the Supreme Court rejected legal arguments by the Bush administration seeking to strike down Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, under which about 240 terminally ill people have ended their lives since 1997.

Assisted-suicide legislation has stalled in California since introduction last year, but its supporters hope the court decision could clear the way for the state to approve a new law by May. Schwarzenegger could sign or veto the measure if passed.

Schwarzenegger's embrace of a referendum on the issue revives a process that failed him last November, when he called a special election to promote several issues. After his defeat, the former Mr. Universe promised to work more closely with the Democrat-dominated legislature in tackling the state's problems rather than turning every few months to voters.

"Where I learned my lesson is instead of taking those four measures and let them be on the June (2006) ballot, I called a special election," he said. "That was a mistake, I shouldn't have pushed it; I shouldn't have rushed it."

"There is a difference: when you call a special election you make people go out extra for that," he said. But "there are certain decisions I believe very strongly the people should make rather than the legislators."


Since the November defeat, the worst in Schwarzenegger's short political career, he vowed to make a new beginning ahead of the November 2006 vote in which he is seeking re-election.

Earlier this month he proposed record spending to boost California's infrastructure, a move than has won bi-partisan praise, although he has since angered some conservatives by appointing a Democrat as his new chief of staff.

The former Hollywood action film star defended the staff appointment, but said on Tuesday that things have not always gone as he had hoped when he sought public office in 2003.

"In a way this is an on-the-job training," he said. "I mean I did not go to school to become a governor. I mean I never thought about it."

"I jumped in there with all the energy and enthusiasm and the positive attitude that I always have, whatever I tackled. Of course there will be setbacks."